Documentary and reportage photography – Research

Documentary and reportage photography is extremely similar, what we were told is that:

  • Documentary photography is photographs of life unfolding.
  • Reportage is the photographing of events as they happen.


A large side of documentary photography is social. Depicting people or a person’s actions that impact others negatively. According to The Tate Modern, this sort of style only really took off in the mid-twentieth century when photography was necessary for others to bear witness to events around the world such as Robert Capa’s photographs of the Spanish Civil War. They say ”Artists began to see the camera as a tool for social change, using it to shed light on injustice, inequality and the sidelined aspects of society.”

It is for this reason that I feel this style would best suit my project. My intention is to photograph a subject that has such a negative impact on the world we live in and whilst it is an ongoing event, meaning it may even be considered reportage photography, it is also going to depict peoples lives unfolding and the emotions they feel about this topic.

As I have just said my photographs could be considered as reportage and because of how closely related the two types of photography are there will be some overlapping into the different styles. However, I will be able to use both to the advantage of my piece because using the portrait shots of people (documentary) and then also landscape shots of the naturally stunning coastlines littered with waste (reportage) will show just how awful this plastic epidemic really is, but will also show the efforts of a small amount of people to change that.

This documentation of the people that are trying to help is possibly the most important thing because by showing this, even on such a seemingly insignificant scale of a handful of people cleaning a beach, will prove that we can make a difference to the planet we live on.


Some photographers are experts in capturing moments. One of my favourite photographers of all time is the freelance photojournalist Steve McCurry. His examples of documentary style photography are incredible and he explains that the perfect photograph can present itself in a matter of seconds. On a recent trip to Mumbai he captured a photograph shown in the slideshow below and he said;

”I was in a taxi waiting at a traffic light during the monsoon, and a woman brought her child up to the car window. I raised my camera, took two frams, the light changed, and off we went – it all happened in about seven or eight seconds.”

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These photographs all use different depth of fields to better show the subjects of the photographs. Those that look to be taken with a large depth of field allow the surroundings of the photographs to be seen along with the people in them, this is because the environment is just as important as those in it. I will be using both shallow and deep depth of fields in my work because, as shown in the ones above, both can be used to great effect when taking photographs.

Another photographer who I have really enjoyed the work of is a man called Corey Arnold from California. A photographer and also a commercial fisherman, his photographs showcase some of the incredible natural beauty of the ocean and the life in them, some of his photographs that really struck a chord with me are the ones of the eagles on a landfill site. These and a few others can be seen below.

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