I feel like this a is vast topic that could be explored in many different ways, but in a nutshell I currently inhibit the grey area between the genres of documentary and lifestyle photography. I only realised that it was ok to be in the space between (as if we need permission to decide our approach???) when I read Andrea Moffat talk about it in her Clickin Moms breakout “The Stories that Make Us”
She says “But in the gray, between rigorously true and
thoughtfully guided, lies something else. And that is:
The Artist’s Story.”
Through my year of experimenting in 2018, I tried both approaches to the best of my ability at the time. What I learnt was a “lifestyle” approach to photography enables the artist to make decisions about the ultimate story that is been captured. They can make choices about they style and colour of clothing, location, and light to enhance positive feelings such as togetherness, love, playfulness, and adventure. Creative license can be taken in post processing from removing minor distractions, to changing skies and adding overlays.
A pure documentary approach places the photographer as an active observer but does not allow for any artistic influence over the scene or in post processing. A documentary photographer’s job is to capture the scene in front of them in the most authentic and honest way they can. There is a degree of influence that they have in terms of what they deem to be interesting and worthy of capturing, for example they might find certain emotions more interesting than others. The documentary photographer makes very minimal adjustments in post processing, perhaps only fixing issues with exposure or white balance.
After a bit of experimenting I came to the conclusion that I cannot choose one approach over the other because it isn’t me. A 100% documentary approach would dictate that I cannot touch lights, curtains, move toys or direct my children in any way. This I find it harder in my own home with my children because I CAN manipulate the light or eliminate a distraction from the frame, whereas if I’m photographing them at the zoo for example I can’t control those things.
On the other hand a 100% lifestyle approach would mean I take full control of lighting, styling of clothing and giving my children direction. I found this to be quite stressful and time consuming, so I quickly moved away from doing any of that. I have therefore come to the conclusion that I can choose what works for me, leave the rest, and occupy this grey space between the two approaches.
Here’s what I do:
I dress my kids in whatever clothes I have to hand, I don’t worry about colours or style. My 3 and half year old is starting to dress himself so he wears whatever he wants.
I choose to photograph moments that have happened organically, they are not moments that I have thought of myself. For example my son made a crocodile swamp in the garden so I photographed him playing in it. I did not preconceive that idea for a photo shoot!
I will take an activity that my boys love, for example playing with the train set and I will set it up in a certain place that I know has beautiful light. I will remove distractions from the scene if needed.
I anticipate what my children might do in the routine of our day, for example run to the window to look for Daddy coming home so I will have my camera ready to capture that moment.
I spend a lot of time observing and considering the story I want to tell. One of the main things I look for is repeated behaviours for example my son spent about 2 weeks “writing” in his notebook. I had plenty of time to choose my moment to photograph him.
My post processing is pretty minimal in Lightroom (I try and get it right in camera) and rarely use Photoshop (I only know how to do one thing in there anyway!)
Below are a collection of images that I have observed organically and then anticipated or set the scene for it to happen again and captured it.