The Documentary Approach

with jessica thomason

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february 6, 2017
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march 13, 2017
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Full Participation sold out.
Study Along seats available!

They say truth is stranger than fiction. I believe it’s more beautiful too. Take a step back from the perfectly orchestrated set-ups and aesthetically driven photography you’re used to and learn to appreciate and document the world just as it is. This four week course will teach you how to approach a scene with a storytelling eye and capture it in a compelling way. You’ll learn the “rules” of documentary photography: storytelling composition techniques, how to handle a variety of lighting conditions and the secret to capturing the elusive “decisive moment”. You’ll be challenged to choose a photo essay, shoot a personal day-in-the-life, and explore documenting the lives of strangers or clients.


4 weeks + a Break Week


daily shooting encouraged


4 hours of work per week


this course has prerequisites


All students will need a wide angle, prime lens (35mm or wider is highly recommended) on a DSLR body. Students should be familiar with basic principles of composition and have a well developed understanding of natural light. Students should be comfortable shooting in manual.



Jessica Thomason is a documentary family photographer who lives with her husband, two little girls and two golden retrievers in sunny Sarasota, Florida. Her approach to photography is one that celebrates the chaos, clutter and mundane details of daily life. She aims to tell the stories of her family and clients in a way that captures the essence of who they were, how they lived and what they loved.  Her portfolio is available here.

The following photographers also participate in discussions and provide assignment critiques as teaching assistants: Lauren Mitchell, Felicia Chang, Heather Whitten

A number of course alumni are invited to engage in discussion, share insight with students, and provide feedback and encouragement throughout the course.



• Week One: 1 PDF, a shooting video on micro-composing, a culling video on micro-composing
• Week Two: 1 PDF, a video on identifying your subject, a video on using juxtaposition in storytelling, a video on choosing images for a photo essay vs long term photo project
• Week Three: 1 PDF, shooting video (DITL), culling video
• Week Four: 1 PDF, shooting video (client session), culling video

Full Participation students engage in an interactive online classroom experience that includes instructor-led group discussions and detailed, personalized guidance for the duration of the workshop. Full participation students receive instructor and TA critiques of the posted assignment each week and have lifetime access to a Workshop Alumni forum for continued peer discussion after the course concludes.

Study Along students will have access to all materials and will be able to view all content and conversation in the main workshop forum and receive access to their own private subforum for peer study groups and image shares. Study along students will not be able to ask the instructor questions or request instructor feedback on their assignments.

Welcome & Preassignment

Week One

Reading: Documentary vs lifestyle, finding and shooting your “why”, intro to storytelling composition, embracing the light, understanding the “decisive moment” 
Assignment: revisit your personal photo archives to discover and discuss your “why”; submit an image for critique using one or more of the composition, light or moment techniques discussed

Week Two

Reading: the “Photo Essay”, the power of shooting for you, choosing a photo essay, telling a story in a single frame, further discussion of storytelling composition, light and moment techniques
Assignment: choose a photo essay and submit one image from your photo essay using C/L/M techniques discussed this week

Week Three

Reading: shooting a personal DITL (day in the life), questions to answer while shooting, ‘must have shots’ and the defining image, culling for your blog or photo book

Assignment: shoot, edit and cull your 40-50 image DITL for critique

Week Four

Reading: Shooting for strangers, casting calls, gaining trust, shooting in home vs on location, approaching the 2, 4 and 8 hr + photo session

Assignment: shoot a 2 hr or longer documentary-style photo session (conduct a casting call or shoot for your own family); submit 3 images for detailed critique or a culled blog post (30-40 images) for more general critique

The CMU workshop is a 100% online classroom experience. Once you sign up, you have access to a course forum that is open 24 hours a day so that you can learn and join discussions on your own schedule.

Each week students receive a set of course materials– these materials generally include a PDF and/or videos. Throughout the week, instructors and TAs are present in the forum every day to answer questions and offer encouragement. Students receive an assignment each week that pertains to the topics covered in the course materials and class discussion throughout the week.

Full Participation students engage in an interactive online classroom experience that includes instructor-led group discussions and detailed, personalized guidance for the duration of the workshop. Full participation students post their assignments in the forum and receive instructor and TA critiques each week. They also have lifetime access to a Workshop Alumni forum for continued peer discussion after the course concludes.

Study Along students have access to all materials and are able to view all content and conversation in the main workshop forum. They also receive access to their own private Study Along subforum for peer study groups and image shares. Study along students will not be able to ask the instructor questions or request instructor feedback on their assignments, but they can follow along with instructor critiques of the Full Participation assignments.

Whether you are a Full Participation student or a Study Along student, the course materials are yours to keep.


  • Juliane says:

    This workshop was the best workshop I participated in so far on CM. Jessica’s and the TA’s involvement in the course was amazing and the material was brilliant. I always wondered how photographers manage to catch the “decisive moments” in life – I finally got an answer. The class was definitively an eye opener for me. I very much liked the many lively discussions among the participants and the TAs and AHs. You will get the most out of CM classes when shooting every day. This is the more true for this workshop. Applying the concepts I learned in class was for sure challenging and brought me to my boundaries but I learned a ton and now know much better what kind of photos I want to take and on what I still need to work on technical wise. It is definitively worth running for this course!

  • Heather Mohr says:

    I can’t say enough good about this class. Jessica and the TAs were all so helpful. I loved all the in-depth discussions that took place, and the feedback was fantastic. I’m a birth photographer, and so many of the things I learned in this class will help me be better at that. The class also has transformed the way I think about my day-to-day shooting. I’m no longer afraid to miss moments of my life, because they lack some element of photographic perfection. I’ve now even done my first DITL as a result of this class, something I always saw as too daunting to take on in the past. Now I’ll be doing it multiple times a year, no doubt! If you’re undecided about this class, just stop thinking and sign up! You won’t regret it!!

  • Terri says:

    This class is AMAZING! I have taken quite a few classes at Clickin Moms (all study alongs because by the time I get around to registering the full participation is sold out). If you have the opportunity to take this as a full participation student do it. The amount of information Jessica provides is invaluable. The pictures, the stories she shares, the inspiration, it is all game changing. Even the TA’s are amazing and are so eager to help. The feedback all of them provide is awesome (I found myself reading their critiques of all the full participation students and got a lot of helpful insights here-but no where near as helpful as if I had been a full participation student). Run to sign up for this class, you will not be disappointed.

  • Agata Cicha says:

    I follow Jessica’s work for 3 years now so when I saw that she has a workshop coming up I knew I had to take it. I was late signing up for the first run and was considering SA seat but decided at the end to wait for the second run. Gosh I was so glad I did!!! This class is so amazing and I wouldn’t give up my FP seat for nothing!! Even though I learnt a ton from listening to the critiques on other participants assigmnent, more than anything I wanted to hear what Jessica and her wonderful TAs have to say about my work and progress. Jessica is an amazing teacher and her and TAs feedback was invaluable!!! If you love this style of photography don’t hesitate to sign up and prepare yourself for 4 weeks of learning from the best and overall incredible expierence. If there is ever a Documentary Approach part 2 I will be first one in line to sign up!!

  • I have nothing but good things to say about the course. I have been on a ” learning bing ” with documentary photography and hers is the best so far!!!

  • Elaina says:

    Goodness, I don’t know that I can give this class enough praise. While documentary photography is a genre I’ve been drawn to for a long time, I just couldn’t pull it all together in my own work. I lacked the confidence and my photos lacked that special feeling I was after. I signed up on a whim and with little to no expectations. I didn’t really know what to expect or even what it was I was hoping to gain. But that whim has paid off ten fold! This class blew me away from day one. Jessica and her TA’s were top notch. The course material was thorough, the conversations were on point and the feedback was amazing. I could go on and on and on. But in short, if you have any interest in documentary photography or are looking for more from yourself and your photos, put this class at the top of your list. You will not be disappointed! Best I’ve ever taken on CM.

  • As my first CM workshop, I have to admit I was blown away! The materials, discussion, conversations and constructive critiques went far beyond what I expected in the full class. Jessica and her TAs (and alumni helpers) were tremendous; everyone was serious about how to improve and encouraging the whole way. And not only was this a journey with my photography, but a personal exploration of why I shoot — I walked away with so much more than knowledge about documentary approach and I thank Jessica for that.

  • bobbie cohlan says:

    amazing class and teacher and TA’s. I am sooooo glad i took this class. I really didnt know much about documentary photography before. I learned so much and am so inspired by this class. I think it generally helped improve my photography no matter what the gendre. There was so much to think about the art of it all. Lots of links for inspiration and a very active forum for discussion. I really recommend this taken as a full class as the forum was very stimulating. Jessica is an amazing teacher and very responsive. She takes a lot of time and always answers the forum and questions. The cc for weekly assignments is very detailed and some even done as a video. Each cc was so specific and really helpful in my own development as a photographer. Jessica and all the TA’s were very encouraging. I highly recommend this class to any one, pro or hobbyist ( i am a hobbyist) . I guarantee you will learn and grow as a photographer/artist

  • Heather says:

    I just finished the latest run of The Documentary Approach. It was absolutely amazing. It was everything I had hoped for. PLUS. I can’t say enough about this class. I was feeling very drawn to documentary style photography and this class did not disappoint. Jessica is a passionate and dedicated teacher. As are her TA’s; Felicia, Lauren and Heather. I am very grateful to each one of them for their honest and incredibly helpful feedback. Do not hesitate to sign up for this class. It will push you and take you to new places as a photographer!

  • Kristin Rutherford says:

    RUN and get your seat for this workshop!!!! I have taken many here on CM and this is one of the best by far!! Jessica and her TAs were FANTASTIC!! They were present and gave such wonderful feedback. They will push you, but is is honest, raw and fun all wrapped into the perfect workshop!!

  • Karen Holden says:

    I just completed the documentary workshop as a SA. It was such a fabulous course and extremely informative. I have already been able to apply what I learned to my photoshoots. It’s such a refreshing way to approach photography. I loved it!

  • Michelle says:

    Well, what can I say about this class. I loved Jessica’s breakout and wanted to learn more from her on documenting my family in this style. This class is amazing and definitely changed my shooting style to something that I love about my images now of my family! Jessica put her heart and soul in this class was very active and interested in what all the students were shooting. Take this class if you think you would like to try and shoot more documentary style for your family and even clients. The TA’s were amazing also, and all willing to help and give guidance whenever you needed. If you are considering taking this class, take it, it was amazing and one of the best I have taken so far. Thank you Jessica for the wonderful workshop!

  • Kellie Llewellyn says:

    I have taken a lot of CM classes and this one is one of my favorites to date. The pictures I took while taking it I know will be some of my favorites forever. The DITL was truly eye opening and I made myself get in the frame for it. Now, I want to do one every 6 months. When someone is looking at a picture I took, I want them to feel something. This class taught me so much about how to make more pictures that are feeling evoking. The everyday routines and things that seem so small and irrelevant are what I’m going to miss the most someday when my kids are grown and gone. Taking this class I learned how to capture our family right now. Jessica and her TAs feedback was extremely insightful and helpful. I HIGHLY recommend this class.

  • Rene says:

    This is by far the best course I have taken here at CM and I have taken some great ones :) Jessica is an amazing teacher and it is obvious she put her heart and soul into creating this class! There is so much information. She is all in, very active. Questions were answered quickly. She gives good honest feedback that gets you thinking. If you are interested in documentary style photography, I promise you will not be disappointed!

  • Melissa says:

    This class is amazing! If you want to really push yourself to think about and shoot your subjects in a new way this is it. Jessica’s materials are fantastic, well written and challenging but don’t fear she is an amazing teacher who provides generous amounts of incredibly supportive yet critical and honest feedback. This class has reignited my passion for documentary photography but anyone can benefit from Jessica’s course especially if you are looking to document real life, real connections and real beauty.

  • Cody says:

    I’ve taken several classes through Clickin Moms, but this is the first one that I feel compelled to review! I’ve been drawn to documentary photography for several months now and The Documentary Approach convinced me that this is where my heart is. Jessica does not teach how to make a pretty photograph; rather, she helps you discover how to shoot to capture real-life moments. I loved all the assignments, and the feedback Jessica and the TAs provided was invaluable! I didn’t feel like I was just taking a class…I felt like I was welcomed into a community of like-minded photographers!

  • Nicole says:

    I discovered Jessica about a year ago when I fell in love with documentary photography. I started following her and when I found out she was teaching a documentary class I had to sign up! Jessica’s class is the first I’ve taken of any kind so I was a little apprehensive/nervous/not sure what to expect. Her class The Documentary Approach ended up being so awesome and I am so sad it is over. Her lessons were great as well as her feedback, support and encouragement. Jessica was an open book for all of our questions and I felt really comfortable sharing with her and the group. Even though the class was only 4 weeks I feel like it helped me to start growing again as a photographer. The photos I took of my family during the class are some of my favorites! I will be forever grateful to Jessica for helping to give me the direction I needed as well as teaching me more about storytelling, composition, moments and how to keep it real.

  • Erin says:

    I took this class as a study along student and I was hesitant because it is very different from the way I normally shoot. Also, I struggle with staying accountable and engaged in study along classes (totally just my personality!) Jessica is an amazing teacher and in the first week, I saw my shooting change to capture the moments I wanted to capture of my family. The study along group was amazing and Jessica made us feel engaged and welcome. She even popped in to check on us! If you are at all interested in shooting documentary, even if it is just for yourself, run to take this class!!!

  • Sylvie says:

    If you have any interest in documentary photography, run and sign up for this course! Jessica is not only a gifted photographer, but also a gifted teacher. Her feedback in thoughtful, generous, and supportive. I know I will come back to her advice and lessons again and again and again. I have taken many courses and this has been hands down my absolute favorite. Thank you Jessica for an amazing four weeks!

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