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Beginner’s Guide to Documentary Photography by Rick Gerrity

Beginner’s Guide to Documentary Photography by Rick Gerrity

By: Rick Gerrity, via Tamron-USA Comments: 1

When I photograph documentary style, I stick to using available light without a tripod. My go-to camera is the Sony A7IV paired with the Tamron 35-150mm F2-2.8 lens. Additionally, I carry a second Sony A7CII equipped with a Tamron 20-40mm F2.8 for wide shots.

For me, the key is to travel light – just one bag and I'm ready to go. I rely on these cameras for their exceptional low-light performance, and the Tamron lenses for their impressive fast aperture capabilities. Understanding your gear is crucial; being familiar with your cameras and lenses means you can set the right parameters for any given assignment without hesitation.

Ultimately, it all comes down to composition, respect, and attentiveness to your subjects.

Form a Genuine Bond
Meet Ellis Ferrell, the visionary behind the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in the Strawberry Mansion area of North Philadelphia. When crafting a portrait like this, the initial step is to establish deep respect for the individual and earn their trust. I hold a genuine concern for each person I photograph and maintain ongoing connections. Once a genuine bond is formed, the images unfold effortlessly. Ellis, fondly known as "El-Dog," will forever hold a special place in my heart as a dear friend.

© Rick Gerrity
© Rick Gerrity
35-150mm (150mm), F2.8, 1/1000 sec., ISO 250
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In my photographic journey, the Tamron 35-150 has become almost exclusively my lens of choice. With its versatile focal length and a wide aperture ranging from F2 to 2.8, it beautifully encompasses the diverse subjects I encounter. This particular image was captured using a Sony A7III paired with the 35-150mm lens, set at 150mm, F2.8, with a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second, ISO 250, on a cloudy day. Post-processing was done in Snapseed on my phone to enhance the details and open up the shadows.

Listen and Be Kind
Meet Kooper, an intelligent and compassionate son hailing from a farming family in Iowa. His world centers around the animals on the farm and connecting with individuals like Koop is effortless – just lend an ear to their thoughts. Remember, kindness is key.

© Rick Gerrity
© Rick Gerrity
35-150mm (110mm), F8, 1/1000 sec., ISO 400
Click image to view larger

Captured on a Sony A7III with the Tamron 35-150mm lens, this photo was taken at 110mm, F8 for a touch of depth, with a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second, ISO 400, on an overcast day. Quick processing on the fly was done using Snapseed on my phone.

Respect the subjects' consent
Meet Arlin Bolte and his granddaughter, Arianna – an incredible team that seamlessly tackles all aspects of farming and its associated chores together. Hearing about their unique and special bond, I had the privilege of capturing some moments. A crucial tip in photography: never raise your camera until you've established consent. The true joy lies in forging lifelong friendships while documenting the stories of others.

© Rick Gerrity
© Rick Gerrity
35-150mm (53mm), F4.0, 1/1000 sec. ISO 400
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Taken with a Sony A7III and the 35-150mm lens at 53mm, this image was shot at F4, 1/1000 second, ISO 400, and later processed in Snapseed on my phone to enhance the details.

Listen, Understand and Connect with Your Subject(s)
Meet Colin Johnson, a farmer hailing from Albert City, Iowa, who also happens to be a skilled photographer himself. Colin ventured to Omaha, Nebraska, specifically to attend a presentation I was giving on capturing the soul of the subject in a portrait. Following the event, Colin and his wife Mary graciously extended an invitation for me to visit Albert City. A few months later, I made the journey and documented life in this quaint town. Colin and Mary have become dear and lasting friends. In my experience, genuinely listening to people is the cornerstone of effectively capturing their lives. Understanding and connecting with individuals on a personal level enhances the quality and depth of my photographs.

© Rick Gerrity
© Rick Gerrity
35-150mm (41mm), F2.2, 1/8000 sec., ISO 2000
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This particular photo was taken with a Sony A7III, using the Tamron 35-150mm F2-2.8 lens at 41mm, with an aperture of F2.2, a shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second, and an ISO of 2000. The high ISO was a result of a quick transition from inside a building, where I didn't have the opportunity to adjust the settings. Post-processing was done in Snapseed on my phone.

Maintain an Unobtrusive Presence
This church stands proudly in Monowi, Nebraska, known as the "Town of 1 Resident" and recognized as the smallest town in the USA. Elsie Eiler, the remarkable sole resident, graciously invited me to her 90th birthday celebration. The church itself holds significance as it hosted the last service during Elsie's father's funeral. In addition to her home, Elsie owns the Monowi Tavern, and her birthday party was a lively affair, with neighbors from nearby towns ensuring she is never alone. Building strong relationships is the foundation; once people recognize your genuine care, capturing meaningful photos becomes natural. I prioritize traveling light and maintaining an unobtrusive presence.

© Rick Gerrity
© Rick Gerrity
35-150mm (35mm), F7.1, 1/2500 sec., ISO 3200
Click image to view larger

This particular photo was taken with a Sony A7IV, utilizing the 35-150mm lens at 35mm to include some foreground elements. Shot at F7.1, 1/2500 sec, ISO 3200, the image was later processed in Snapseed to enhance the details in the foreground.

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