Share with us a bit about intentional documentary photography.
Imagine being the client. You get the email, “Your gallery is ready.” As you click through to view the photos, you feel the experience of whatever we’ve photographed again. Each photograph is a part of the story… your story. Your senses come alive with all the feels – from the sounds, smells, touch, taste, sight to the emotions you may never have even thought twice about before. Most importantly, the photos are recognizable from the scene to the mannerisms and details of each person. And the kicker… it didn’t even feel like a photo shoot.
Today and in 25 to 60 years from now, each time you look at those photos on your walls, the memories are crystal clear. The pictures aren’t just pictures; they are the face of a deeply rooted story. When you tell the story to others, they can actually see it too.
That’s what I strive to do for my clients. My approach is to first understand my clients as a unit and as individuals. I use what I know about my clients to create an environment for my clients to live the story in front of my camera, so I can photograph freely.
Why are you passionate about intentional documentary photography?
Oh my, where do I start? Change and loss. I love my current life and try to appreciate it as best I know how. My confession: most of the time I feel like I’m living for the future… for when I “get there” (whatever that means). Constantly working towards something – whether it’s for the family you’ll have one day, the forever home, the ideal status in your career – you can accidentally forget about today. It might sound cheesy, but one day, you’ll appreciate the season you’re in right now. Only, right now will be in the past and sometimes the story and the people of right now are gone. Too late.
My childhood was a freakin’ dream with countless adventures with pretty much no photos to show for them. It really kind of, well, sucks.
My parent’s photo albums are full, but they don’t actually represent my memories. I’m on a mission to change that for myself and for those I work with.
When did you first realize you liked intentional documentary photography?
I NEVER wanted to photograph people. As a total amateur with my entry level DSLR, I started a 365 project that lasted 3 years and 3 months. There were some set-up photos in that project, mostly in my first year, but most were true documentary to whatever was happening that day.
It was in the second year of the project when I started my photography business after a compliments pouring in from friends and family. Instinctively, I gravitated to “posing” my clients (If you even wanna call it that. I was never good at posing). I think this was because I had no pre-session workflow, so when I showed up, clients NEEDED my direction. I even had my husband create a PVC backdrop stand and I’d create props like a sign that read, “this is our happily ever after.” The more I photographed, the more I felt out of my element.
People commented on how “real-life” my 365 photographs are, but the work I was giving clients was not even close to that. It was all fake! This realization honestly just hit me one day. I decided I’d rather not take on any more paid clients than to continuing losing a piece of my integrity and philosophy with each shoot.
What are the tips you would share with anyone trying to achieve intentional documentary photography?
- Pay attention to the photos you shoot for you – you have an inner-message or voice inside. What do you frequently scan scenes to photograph? What details pull you in? Why?
- Now, take what you know about yourself and ask yourself: Is my photography a representation of my inner-message? If not, it’s ok if you’re still working to nail the heart of your photographs… I feel like I’m a constant work-in-progress! The difference, I’m now in-tune with what I want to be saying in my photographs.
- Know that your inner-message or voice will inevitably evolve as you grow and experience new things in life.
- We’re already on #4 and STILL on the topic of your voice. Do you see how important it is? Take your voice and think about who can most benefit from the photographs you are making. How will your photography experience transform their lives (beyond pretty pictures)? This is marketing 101.
- Take time to listen to what’s going on in your clients’ lives today. Learn about experiences that have made an impact on who they are. Use this information as a baseline to intentionally document (savor + preserve) a part of their life (the story, loved ones) to create a deeply meaningful series of images for your clients.
- Take control of the framework for the session. Instead of playing the role of the client-pleaser (I’m totally guilty of this!), pull the reigns in on the planning process. #5 is incredibly important if you want to fully photograph freely during your sessions without direction AND nail recognizable photographs for your clients. I loving call this: be the chef; not the order-taker.
- As you’re shooting, trust your gut. Stop worrying about “rules.” Am I allowed to move this water bottle? Can I flick the lights on? Should I even talk to them… what if I interrupt? Can I photograph some details… omg I might miss a moment?! Just keep clicking, just keep clicking (to get SOMETHING… even though not much is happening).
Relax already! Be genuine and real with your subject and they will reciprocate. If you’re worried about missing a moment, you will. Believe moments will present themselves, because what you focus on, you find. If you’re not sure of what that moment you’re looking for is, go back to steps #1 and #5. It begins within yourself paired with deeply understanding your clients.
About the photographer:
I photograph undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (such as the story of a couple before starting a family
or couples thriving as empty-nesters – a dream project series I want to start) so clients’ old box of photos is becomes a meaningful, visual diary of their life… their legacy to leave behind. Additionally, I help documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow and up their marketing game, so their portfolio continues to fill with sessions that represent their voice while earning a living. (Learn more here