7 Simple Steps for Choosing Your Documentary Photography Topic

Thinking of stepping out of your photo comfort zone and trying something new? We all do it. Sooner or later it’s time to try to flip our photos into money-making opportunities. This specific style of photography called documentary photography is not only a great storytelling tool, but it can also become a source of income with the right publication.

Chop Up Your List

Don’t worry, we are not suggesting that the only way to enjoy documentary photography is by using it as an employment source. In fact, it is a very creative way to spend time with your camera and focusing (pun intended) on a particular topic or subject.

To better prepare you for this we have put together these simple steps for choosing your documentary photography topic.

7 Simple Steps for Choosing Your Documentary Photography Topic

1. Your Topic

Your Topic

This is sometimes the main stumbling block. What is it that you are interested in?

By asking yourself this question, you will be able to put together a list of potential documentary subjects. The idea of listing your interests is to primarily give you some kind of reference tool. If you, for example, list things that would generally be considered sports-related, health-related, family-related and hobby-related the last thing you should be trying to use as a topic is, for example, politics.

That’s because if you try to use a topic that you don’t have even a slight interest in, you will probably find it difficult to work with. The idea here is to stick with what you know or like.

2. Your Existing Photo Topics

Existing Photo Topics

One great way to hone down your interests is to have your list alongside a number of your photos. What you are doing at this point is trying to understand what topics you normally shoot with your camera. If you see some obvious matches with your hand-written list, make note of them.

This cross-reference will come in handy in just a moment.

Related: How To Build A Photography Portfolio?

3. Chop Up Your List

documentary photo

This is one of those documentary photography tips that you can’t really skip. With your cross-reference notes, your next move is to shortlist your topics. It won’t be all that hard to do as you should have been marking the list topics that matched with your existing photo topics.

Did you get that part? If you have tennis, football and soccer photos and your hand-written list has these items on it, then these matched topics remain on your list. If you have photos of babies and your hand-written list did not contain this, then it is likely a topic you’ll want to skip.

4. Keep The Matches For Future Use

Matches For Future Use

Here’s where documentary photography tips come in handy. Let’s say you have a couple of outstanding action photos taken during a soccer match. You will want to keep them somewhere that you can access them easily. That’s because you may find a future opportunity to fill in some ‘blanks’ when another soccer photo-op presents itself.

Sure, it sounds like a lot of work to keep a number of files open, but your short list should only contain a handful of topic choices. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be hard to remember a few topics when you are out and about with your camera.

5. Pick Your Top Three Topics

Top Three Topics

Let’s say your shortlist was made out of ten documentary topics. You need to cut that down considerably in order to concentrate on your most likely topic choices for documentary photos. You do this by cutting out the topics that may be less interesting visually, difficult to photography effectively and are probably not as popular as your other choices.

With your top three, you will be able to add to them the photos that would fit better than trying to cover far too many options. Plus, with just three topics you can start to think about the audience that would be interested in these subjects and how you would access the venues for more photos.

6. Narrow It Down To One

Narrow It Down To One

The process of elimination will bring you to this place. Out of your top three selections, there should be one that stands out from the others. It will be the one that you feel strongly about and that you have a passion for. It is with that passion that you will be driven to explore this topic deeper. Not only will you be digging into it for yourself as a means of satisfying your own curiosity, but you will be exploring it to expose the topic to others.

Human interest is a powerful tool in documentary photography. Now you must do some homework.

7. Homework


Not as if you didn’t already spend a lot of time working in the background on this, but with your single topic idea you must conduct some background research. This will seat you in front of your computer but instead of tweaking photos you’ll be digging up information from the internet related to your chosen topic.

Depending on what it happens to be, you’ll be looking for contact names and numbers for getting access to other people to interview them. For example, if your documentary topic is on a product manufactured by a local company, you will want to connect with either the corporate head office or the head of marketing for that product. These are the people who will provide you with the answers to your questions and from that, you will be able to write your piece and include documentary photos to go with the copy.

Related: What Is The Most Profitable Photography Niche?

It doesn’t matter if you are featuring a new product like a glow-in-the-dark widget or a sporting event, with these documentary photography tips you should have a better idea on the topic selection. Plus, these tips should provide you with the inspiration to take on a new and exciting way to utilize your photography skills and combine them with your writing talent.

The rewards that can come from such a combination may lead to magazine or blog contributions that will earn you a few bucks for your trouble. It’s also a cool part-time hobby that will enhance your skill set to a place you may never have imagined it could go.

Related: 17 Best Websites To Sell Your Photography (With Tips On Most Profitable Photos To Sell!)

7 Simple Steps for Choosing Your Documentary Photography Topic

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