Documentary Photography–fancy speak for storytelling with pictures

indian_kid_chairNot everyone who picks up a camera wants to turn professional.

And I don’t want to be the one to break the news to some who do, that their pictures are bad.

If you have another career, you should stay with it. I’m already losing my shirt as it is, I don’t need more competition.

If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you’ll know I’m kidding.

But you might want to read my thoughts on taking your hobby to the next level, becoming a professional photographer.

Kicking back–I photographed this Indian child when I visited Malaysia more than 10 years ago. Jo’s images reminded me of many of my Indian friends who ran around barefooted. Originally shot on Kodachrome 64, I dug this out recently when I read that Kodachrome has been discontinued.

So just because you don’t plan on doing this to support yourself, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to improve your story-telling skills using pictures.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re on your way. Boy, talk about being self-serving. Sorry I couldn’t help myself.

More and more savvy bloggers are using photography. Jo Chopra McGowan is an excellent example.

She is CEO of the Latika Roy foundation, a non-profit in India. Her photography truly spices up her blog posts.


Sneaking up–These boys were hunting for worms which they sold for less than a quarter a can when I sneaked up on them. It’s always fun to see how kids react when they discover your presence. Just get ready to fire off a sequence. Originally shot on Kodachrome 64.

You’re not convinced? Here’s an experiment: Try disabling images in your web browser.

For Firefox users, under Preferences>Content, uncheck the box “Load Images Automatically” and quit and restart. To undo this, just check that box, quit and restart.

Then load up Jo’s blog and mine then compare.

I’d be willing to bet my Smartparts Digital Picture frame that you won’t find my blog very engaging because of  my lame writing.

I’d wager my photogear, but readers like Jeff Link who shoots with a Canon 5D Mark II, Jina Jani with a Canon 50D will scoff at my cameras.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying my pictures are so wonderful either.

But having been a newspaper photographer, I know eye-candy when I see it. A good picture will draw or entice visitors to read more.

You can almost say the same about a good headline.

I know this because I spent close to 2 decades creating eye-candy for the newspaper.

If the readership of this blog doesn’t pick up, I’m ‘m considering hiring gals clad in swimsuits for my models next.

jo1Jo’s blog attracts more attention than mine but, more importantly, the pictures she uses brings a message that words can’t describe.

When I see her wonderful candids of those barefoot Indian kids, I’m transported back to some of my childhood memories when I used to hang out with the Indian kids growing up in multi-ethnic Malaysia.

jo2Sorry it’s taken 377 words to get to my point: telling a story with photography is a wonderful skill which anyone can pick up.

You don’t need to be a swashbuckling war photographer or a hard-hitting-in-your-face photojournalism.

You just have to care about what you do and you just have to be passionate.

I’ve never met Jo but I get that from her pictures.

Even if you’re not too motivated or interested in tweaking and manipulating images in photoshop, you can still do a good job.

Just be more attentive. Make sure everything in the frame needs to be there and expose carefully when taking the picture.

Whatever doesn’t add, takes away from your subject. The focus and sharpness doesn’t always have to be spot on either. Your main subject does need to be the most in focus or sharpest

Unlike writing, photography doesn’t have rules, that’s why. There are no grammatical errors like subject-verb agreement, run-off sentences etc.

But there are blurry pictures, pictures that make you wonder what the subject is, pictures that appear like someone accidentally tripped the shutter running after a celebrity or rushing to use the restroom.

The trouble with that last group of pictures is this:  all it takes for one of those “bad pictures” to become in vogue is for some avant garde art critic somewhere to say it’s chic.

Then I’m out of business for good.

12 thoughts on “Documentary Photography–fancy speak for storytelling with pictures”

  1. CJ,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Before I can approve your intentions of using my some of my “better pictures,” I need to see your blog.

    Content on the internet is not free for all to use. I think most people have the wrong impression that if it’s online, it’s free to use.

    If everyone grabbed a picture from any old website that they like and placed it on their website, what would be the point of having your “own blog?”

    It would just be another website re-hashing whatever is out there. Your website won’t be successful because there is no original content.

    Content creators like me put a lot of effort into their websites and to be fair should be given the their due credit. If you wish, you can link to my website and that would be very cool. Thank you for understanding.

  2. Great blog-site….something for me to pick out both good articles and photo-shots, not to mention some good tips on taking good photos! Hope you do not mind if I take some of your better shots and use them as part of my blog!

  3. Hi Dee,
    Thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to say hi.
    May I ask a little about you?
    Where are you located? What do you shoot with? In order to make this blog better, gathering some little information like this helps. If you’re not comfortable with posting this here under comments, use the contact form.

  4. Thanks Shane. Some guys might have thought the image “Kicking Back” is a tad girlish but I shot it as I found him.

    No fooling. It’s interesting that you like it.

    Over coffee yesterday when my professional photographer friends saw it, he said it was disturbing.

    Polite way of saying, he didn’t care for it. 😉

    The way I see it, I liked it enough to shoot it and that’s enough.

  5. I really love the picture “kicking back.” It makes you look several times and seems to spark a great deal interest while doing so. Very well done.

    The before and after pictures of the kids is great.

  6. Hello Sara,
    Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave such a nice comment.

    I mention Jo’s blog precisely because she uses photography well. It draws the reader into her posts. And she doesn’t even do any fancy post production. That’s what I like to see instead of heavily processed digital images.

    I am very honored that you like my blog. I had started this blog more than a year ago but it crashed and I had to start from scratch.

    I was devastated naturally but as with most things, there was a silver lining to my blog crashing. I found a niche which I enjoy. Hopefully my visitors find my ramblings useful enough to continue coming back.

    You blog will come alive too after a while. You just have to keep at it. Instead of using blogger, I might suggest you try a free account at WordPress as well.

    The blogging platform isn’t a important as the content. Just like the difference between Nikon and Canon, but when you’re ready to have your own domain name, you might find setting up WordPress is easy.

    Most webhosts have a backend where you just tell them you want to install it on your webserver.

    If you have questions about photography, contact me. I’ll see if I can answer them. Thanks again for reading

  7. I think you have done a great job with your blog and in fact Jo has done pretty good also. Now don’t think that I know alot about blogs or photography because I’m a beginner trying to learn both(as you can tell by my blog), if you have any more useful tips for me that would be great.

  8. Jo,
    I happen to love my 50mm 1.4 lens as well. It’s on m camera body at least 80% of the time. If I have to carry one lens all the time, that would be it because it’s small and light.

    If you’re after a lens with more reach but has low-light capability, it’s going to cost quite a bit unfortunately. Something in the range of US $1,000 for a 135 mm f2.

    If you’re really serious, the 70-200 f2.8 Image Stabilized Canon lens zoom will cost around US $1,800.

    The online backup system is okay but can be slow if you have to recover from a crash. Best option is to use both. External hard drives are cheap now .

    Consider buying a huge drive (1 Terabyte) and using an application like Super Duper or Carbon Copy Cloner.

    Either one of these 2 applications will create a copy of your computer allowing you recover from a hard drive failure quickly. You’ll be up in no time.

    Why wait till you retire to pick up on Photoshop? Life’s too short. I’m impressed that your images are so good with such minimal post production in iPhoto. But it’s your passionate content that I find most fascinating.

  9. I use a Canon 20D. My favorite lens is the 50mm1:1.4. I use it almost all the time. (Do you know, by the way, if there is a lens which has the kind of low-light capability this one provides, but also adds a zoom feature?)

    I don’t use photoshop at all (because I don’t know how, mainly). Occasionally I crop or adjust the light using the iphoto tools. Nothing fancy! Someday, when I retire, I plan to master photoshop, invest in a few more lenses and get really good at taking pictures.

    And yes, my MAC is now back in service – just a bit naked! I lost everything, including all the software I had loaded on the old hard drive. I plan to use an online backup system now.


  10. Jo,
    It was my pleasure. I am curious as to what equipment you use and if you even use Photoshop for your pictures on the blog.

    I’m glad you remember the details of how we met online. I am thankful I’m finally getting comments on a more regular basis. That’s what motivates me.

    There were times I wondered if anyone was even reading. The feedback, even bad ones, are infinitely better than dead silence. I haven’t deleted any comments and I don’t plan to even if it’s my prerogative to do so.

    How much credibility would I have if every single person loves everything I write?

    Your pictures of the boys complete with their impish smiles remind me a lot of my childhood friends.

  11. Oh, Peter! What a lovely post! Thank you!

    I have only known you since January, when you responded to my pathetic plea for help on an online photography forum regarding lost photos due to a camera-to-computer malfunction.

    You responded so generously – not once, but three times – offering advice, sympathy and practical help. I recognized the born teacher and the kindred spirit immediately . . .

    I love your blog. I can’t believe I have been featured in it!

    Thanks again.


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