Mystic 5 re-cap: Documentary tips

On January 4th, Michelle Turner + I got up in front of the crowd attending Mystic 5 in Mystic CT to give a talk about two different photographers approaching the same subject matter, in this case, weddings. We went over our two different styles + showcased numerous examples, including a wedding we shot together in Puerto Vallarta Mexico in December.

Below is a brief re-cap from my portion of the talk. You can see Michelle’s posing tips + techniques here.

Documenting an event isn’t just aiming your camera at a few choice moments and snapping away. There are certain approaches you should take to create a clean and inviting image, even in the midst of a fast moving scene.

As you learn to hone these tips, they will eventually become second nature, so that when a moment strikes, you will be prepared, not only to capture the action but also create a clutter free image that doesn’t compete for the viewers attention.

Below I have touched on a few of the ways in which you can approach a scene and certain rules you can incorporate while shooting.

Watch your backgrounds:

Pay close attention to what is going on behind and around your subject.
Are there other people or objects that will add or detract from the scene?
Choosing to include or exclude particular elements can make or break an image.

What’s going on in the four corners of your image? Is it clean or is it pulling your eye away from your subject?
The eye tends to stray to the brightest part of an image, so watch that you haven’t got a large glowing light or bright hot spot in one of the corners of your image. If so, the viewer will be distracted and leave the scene.

While shooting, constantly be aware of what is around your subject’s body. Watch for objects sticking out of some ones head or body. If you can use your subject to block out something distracting, do it!

As you are shooting, keep moving. As you are moving, keep shooting. Continuing to adjust while shooting will help bring you closer to a cleaner, more eye pleasing image.

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Eye level:

Constantly vary the height of your camera while you’re shooting. There are a few reasons for this. Staying out of the line of sight of
your subject means they will be less likely to focus on you, helping to make you ‘invisible’. This can help you to create images without the subject being camera aware.

It also means that the subject may ‘forget’ you are present, allowing you to get in to the scene and create images from a very close intimate perspective. One major reason why some images are too cluttered is because the photographer has hung too far back. The closer you get to your subject the more the image will feel as though the person viewing is there.

Another reason to change up your eye level is most clients with cameras tend to shoot as seen, meaning they are creating average images with out any interest.

By lowering yourself below your subject or bringing your camera’s eye higher (either by standing on something or raising your camera over your head) you will create images that most clients are not accustomed to seeing. It can also help with your background (by lowering yourself below your subject and moving so the subject is in front of a clean space).

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Most, if not all, images can be cropped. Remember about clean backgrounds and removing distracting elements from images? Well when you are shooting, things are happening fast.
When all else fails, get the shot!

You may end up with some clutter in the background or a composition that could be cleaned up by just cropping a bit of non-information out of the image.
Take a few of your images and play with them in PS. Hit the ‘Front Image’ button when in crop mode to retain your dimensions, and play with the cropping.

See how much better your image could be if you crop out some of the distracting elements that may be exhausting your eye.



Sometimes using objects or people within a scene can draw the eye into the action while simultaneously cropping out distracting elements. It’s
a great way to create interest within the frame. You can shoot through a crook of an arm, or a chair back.

Another method of framing is  to place a subject within a frame, like a bright window, in order to make that element stand out.
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Layering is using multiple elements within the frame to draw the eye in and keep it moving within the scene.
It creates depth and is used to add to the story within the image. When done properly, it is not seen as clutter, but as a flowing part of the visual narrative.
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If you have any tips, tricks or would like to elaborate on anything above, please feel free to use the comments section. And of course, any questions, by all means, ask away!

A large portion of my learning is due, in large part, to the caring + sharing of communities and workshops such as these:

Art of the moment workshop by Tyler Wirken + Brooks Whittington

Any questions on the above, please feel free to touch base. I would love to share my experiences!

Ciao + Love ~ Stacey D

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Miss Vida

    That 2nd to last image “At Last”

    boy can I identify with that!

  2. Scott Kretschmann

    I loved the Mystic workshop you and Michelle were so interesting and informative…Thank you for sharing some of your “secrets to success”

    1. stacey_d

      Hi Scott,

      Thank you so much!! Any questions at all, don’t hesitate to touch base. So glad you enjoyed the talk 🙂

      Stacey D

  3. michele bowman

    thanks for sharing what you learned at Mystic. i would LOVE to get there next year!!

    1. stacey_d

      Thank you so much Michele,

      Hope you can make it to Mystic next year as well!!

      Stacey D

  4. Mark

    Great tips, Stacey! I wish I’d been able to make it to Mystic!

    1. stacey_d

      Thank you so much Mark! Hope to see you next year!!! 🙂
      Stacey D

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