Photojournalism and documentary photography are, to my way of thinking, cousins in the world of creative photography. Let’s explore the differences between the two as a way of better understanding which genre is better suited to your own photography ambitions.
I consider photojournalism to be, primarily, news-based photography that’s published in newspaper, magazine articles and as online posts on news based websites.
As a generalization I'd classify photojournalism as commissioned work that usually has to reflect editorial policy of the publication in question.
You may be paid for your work, more likely as a contributor than an employee, but you'll need to be aware of the editorial policies and guidelines of the magazines and websites to which you submit your work for publication.
The above photo was made by the shores of Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in southern Iceland.
I made the image with a Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS L series lens. The image was made at 1/250 second at f/8 with my camera set to ISO 400.
As with the other photos in this post it's the type of image that would be well suited to publication in a travel and leisure based magazine.
A ship, now no more than a rusting hulk, lies in a bay near the city of Ushuaia in the far south of Argentina. The orange color of the ship is illuminated by the gentle sunlight and is a striking contrast against the predominantly bluish light resulting from gathering storm clouds.
The Advantages Of Documentary Photography
Documentary photography is usually based upon self-motivated and self-funded projects.
Not limited to the usually tighter deadlines associated with newspaper and magazine publication, documentary photography can also be seen in galleries and books.
Free of editorial restrictions I believe documentary photography is more closely aligned to fine art photography.
My Own Journey In Photography
Though I'm happy to be described as a photographer, if pushed for a more definitive description my answer has changed over the years in line with the type of photography I was doing at the time.
After closing down my wedding/portrait studio I worked for a time as the chief photographer at the Hamilton Spectator, my hometown newspaper.
I headed to Melbourne to formerly study photography back in 1986.
It was at that stage that I decided to move away from much of the commercial work I'd previously undertaken.
It was at this stage that I began to classify myself as a documentary photographer. It made sense as the majority of my photography was based around self-motivated projects.
The problem was that few people understood what was meant by the term documentary photographer.
Over recent years the subject matter of my photographs has remained relatively constant, and I now brand myself as a Travel Photographer.
But that doesn't mean I'm aggressively chasing clients with the notion of photographing resort pools and hotel rooms. I'm not.
I love to travel and I love to photograph people, landscapes and architecture. On occasions I’ve also had the good fortune to photograph wildlife.
Our world offers an abundance of photography opportunities and the more I travel and photograph the more I learn about the diverse beauty our world offers and the richer my life's experience becomes.
I love the notion that, when visiting a wilderness, we should leave nothing behind other than our footprints. However, there are exceptions to the rule, as is evidenced in this compelling image from a research centre at Port Lockroy in Antarctica.
Who You Are Determines What And How You Photograph
I am an experience-driven individual. The more intimate the experience the more interested and involved I become.
As a visual artist/photographer I travel the world and use my camera, as a passport, to explore the Human Condition and share the beauty of our nature world with an ever-wider audience.
It's important to be able to understand who you are as an individual creative being.
Knowing who you are will help you determine what it is you most care about and, as a result, know where it's best to place your creative energies.
Don’t underestimate how you feel about what it is you most want to photograph. Your feelings will determine your motivations, how you go about making those photos and, ultimately, what they say to the world about you, the maker of those images.