Shooting a documentary project – where you photograph a story out there in the real world – takes some work. But the payoffs from that work have the potential to be huge – for your vision, your skills, your energy levels, your business, and more. It almost doesn’t make sense not to do one!
Here’s how creating a documentary project of your own can help:
1. Reflect On Your Photography
Choosing a topic for your documentary project forces you to think deeply about your photography. You’ll need to determine what ideas are important to you, and what goals you have for the shoot. It’s easy to just float along, shooting what you usually do, without thinking too much about it. By committing to planning a documentary project, you create the space to think carefully about your work, your values and your skills.
2. Improve Your Technical Skills
When you shoot a documentary project, you don’t always get a say in how things go. The light, pace of action, and setting may be out of your control. At first, you may want to run. Or cry. Or run, crying. But as you get into it, and your adrenaline starts pumping, you’ll rise to the occasion. You’ll find you get faster at changing your settings or better at composing interesting shots. By putting yourself in a challenging new situation, you’ll pick up new skills that are sure to help you with whatever kind of photography you do.
3. Get Creative
With client work, you can’t always take creative risks. But when you shoot something that’s outside the scope of your regular work, you kind of have to get creative. The lessons and tricks you’ve picked up as a wedding photographer won’t, for example, transfer perfectly to a documentary project about the secret lives of household cats. With the risks of experimenting low, it’s the perfect time to try out new things!
4. Boost Your Energy and Passion
Let’s be honest: Sometimes, editing photos and answering emails can get a bit dull. Or a lot dull.
Photographing a subject that totally fascinates you, on the other hand, can be incredibly energizing. And when you’re excited by what’s going on in front of you, you see the world in a different way. Your eyes are open to details big and small, and your photos get better as a result. The whole thing is a recipe for boosting your love of photography.
Of course, emails still need to be answered and client work edited. But working documentary projects into your routine can make tackling the dull stuff a bit easier.
5. Share a Story that Matters
People love stories. And they especially love stories with pictures. Shooting a documentary project, then, is a great way to share with the world a story or idea that you think matters. Chances are, lots of other people will think it matters too. Simple.
6. Become a Better Storyteller
When you shoot a documentary project you have to think about storytelling. You need to sort out what scenes and details to capture, and how to order your images in a way that makes the story clear. Sounds easy, but it takes planning and focus to keep your images and your story in mind when you’re shooting. Honing that skill will help you outside of your documentary work. For example, how awesome will your clients think it is if you can give them not just images of their family, but images that tell a story about their family?
7. Make Your Business Stand Out
Shooting a documentary project can make you memorable. To potential clients, you become not just another photographer, but the photographer who did that cool project. And in a competitive business, being memorable is a good thing.
You’ll also show that you’re capable of different styles of photography, which can open the door to paid projects in new markets.
8. Connect With and Inspire People
People are social creatures, and when they identify with your story they’ll probably want to tell you. Not only does that feel good, but it can also help you expand your professional and social networks.
In showing people that you’re able to share your story, you’ll inspire so of them to try the same. That’s pretty cool!
Want to hear more about our adventures on Prince Edward Island, and get a ton of tips and insight into shooting a documentary project? Check out our new eBook, How We Did It: Lobster Island!