Tips To Improve Your Documentary Photography

I'm constantly asked for tips on documentary/street photography. How do you approach people in the street? How do you manage to capture that decisive moment? How do you get the story out of people? I was inspired to put this post together with hopes that it will help you all improve your skills. Here are some of my tips and tricks.

Boston 2014

Be Friendly

My first words of advice are simple- be friendly. At the end of the day, no matter how you word it, you're literally approaching complete strangers in the street (or foreign environment). Imagine yourself walking to work, or anywhere in general, and being approached by a man (or woman) with a camera. Good energy, good manners and a good attitude should be a part of every photographer's equipment. You'll be surprised how powerful a smile can be.

Share Your Work

Exactly what the sub-title says- share your work! This isn't always a must, but I have been in situations where this has made the difference. If you ask me, it's understandable. I personally wouldn't go to a barber or a tattoo artist without seeing work they have already done. The same goes for us photographers. Some people don't feel comfortable allowing you to take a picture until they know they can trust you with their image. This is why I always try my best to carry my work with me. Whether it's a few pictures on my phone or a photobook of one of my collections. Also, don't just show them your work. Tell them about yourself and what your work represents. People relate to stories.

Betances Festival 2017

Ask Questions

This piece of advice is more for those interested in fishing for stories. I always say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture with a thousand words is worth twice as much. This is why I enjoy sharing the stories behind my images. Try to get into the habit of asking lots of questions while out in the field. Where were you born? How long have you lived here? Do you have any brothers or sisters? What do you do for fun? What's your favorite color? Ask them anything and everything you can think of at the moment. There's no such thing as a stupid question. You never know which one will open the door to the story you are looking for. 

Build Relationships

This is possibly the most important one of all. I might even go as far as calling it my secret weapon. Whether I'm walking around Downtown Boston or exploring the alleys in Puerto Rico, I always make it a point to build a relationship with my subject before I take a picture. Of course, sometimes you don't have time on your side, but when you do, take advantage of it. I'll give you an example: when I went down to the Dominican Republic to work on a project, I didn't bring my Canon out until the third day of the trip. I invested the first two days into getting to know the locals and their culture. The benefit of this was that by the time I started taking pictures, everyone was comfortable with the idea of me being a photographer and weren't as intimated by my camera as they would have been if I started photographing on day one.

Don't forget to put these into practice next time you decide to go for a photowalk. Did this post help you? Please tell me how in the comments below!