This course looks in depth at photography which documents, investigates or comments on people and situations. It provides a structure for exploring documentary subjects in an exciting and positive way. It builds on Photography 1: The Art of Photography and develops your experience in using compositional and lighting skills in selecting, editing and juxtaposing images.
C us sm l or a p e e
Photography 2: Social DocumentaryWritten by Michael Freeman
About the author
Michael Freeman is one of the worlds most highly respected professional photographers. He is widely published, with more than 80 books to his credit including the classic 35mm handbook (over 1.5 million copies sold). His publications include Spirit of Asia; Angkor: Cities and Temples (both Thames and Hudson); Japan Modern and The Modern Japanese Garden (both Mitchell Beazley). Michael has also produced a unique series of guide books for the digital photographer and this is published by ILEX, who are digital media specialists. He has worked on commissions for many well-known publishing clients, including Time-Life, Readers Digest, Cond Nast Traveller and GEO. He is also the principle photographer for the Smithsonian Magazine.
IntroductionBeyond the basics What is social documentary photography? The scope of social documentary Extra resources The equipment you will need Following the course Assignments Your portfolio Your logbook On completing the course Project and tutorial plan
The reporters eyePutting the subject first Dealing with people First subjects Project 1: a friend in a public place Basic composition A single subject Project 2: framing - a single figure Several points Project 3: framing - 2 people Project 4: vertical vs horizontal Project 5: eye-lines Project 6: direction of movement Project 7: a day at the zoo Project 8: thinking about the way you work A closer view Project 9: suggesting more with less
Crowds Project 10: high viewpoint Project 11: crowds Natural portraits Project 12: a natural portrait Project 13: hands Project 14: people at work Project 15 (optional): tools of the trade Project 16: urban life Project 17 (optional): holiday Project 18 (optional): life at a beach resort Your logbook Assignment 1: a day in the life of
The telling momentThe importance of timing Project 19: analysing moments Project 20: anticipating a moving figure Working quickly Project 21: camera handling Project 22: action - peak moment Following the action Project 23: action with a motor-drive (optional, dependent on your equipment) Focus Project 24: using an auto-focus lens (optional, dependent on your equipment) Project 25: follow focus Project 26: selective focus Project 27: selecting the right shutter speed Project 28: improving your slowest shutter speed Photographing people Project 29: children at play Project 30: emotion Improving the shot
Project 31: a situation that improves Project 32: street photography Assignment 2: relationships between people
Working in low lightExtending your range Fast film Daylight indoors Tungsten light Project 33: tungsten light - colour and exposure Fluorescent lights Other kinds of artificial light Tripod and standard film Flash Using blur for effect Project 34: handheld slow exposure Project 35: a city at night Planning the rest of your course... Assignment 3: a critical review Assignment 4: in the style of an influential photographer
Documentary stylesThe appropriate lens Wide-angle The subjective camera Project 36: wide-angle technique Project 37: telephoto technique Black-and-white film Grain Printing Project 38: black-and-white Project 39: making connections The photo essay Project 40: laying out a photo essay
Cropping Project 41: a cropped print Assignment 5: photo essay
Your portfolio At the end of your course Appendix A: if you plan to submit your work for formal assessment Appendix B: information concerning the proper use of materials and equipment Further reading
Project 22: action - peak moment
Look at the snowboarder. Apart from the other qualities of this action picture, it shows the snowboarder at the right split-second - at the height of the jump with snow spraying out behind. This is one of the peak moments in this sport. With very active subjects, timing is critical, and is less easy to achieve than with normal movement. Capturing the peak of action calls for great accuracy: when a footballer goes for a header, a small fraction of a second can make all the difference. Many people believe that a motor drive or auto winder is essential equipment because of its ability to fire off a number of frames faster than could be done by hand-winding, but in fact it is useful only in a few circumstances. The problem with a motor drive is that few operate faster than about 6 frames per second; at the fast shutter speeds needed (around 1/500 second), you would cover only about one per cent of the action if you kept your finger pressed on the shutter release. Nothing beats releasing the shutter once at the right moment. The motor drive is then useful mainly because it frees you from winding on for the next peak of the action. The basic skill is to be able to stop movement in the image; this means having a good knowledge of what shutter speeds freeze what
degree of action. The table that follows gives an idea of this for different kinds of activity.
One of the most important things to realise is that the shutter speed that will stop movement depends not only on how fast the person or object is travelling, but on how fast the image of this moves through the viewfinder frame. The actual speed, therefore, is less relevant than it might at first seem to be. The smaller you are prepared to accept the moving image in the frame, the easier it will be to catch a frozen image of it. Also, movement towards the camera appears slower than movement across the frame. Changing the position from which you shoot may sometimes be a solution on an occasion when the light is sufficient for the shutter speed that you want to use (see table above).
Following the actionSimply using a fast shutter speed and freezing the image is not the only way to treat movement. It is not even always the best result. There are times when it works better to convey a sense of action with blurring rather than a crisp, motionless image. One of the most useful techniques is panning - following the movement with the camera in such a way that the image is kept centred. Swinging the camera in this way is useful not so much because it helps to keep the image sharper at slower shutter speeds (which it does), but because the background can be blurred and so the subject is isolated. Select a shutter speed just fast enough to hold the image of the subject. This is illustrated in The Art of Photography, and the image below.
For the project, you will need a situation in which there is fast movement; it could be, for instance, a vociferous market trader holding up merchandise and waving his arms about. You will need to reserve this project until you come across a suitable subject. Then take at least 10 photographs from the same camera position with the same lens in which you try to capture 10 different gestures and/or expressions. When you have the prints, examine the
sequence of pictures and write a short commentary on the differences between them. Order them in preference. The pictures that follow are an example of this kind of action. Which is the critical point in the sequence?
This is a sample from Photography 2: Social Documentary. The full course contains 41 Projects and 5 tutor-assessed Assignments