I’m a documentary photographer. I work really closely with families, business and professionals and I create candid unposed images that show love when comes to families, and passion and hard work that comes with it when it comes to professionals. No posing, no smiling, no lifestyle images that pretend to be real. Pure photojournalism. Street photography principles taken inside.
I preach religiously the importance of the real candid images when it comes to the family and business sessions and what values they bring. I believe this is the way people should be photographed and this is the direction that the industry is going. Well, part of it. Hopefully.
We all know that photographs can lie. Not always directly, by showing one and telling it’s something else, but simply by not telling a whole story or showing just a part of it. Depending on the final selection of the photographs I will deliver to my client, I can paint a picture of a happy family, a family with a distant father, a family with an absent mother, and so on. So if the story told by the images can be manipulated, and in reality, different photographers will see different things and different emotions in the same scene, do the final product ever tells the truth? Or just the truth that the photographer sees. And if the answer here is no, then can this be a good thing?
Pierre Rene Professional is an over 20-year-old cosmetic company, one of the fastest developing one, operating in over 35 countries, creating an abundance of cosmetic product. And Pierre Rene Professional creates a new line of cosmetic now and then. When they do that, as a part of the marketing campaign they invite beautiful influencers and celebrities, to take part in the beauty/makeup session. Girls put on fantastic and creative makeup using the new products, and then they head down to the photo shoot. Then again, and again, and again. The best images from the session are later used as part of the marketing campaign. I was invited to one of those photoshoots just a few weeks ago, to be a documentary photographer. And event photographer in a way. And I believe it has changed my perspective on the possibilities and potential of the documentary approach forever.
All together event photography is nothing new. There is a thing happening, there are people there, they do things, talk together, work, maybe eat something and have a break. And you are there to document the event. So you take pictures of them being there and talking and working. You show the environment, people interacting with it and with themselves. In this case the hard work of the models, photographers and people around. The work parts, and the breaks. The preparation to the session and the session itself. Conversations, and alone time. The way people get into the flow and become more at ease during the day. The transformation of the models from one person to another. And so on, and so on. A closeup portrait here and a more environmental image there. More or less creative images. So that is what I did. I have photographed the event in a way I have seen it. There is really no other way to do it anyway.
Then to the computer, choosing the best images. Edit them, done. It’s time to present them to the client.
And then it hit me. I don’t know what to show them. What story do I want to tell? I have approached it from an event photography perspective and this is ultimately what I have created, but it looks like I have a possibility to send them a couple different sessions. I have realised that my session is actually built from not only images from different types of photography but also from a few, different, smaller sessions. I have never realised this before. The potential that comes with a documentary session. I always understood the values the comes with documentary photography, especially when It comes to families, and I knew that the story can be skewed by what I decide to photograph ( and later the selection and the edit ), but I have never seen this angle before. The photographic possibilities that come along with a documentary session are enormous. With right mindset ( which sadly I was not in during that session, and it resulted with just a glimpse into those realms of this possibilities) you can create photographs from almost any genre, retain the realism and candidness that only street photography brings and still fulfil all of your client’s needs and even give them more.
Starting with portrait. Portraits that shows the transformation of the models. Transformation in the field of changing their looks with makeup and clothes, their behaviour during the shoot as it gets more comfortable with time, a surprising relationship that they have with me – the photographer. As time progresses both you and the subject start acting more natural and with bigger confidence. This allows you to get closer and photograph more, and more natural reactions. If you play it right, and you are willing to choose a subject and follow it through the day, there is potential for a nice psychological portrait next to just a regular aesthetically pleasing one. I can see a glimpse of it in my images. But because I didn’t realise that until the after the session and never actually actively pursue it during the shoot, it just a promise. But it it is there. And it does not require a consecutive series of images. A 20-minute peaceful time with just one person may not happen during the day ( also depends on the “event” itself because it actually might ) but it’s like shooting a wedding. You spend time with this person, you get to know each other, a certain type of relationship is built and with time confidence and comfort levels rise both for you and them.
By the nature of the event, it was in its essence a posed photography session. Models put on makeup, models pose in front of carefully planned three light setup, (plus another 3 just for video). As a documentary photographer, you can use that to create very unique fashion images. Posed and yet not posed, candid but still well prepared. The photojournalist approach allows you to add elements of the background to the scene and approach it in a creative way when it comes to the light and composition. You have no control over the light but its consistent from a scene to scene and you can explore it. ( I know some photographers sometimes are a bit scared of the available light and feel the need to control it at least a bit with flash, but I believe that the restrictions that you have when shooting documentary are actually freeing. Fewer things to worry about. It’s the same reason why street photographers carry just one body with one lens. The fewer things you have control over, the fewer things you have to worry about.) That way you can produce fashion images that couldn’t be produced in any another way. As long as you make sure that the main focus will be on the subject, you can add the environment and compose in an interesting way. Fresh, unique images, that not only shows the clothes or accessories, but do it in a way that is not possible during editorial or even lifestyle session, while still retaining the edge that is necessary for the commercial market.
Things happen when nothing happens. An essence of the documentary photojournalistic photography. By applying street photography principles, ( assuming you could actually pinpoint them, considering so many ways street photography is actually created in ) the documentary session is a perfect moment to create some real candid images. With this mindset, you can approach the scene like a street and just shoot street. Find weird moments, funny moments or beautiful moments. When the scene is ending and the subject stops whatever they ware doing and are simply doing nothing now, this is where the images are hidden. Try weird angles, unexpected composition, experiment with light, overexpose, underexpose. If you will approach the whole assignment as a documentary session, this won’t feel like experimenting on the clients time ( which is frowned upon, although I’m sure we are all doing that from time to time ? ) You can take it a step further and create more conceptual images. If you keep in mind the over whole message/vibe/philosophy of your client, you can create something different that will still have value for them. You can see what no one else sees. Take advantage of that.
This is essentially what I have delivered to my client. A selection of images from each genre carefully selected to tell the story of the day. The thing about event photography is that you have to limit your creativity. I believe if you compose an event session only from quality images that can be clearly recognizable as portrait, fashion, street, environmental, etc.. or as really good ones, there will be a noticeable lack of something in it. It won’t be complete, and surprising the dissonance grows with the intrinsical character and quality of the images. There will be a lack of balance and harmony. This is where our slightly above average images come to play. Not good enough to be considered as something you are proud of, but not bad enough to be deleted. People talking, people doing their work. Correctly exposed and focused and composed but..nothing existing. Sprinkle of them among the all the other images will complete the event session.
What it means for a Client
A documentary session like this also creates possibilities outside of the strictly photographic regions. I believe this approach adds greatly to the value that the images can bring to the client. When you know the philosophy that stands as the fundaments of your clients business, and you understand his needs, you can steer the session to that waters and create something unique, real, and still with enough commercial value. Your clients get some unusual, very versatile images that could not have been created in any other way than in this Conscious Backstage Photography approach.
It also does very efficiently avoid some sore points that might show up for a client when he is considering a photography session. When we try to approach someone with s session proposition, questions that go through their head definitely consist “Why?, Am I willing to allocate time into that?, How much money?, How much work does it require?, Resources, effort and so on”
Time. It does not cost any time. The event is happening already anyway. Models will be there whenever you are there or not. There is no time cost, Same goes for effort. And resources. This goes completely out of the window as there is literally nothing your client needs to do while hiring you. No work is required on his part. This is big.
What it means for other people involved
Everyone will appreciate or need different images. The model might like a portrait session with some fashion images here and there. She probably wants to evolve in her career so those images are right down her alley. The main planner might want to be able to show how versatile are events organized by her and how smooth everything is working. We have those images. The venue where everything is happening might like some images from the event pile. And so on. If you think about what those people might need ( better yet, talk to the casualty during the session and find out ) and consider that while you shoot, you might be able to help them and they might be able to help you. They know people, they have connections, they hear things.
What it means for you
Putting aside the creative part of our work, there is another aspect that I have noticed. It’s big enough that it deserves an article on its own, so I’m just going to mention it here. Business possibilities that the session brings after the images are created and delivered. This seems fairly obvious. You have new marketing material, you should use it for marketing. Standard. But. You are sitting on the various images from various genres. Different images will be appealing to the model and different to the clothes designer. Another will suit portals that feature more documentary images. Or portrait. Some photography agency specialises in commercial fashion photography, some in event photography. Busines owners will like something different than the event manager. And you have all of them ( especially if you have approached the assignment from that perspective ).
Some images will fit more than just one profile and will appear in more than one “collection”. That is especially true when it comes to the best ones. THE shoots. The ones that you know that you have made it. That is fine. You will probably not be sending or presenting all images to whoever you will be presenting them to. It will be a tailored collection, designed just for them. They will not know that the shot you are presenting them as a fashion one, is also a part of a portrait collection that you have sent to someone else. Edit them differently. From this session, I can have a collection of vivid colour images with a fashion edge, with strong confident women in them, as well as some toned down, back and white session showing calmness in professionalism. And both will include a lot of the same images.
Imagine the number of people you are able to contact now, with images that are trimmed just for them. The things you can do with them. People you could get in touch with the industry. All the models from the session, the photographers, CEO if you ware lucky to meet him or just persuasive enough to get his contacts details, that marketing girl that was there. They all have pain points and challenges that you can turn into opportunities. And they all have connections.
With a session so versatile in styles you also have a perfect opportunity for some vivisection. Pick the session apart and think, who, where, when, why, how, etc. Utilize the session in the most efficient way. What can you do with the session, who can you contact? Want are their needs, how can you help. How can they help you etc? For me, it was a two-day process with a few hours every night dedicated just to that. It looks like this. I still continue to ad things to the board.
So I have always known that the documentary sessions are something that is worth to explore. For absolutely different reason than this ones. But until now I had no idea how versatile they are and how much potential they have. All of this is based on that particular shoot, so examples and my train of thought might gravitate toward this particular scenario, but I believe that this could be applied during any event. Any session that is documentary in its nature. Family, business, event, photojournalistic assignment, etc. Obviously, a different session will present different opportunities but if you approach it with that mindset. With a Conscious Backstage Photography mindset, there is an abundance of possibilities to explore here.
About the Author
Tomas Laskowski is a documentary photographer based in Ireland. He’s worked with companies like Google, the Irish National Cricket Team and has been featured in Huffington Post and on BBC TV. You can find out more about Thomas on his website and follow his work on Facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission.