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Documentary Photography Advice

Documentary Photography Advice - Edwin Brosens is back, and this time he's talking us through taking good documentary photos.

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This piece is all about shooting a series or a topic in a way that other people will understand what it is all about. For this, you have to think differently than you would when just trying to get a nice picture. We need photos that explain the work or the meaning of something.

As an example, let's take a look at this series of photos, which I shot to explain the digitalisation of a collection of insects:

Brosens
 
When you have found a topic, research all the information you can about it. Then you need to contact the organisation and see if it is OK to take photos. It is important to think about the photos you would like to shoot for your series. If you miss a photo, you can't complete the story fully.

You should make sure you have ample time at the organisation to shoot all the photos you need. For this project, my main goal was to take photos concerning the digitalisation of the collection of insects at www.naturalis.nl.

Brosens 2
 
I first wanted to show a person at the collection and the first problem I found was setting the white balance. There was a lot of brown and yellow in the light of the lamps, so I took some photos with different white balance settings before taking all of my shots.

For the above shot, I asked my subject to go carry out actions he'd do on a normal working day.  As you can see, one box is open and there is a glass plate on it which reflected the light from the lamps. I had to take care with this as if the reflection was too large, detail would be lost in the shot.

Brosens insects
 
For the above shot, external flash was needed to bring out the detail of the insects. I also used a reflector on the left side to bounce more light into the shot. I experimented with the angle of the flash until I achieved a result I liked.

The size of these Braconinae (parasitic wasps) is around 5mm to 3cm, so I have to make sure I have good sharpness. To do that, I used manual focus to set my focus point at the right place.

Brosens 4
 
Naturalis have a special scanner which scans the boxes of insects they have. The scanner shoots photos of 6x6 cm and stitches every separated photo into one large, complete image. The result from every box with insects is a TIFF file of 300 MB, and they have to scan 86,000 boxes!

It was difficult to get the box of insects, scanner and the person who controls the scanner into one clear image. I used my flash to highlight my subject's face and overexposed the image because of the light coming from the window behind my subject.


Brosens 5
 
To give people an understanding of how the scanner combines the photos, I took this photo of the monitor while the scanner was working.

Brosens 6

For the above shot, the white balance of the camera had to be set at the right colour temperature, because the white in the photo where the insect is placed has to look natural.

Remember, when you shoot journalistic photos you have to shoot everything that might be useful for an article, so the photo editor can select the best story telling photos for the article.

For more information on Edwin Brosens, visit his website.

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