“You must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work... You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.” ― Chef Jiro
I'm always challenging myself to take better photos. Teachers take Continuing Education classes to renew their teaching license, doctors go to seminars to learn new techniques and methods, I too take classes to improve my skills. Everyone has a camera these days but you have to keep learning to stand above.
In January, I started a four month online class with 14 other photographers from around the WORLD called Creating Deeper Documentary Imagery. It was a big investment in time and money but go big or go home, right?? All 15 of us have such different backgrounds and come from different perspectives that it adds another layer of learning from their experiences. And I LOVE hearing the Irish and Australian accents on our ZOOM calls!
Documentary photos might be photos of "real life" scenes, but they are not just random snapshots. There is so much thought put into "seeing the scene" before pressing the shutter. I'm always looking for a better way to tell the story of what's happening that moment. Because of all the classes, workshops, and mentoring I have taken over the years, my photography has improved exponentially since I started Augusta Birth Photography in 2011.
Taking photography skills classes is also a great to study with other documentary photographers who I admire. Classes like this help me "see" a scene differently, they help me better utilize natural light, and make me look for different points of view to take an image to make it a stronger photo. Adding these elements to the photos I give my clients helps ensure the best emotion from the scene and makes the photo more powerful and meaningful.
Our first assignment of this Creating Deeper Documentary Imagery class focused on 7 basic elements to make a strong documentary image... framing, leading lines, simplicity, balance, symmetry, patterns, and shapes. Every 2 weeks, we have 3-hour online class, study and talk about a new technique, then we have 2 weeks to produce 10 images that focus on the assignment, in this case, intentionally adding at least one of these elements to our photos (or more!). Before the next class, we submit them for a peer review and a critique from our teacher, Chuck Anerino, who's an AMAZING documentary photographer in Delaware (www.anerinooriginals.com). I appreciate his critique and point of view so much!
This assignment was harder than I expected. I don't have a house full of kids any more to be my subjects. My kids are grown and in college and work crazy hours so my "subjects" are my husband and the cats so I had to stretch my comfort zone and try on a "street photographer" hat to get my "homework" done. My oldest daughter left for 6 weeks in the Yucatan peninsula doing a bird banding internship during my "homework" time so I was able to get to work on my assignment in the Atlanta airport. I got some of my best photos there! My husband and I sent our child off through the Security Check-point then we wandered the airport for 2 hours. He wasn't particularly thrilled but there is something peaceful about people watching at the airport!
Focusing on these 7 elements, even in just 2 weeks, I saw a difference in quality from my first "intentional" photo for this assignment to my last. I got some encouraging and positive feedback from the critique which reminded me of how much I love telling stories with photos. And now every scene I look at is analyzing "framing" or "symmetry" or "leading lines". I can't look at a scene the same way anymore! That's a skill I'm excited to share with clients!
Our next class assignment is titled, Figure to Ground. Figure to ground photography has the main subject in contrast with the background. Light on dark or dark on light. The most dramatic example is a silhouette. These assignments are really making me THINK before pressing the shutter and asking if there is a better way or angle to take this photo?
I hope you can see the design elements I was working on in each of these homework photos I submitted. Framing, leading lines, simplicity, balance, symmetry, patterns, and shapes? I really am enjoying analyzing a photo from a technical aspect as well as emotive.
I'd love for you to comment below if you see the elements I was trying to add.
I'm excited that you want to take better documentary photos of your family! Print the worksheet and start interviewing your family. Their answers might surprise you but their responses are the moments to photograph. I'd love for you to share an image on my FB page that you took because of the worksheet. It will be fun to see your life in photos! (www.facebook.com/documentingeveryday)
Here's to taking better photos! Jennifer Documenting Everyday: Family Storytelling Photography www.DocumentingEveryday.com