Photo Story Feuilleton #6: Catch Reality in Documentaries



3 minutes reading

Some photos take your breath away. Even more than single photographs, a photo series can blow your mind. It can change the way you see things and it challenges photographers to create powerful stories that they want to share with the world. But how to create interesting photo series? As with art in general, there is no specific recipe or approach. However, when you overlook the photography field you’ll discover some basic angles that might inspire you to go beyond creating single photographs and come up with a true photo story. Starting point is to work with a concept. A second ingredient is to make sure that things happen on more than one layer.

In this feuilleton EAGER – platform for inspiring photo series, approaches the subject photo series from different angles inspiring you to make your very best photo series!  

This is the last angle from a series of six. Read the first angle, The Power of Repetition, here. The second angle, Time Flies, so Try to Catch It can be read here, the third angle Connect Content and Form here, the fourth Make The Surreal look Real here, and the fifth The Abstract Way here

Angle 6 – catch reality in your documentaries
It all starts with reality. And by showing reality as it is. No interventions. No photo manipulations. The story is there, it just needs to be told by the photographer. We think the famous phrase of Robert Capa captures the essence of how to photograph documentaries: “When your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough”. Step into the shoes of your subject and get as close as you can!

But that’s not all of course. When you want to start making documentaries there are some general elements to consider. First is that the photos should be telling the story by itself (and not the subtitles). Then try to find good images that form the start and the end of your story. A documentary is usually more appealing when the photographer makes a mix of photos that give a good overview, detail photos that focus on specific element and portraits of the people involved in the story. And, don’t forget that context is everything! That’s why in documentary portraits you will usually see elements of the place where the subjects of the photos are, since that is part of the story too.

A good documentary example is the project Outskirts from photographer Ienske Meindertsma. She travelled through the Netherlands using as single criterion the distance to the border and coastline. She rang the doorbell of the houses she encountered and was welcomed by many people to document their lives in these outskirts. The project generated a mix of stories all beautifully depicted. Many street scenes and landscapes, but also portraits of the persons she met. True documentary in our vision, since Ienske is very good at showing her subjects in the context where she finds them with a great eye for catching the exact right moment. 

Another example of a documentary photographer is Khaled Hasan who documents life in Bangladesh. The photos above are part of a story about Qurbani, a Muslim sacrifice ritual. Khaled Hasan has a style that suggests beauty; it almost looks as if the elements in the photo have been put there by the photographer. This beauty is in contrast with the subjects he documents. HE has a great eye for composition and detail and get’s really close to his subjects. It makes you feel like you are part of the story yourself.