What Is Documentary Style Photography?

Documentary photography is a term that is used a lot, especially related to event and wedding photography. If you are searching for a photographer, you may have gathered what it means by looking at websites and portfolios. If you are still unsure, here is my explanation of what true documentary photography is, and what it isn’t.

London Event Photographer

Beata capturing a candid picture of James, capturing a candid picture.

What does it mean?

A photograph captured in a documentary style means two things:

  1. It is part of a story – there is usually a narrative that flows through a series of documentary photos, portraying an event that happened. The photo is one part of an overall story, not something that was created just for the purpose of looking nice (such as a portrait).
  2. It is not staged – the photographer does not pose or direct the subject in any way. In most cases the picture is candid, and the subject is not aware the photograph is being taken. If the subject is aware of the photographer, they are acting on their own accord, not taking any directions.

What makes it so popular?

It is genuine, happy, and timeless.

We live in a world where, for the last ten years, we have been surrounded by selfies and social media. These are great for every day “disposable” use, where we don’t really intend to look at them again tomorrow, let alone in a year or two. But when you want to create something to look back on, a professionally captured documentary photo is a genuine memory.

Documentary photos are also natural. They do not involve faked smiles or awkward huddles in front of the camera. So when a documentary photo shows you smiling, laughing or having a good time – you really were happy!

Since documentary photos capture real moments and real emotions, they stand the test of time. There are no “trendy” filters, poses or styles used. They are simply classy photos that will not look outdated.

London Party Photographer

Multiple moments and emotions in one photo make up just one part of the story.

What isn’t it?

It isn’t a photo where the subjects are asked to pose like they are having a candid photo taken. You may ask why it matters if the look is the same? It matters because you will know that it is posed when you look back at it. The memory will not be the same. It is no longer a moment when you were enjoying great company, now it is a moment between you and the photographer.

It is the real capture of moments and memories that makes it so popular, and why I think you should love the style too.