View Full Version : Starting up a personal documentary project?

03-29-2011, 01:25 AM
Hey everyone,

I love documentary photography and am truly inspired by those who go out in the field and grab those stunning and emotion-evoking shots.

I'm thinking of starting a documentary project on my own just for my own personal use... but not too sure where to start. I was thinking of maybe doing something along the lines of "Places I like to eat" and showcase certain stores/restaurants that I've really liked and make it into a personal photobook.

Of course, then I'm thinking that I'd have to have people sign releases for being photographed (especially the photobook part... possible commercial use?), etc.

The point of all this is to just release myself into my passion and actually go and "shoot something".

Anyways, just wanted to know if anyone else here has done something similar or can recommend and/or provide some inspiration?

03-29-2011, 08:04 AM
I have a couple of ideas for projects that I've kept in the back of my head for awhile. My advice is to just go and shoot. At least for now, don't worry about releases. For something like this, you likely won't ever need them so if they're what is stopping you from shooting, don't worry about them. It could limit what you do with the images later on, but I wouldn't think you'd be that likely to sell them for commercial use. Putting together a book isn't usually considered commercial use - using the image in an ad for the restaurant would be.
Most important - just shoot. Get started and see where it takes you (I should do the same - one idea has been kicking around for several years now).

03-29-2011, 08:13 AM
The owners of the establishments you intend to shoot in might have issues with you photographing their paying customers, not to mention the people who are eating.

Rick A
03-29-2011, 09:38 AM
I'm embarking on a project soon. It doesn't involve getting releases signed by anyone though. My advice is to print off a handfull of release forms and go for it. Do not hesitate. You can at least shoot building exteriors to start, and schmooze the establishment owners for permission to shoot interiors. You dont necessarily have to shoot patrons, you can photo interiors while empty, or get the staff only. I'd venture a guess that most places will jump at the opportunity, especially if you hand out complimentary photos to hang on the wall.

Allen Friday
03-29-2011, 12:20 PM
You have the basic idea for a project: "Places I like to eat." Now go out and start shooting. As you shoot, further define the project. Continue to define it as you shoot and as you evaluate your shots. Ask yourself the basic questions: Who, what, when, where and why. Answer the questions both from your perspective (Why? I want to shoot a project so I will be more focused on one subject and remain motivated to shoot) and from a potential viewer's perspective (Why would a viewer be interested in these photographs? Do they say anything significant, or are they just an exercise?)

03-29-2011, 01:28 PM
Take a look at Martin Parr's work.

03-30-2011, 06:51 AM
I did a project last year that ended up as an exhibition and a Blurb book. It was documenting a local veterinary clinic and thoroughly enjoyed it. I got verbal permission from the people involved (staff, farmers and pet owners). Everybody was very friendly and helpful - only a couple of people didn't want me to use the photo's I took of them - so I didn't use them!

You can see the results here - http://sarphotography.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/all-in-a-day%e2%80%99s-work%e2%80%a6-photographing-the-stewartry-vets/

The best thing is to just go for it! Approach the cafe owners and tell them what you want to do and why. You could even suggest that they could hang some of the finished photographs on the wall of their establishments.

Good luck.


03-30-2011, 09:48 AM
Very nice work Simon.
The story is quite interesting.

Tom Stanworth
03-31-2011, 01:15 AM
Go for it, but don't rush in if you feel the ideas have not gelled in your mind. I would suggest to document venues you like is perhaps not enough for a really strong project unless you can connect with how and why these places affect you and how you might convey this through your photography. Once you have this figured out, just as a journalist will have his/her 'angle,' you will have yours. Good luck!

Great job, Simon.

07-12-2011, 06:29 PM
I have recently just started in photography and I am looking into attempting a documentary style project. I have come up with the idea of looking into the world of the "silent minority" of the Chinese immigrant in my local area. They are demographically the largest ethnic minority where I live and yet very few people know and recognise this and yet, you cannot turn a corner in a town and not see some kind of oriental take away food shop front.

So, I thought that it would be interesting to spend some time setting-up the tripod in one or more of these take aways and see what comes up in front of me at different times and different days. I think that it would be interesting to document the backgrounds and relationship that these people have with the "natural" local population.