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What is the difference between documentary and fine art photography?

And why I use both in my maternity, newborn and family photoshoots so you don't have to choose between them!

As a photographer, the words "fine art" and "documentary" are a fairly common part of my vocabulary, but before I became immersed in the photography world I had no idea what either of these terms actually meant when it came to looking for my own photographers and the sort of images I wanted. I use these terms a lot on my information pages, so I thought it would be helpful to explain each, as well as show some examples, give pros and cons, and explain why I have chosen to combine both in order to create my own style: Luxury Documentary Photography.

Documentary Photography

Pure documentary photography is exactly what it sounds like: documenting things as they happen, with no intervention from the photographer. The photographer tries to be as invisible as possible, and only captures what is real.

Documentary family photography in-home Gloucestershire
This is a pure documentary style image from one of my first family photoshoots. I couldn't pose or position these guys (I was peeking through the window), and I did a very minimalist edit.

There is often fairly minimal editing of the images later on, and it is a style most commonly associated with journalism. Photojournalism is slightly different to documentary photography, but the "invisible photographer" and low editing element is the same in both, so people often use each term interchangeably.

There has been a big rise in the last decade of documentary wedding photography, with couples moving away from organised, posed wedding photos, and instead hiring photographers who simply document the day as it happens.

documentary style wedding photography Coventry Warwickshire Kenilworth
A pure documentary style image I took at a recent wedding. I have made it black and white, and done nothing else!

The best thing about documentary photography is how authentic it is. It shows real moments, real people and creates real memories. If you think about it, most of the family albums from your past are likely to contain documentary style photographs, as well as the photographs you currently have on your phone. They are often the photographs we like to look back on the most, as they transport us straight back to the moment.

However, there is one downside to pure documentary photography. Whilst documenting moments exactly as they unfold is wonderful, it also means the photographer can't step in to advise clients on the most flattering light or position to stand in, or edit the photos later to enhance the memory to make it look as special as it felt.

Sometimes documentary photographs can feel more like casual snapshots than pro images, and you might be disappointed that you don't look as good as you hoped you would in them, especially after paying for such a luxury as professional photographs.

Today, when our phones are filled to capacity with documentary style photographs of our families and friends, we need to have something that feels a little more special to hang on the wall, don't you think?

Fine Art Photography

Pure fine art photographs look like beautiful paintings. They are classic, rich in colour and the subjects look perfect. They can be otherworldly, dreamy and magical, or dark, moody and atmospheric.

Fine art newborn and children photography Coventry Warwickshire
A quick search on Google Images will show you the style. None of these images are mine, and this screen shot is simply to show examples of the fine art style. I don't own the copyright to any of these images.

Fine art photography is commonly associated with the style of newborn photography that uses props and poses, as well as a lot of the beautiful child and maternity portraits you might see on Instagram and Pinterest. A quick Google search for "fine art portraits" will show you lots of examples.

Fine art photography is special. It's a way to alter and enhance real faces and places to make them look magical and literally picture perfect. The subjects are carefully posed, directed and edited so the images look as visually pleasing as possible.

However, despite all its amazing qualities, fine art photography lacks one thing: reality. Yes, fine art portraits can look stunning on your wall or on your Instagram page, but when your new baby is in their 20s, will they really enjoy looking back on those posed, highly stylised photos of themselves, which show very little about their personality?

Another issue with fine art photography is that because the photographs are highly stylised, they often follow the trend of the time. 30 years ago, the fine art photography styles were very different, and it follows that in 30 years time, the style of fine art photos you can see today will look just as dated and possibly a little cheesy...

Enter: Luxury Documentary

My style of photography combines both documentary and fine-art elements, to give you all the benefits of both, and none of the downsides.

How does it work? I thought you'd never ask!

I take photographs using 90% documentary methods- I let you get on with it, snap the precious moments as they happen, and watch as magic unfolds in front of the camera.

However, there are some things I do which takes my style away from pure documentary. Before you are left to your own devices, I will gently direct you to the most flattering light in the room (or wherever we might be) and as I'm shooting, I will occasionally step in to suggest that you may want to slightly change your position to make the most of your body, offer prompts (or make crap jokes) to make you smile, or help you to get stray hair out of your face.

I also consult with you before the shoot to find out how much direction you'd be happy to receive, and whether you'd like pointers on outfit, pose, etc. I follow your lead completely.

After the session, I look through every single image and pick not only the most beautiful, but the most real. It's important that your final images are both.

The luxury element of my documentary style comes in the editing; I turn the everyday, sweet moments captured during your photoshoot into canvas-worthy art pieces. I perform a fine-art style portrait edit on each image, which makes skin look glowy and healthy, colours more vibrant, eyes sharp, and background distractions minimised (where possible).

The final result is photographs that are real, but enhanced. They are authentically you, but romanticised. Documentary images alone can make us feel warm and fuzzy, but sometimes only when we look back on them in many years to come; I want to create images that make you feel warm and fuzzy right now.

Our family, maternity and newborn photographs no longer sit in private family albums, only to be looked at and reminisced over years later; they become our profile pictures, shared for hundreds to see on social media, set as wallpapers on our phones, or printed BIG (and if you think those phone photos can be printed big enough to fit in even an a4 sized frame, think again!) and hung on the wall.

So, it's understandable that these days, when we all have cameras in our pockets that are capable of capturing everyday moments, you want your professional images to feel luxurious and special, and that is exactly what I provide.

If you'd like to invest in some special, authentic and romantic images of yourself, your baby or your family, click here to find out more! If you'd like to book now, pop over to my contact page and drop me a message; I would love to hear from you!




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