The Documentary Approach
with jessica thomason
february 6, 2017
march 13, 2017
register now >
Full Participation sold out.
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
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
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
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
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
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.