This lesson offers "how-to" instructions for creating a documentary photographic essay. Documentary photographs are taken with the purpose of informing, interpreting, or preserving information about the subject.

Plan in Advance

Set the Stage

o Consider the angle from which you will take your photograph. Hold the viewfinder in front of your face and look through the opening to see your subject as if you were looking through the viewfinder of a real camera. Viewing the same scene from above, eye level and below will change what you see and reveal about your subject.

o Next, use the viewfinder to frame different views from a variety of distances away from your subject. This will help you determine which details to include and which to exclude from your scene, and it will add variety to your compositions.

o Observe the qualities of light and shadow within the view. For instance, if you are inside, is there enough light to capture your subject, or will you need to add additional light or use a flash? Outside, take note of the time of day and how it affects the light and shadows. Light reveals details and often contributes to the mood or feeling of the work.






CHALK development coordinator Ruth Barajas, age 18, talks to her boyfriend during her shift at Youthline. The Youth-line listeners say that many of the support calls are about relationships.
Silver dye bleach print
© Lauren Greenfield1999


Pre-Interview Preparation


Sam Davis, Columbia City Council member and former president of Eau Claire Community Council Gelatin silver print
© Eli Reed1999    This page last updated September 24, 2000.

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