Or does it even really matter? Labels can be silly, somewhat limiting things, so usually I don’t bother trying to label my type of shooting. But at the same time, giving it the appropriate label can be helpful when we think through what we want to accomplish in our work. In my own definitions, and in a nutshell:
Documentary: shot without interference from the photographer and any artistic measures applied to the image are made in-camera in the form of composition, perspective and camera settings. The image should capture life as it was naturally unfolding, whether the photographer was there or not. To tell a story.
Lifestyle: the photographer’s hand may gently guide or influence the scene. She may pick up the room here and there to remove distracting items, reposition where the subject is sitting for optimum composition and use of available light, encourage certain interactions between subjects, etc. While still making effective judgement on her in-camera settings. To tell a story.
Personally, I’m not sure most ‘Lifestyle’ or ‘Documentary’ photographers are exclusively one or the other. I sure know I’m not. And that is where the fun, the challenge, the art, lies.
Friends, it is challenging to capture a lovely documentary photograph. It is so much easier to orchestrate the image in a ‘lifestyle’ manor … at least it is for me. I love this challenge. I welcome it with open arms. Which is good, because it is what I do most of the time.
These, for example …
The other night, while Matt took Gage (and Kaden) ‘hunting’, Cooper and I were left together. We sat on the top step of the porch and watched the sun setting through the clouds.
I saw how the soft light embraced him, and I told him “I’ll be right back”. I got that excited feeling in my gut, my heart, and my mind that I always get when I’m about to document something in the moment … I grabbed my camera, and caught this shot.
He got nervous a second later because we began hearing whistles in the woods, not initially realizing it was Matt, Gage and Kaden sneaking up on us. When they came into sight, he stood up, like this, so he could talk to them, and ease his nerves.
The story is a little iffy here (not obviously told), so even these sort of skirt the line of if they are really labeled ‘documentary photography’, but that is when I come in and feel inclined to say that I don’t care about the label. Hah! But, my point is that these were taken of a scene as it naturally unfolded without me saying “Cooper, sit right here” and “Now, stand here.”
Lifestyle, on the other hand, as I mentioned on Wednesday, gives the photographer more control. I love this, too! This is where artistry, I believe, starts to come into my images (even though I calling my images ‘art’ always makes me twitchy!). Documentary: I’m photographing God’s creation being lived out. Lifestyle: I’m observing God’s creation and deciding how to use it to capture the images I’m envisioning and the stories I want to be sure to tell. Real stories, remember. I’m not talking putting your child in lovely light, strumming on a guitar, if they really don’t play the guitar.
So, I’m giving suggestions based on the images I’m envisioning. Such as these…
Kaden came downstairs having dressed himself, wearing this hat. We adore this hat … it’s made it’s rounds through our boys. The light was lovely … rain was in the forecast and I knew our sunny mornings were numbered. So, when I poured Kaden his cereal I suggested we eat outside.
Truly, truly to enjoy the gorgeous morning, but also because I knew it was a pretty way to take photos of Kaden just hanging out in his hat.
When I think about it, I’m not so much photographing in a ‘Lifestyle’ genre, but photography is just a part of my lifestyle. It plays a part in some of the decisions I make throughout the day. Suggesting we eat outside for the sake of photos is pretty much the same to me as suggesting Cooper sits at the bar to do his reading while I make lunch, so I can help him with a word if he needs it.
Decisions are made with a logical purpose in mind. And deciding where a game will be played, or when a walk might take place, or what shirts will (or won’t) be purchased, or where someone will sit at the table might be, occasionally, decided upon based on mama wanting to take photos.
But again … I promise you … that I’m not manufacturing activities, likes, behaviors that don’t naturally exist in our lives, just for the sake of a photo opportunity. Promise. Unless I’m taking portraits … and in that case, my boys don’t always stand around cuddling in over-grown grass with branching trees arching over the top of them.
But, they do have breakfast together every morning, one often playing on my tablet once he’s done. This little guy does adore this hat and we love eating outside when the weather allows. On this morning, I just so happened to suggest we do so, with taking-photos in mind.
I suppose I share this with you in case you’re feeling unsure about how much influence you should have on your ‘everyday life photos’ … letting them be totally documentary or helping them along with a little lifestyle approach. In my opinion, BOTH are awesome, and valuable, and cherished keepsakes. Both can be lovely and strong executions of your photography skills. However, both should be real.
…. You guide your photography, your photography guides you, but always, it is the story that guides it all. That’s the dance of Documentary and Lifestyle photography.
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