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  • Laura Paton

Choosing a subject for your documentary photography project

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

So you have decided that you want to take the plunge and create your first documentary photography project. Good for you!… Let’s get started.

Documentary photographers know that creating a compelling story means more than just snapping the occasional photograph. It requires a deeper look into your subject matter to uncover the facts and present them in a way that is insightful and narrates the story so that it connects your audience with your subject.

Sure, that might sound a little complicated, but if you follow certain steps and employ the right strategies you’ll be on your way to creating a professional quality photo documentary project in no time.

The first step to creating your documentary is to decide on a subject or theme. There is much more to this than simply finding a subject that you find interesting. For example, you might find that the mold growing in your shower has really interesting colors, shape and textures. So interesting that it moves you to photograph it in all it’s fungi glory!

(Ok, so I know that’s a really gross example, now go clean your shower and come back to finish reading this blog when your done)

My point is, just because something interests you, doesn’t mean it will make a great documentary. I doubt anyone else will find your mold interesting.

On the other hand, a great documentary starts with something that you are truly passionate about - I mean it must have a driving force of some sort. Your documentary should be worthy of your audience’s time (not to mention, the months of work you’ll be giving to this project). Your topic should be one that is controversial, not well known, or is a person, issue or event that has a side that most others have not seen.

You can start this process by asking yourself a few questions-

  1. What subjects do you find yourself thinking about, talking about or photographing over and over again?

  2. What subjects make you excited, frustrated, angry or intrigued?

  3. Are you completely baffled by why something is the way it is?

  4. Is there an injustice happening in the world that you want others to be made aware of?

  5. Is there a current event you see in the news, and would like to explore more deeply or show another side to the story?

If asking yourself these questions you still find your answer to be shower mold, that’s OK. Now find a way to tell the story of shower mold in a compelling, humorous or creative way that will make others think of their own relationship to mold in their own shower. You’ll need to research, interview and photograph others whom have struggled and found a way to overcome the challenges of your subject. (yes, it’s getting gross again)

Once you have decided on your subject the next step is to try your ideas in verbal format. Start by telling your documentary idea in story board format to a group of trusted peers who will give you honest feedback. Bouncing ideas off this focus group is going to be an essential part of the process as you work on your documentary.

In conclusion, your documentary should be about something or someone that you are truly passionate about… Shoot what you just can’t help but shoot!

Please check back for my next blog on developing your story idea, but in the meantime, I need to go clean my bathroom.

Join us on Feb 21, 2016 for an informational meeting and the first symposium session on the Journey into the art of visual storytelling.

Feb 21, 2:00 PM

Corner Bakery Cafe, 21 Universal Blvd, Warwick RI

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