Pin Me

Guerrilla Documentary: Using Still Photography

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

At times when a large digital video camera may be out of the question a great digital photo camera may get you what you need.

  • slide 1 of 7

    Grab Your Camera

    Guerrilla documentary filmmaking can be a battle when actually in the field. Often times you are out there to get something that by conventional methods would seem next to impossible. For legal or reasons of personal safety lugging around a video camera just may not be something that is practical for every situation. In this case you may have to resort to still photography.

  • slide 2 of 7

    Small and Quick

    A still camera is always significantly smaller than any video camera out there, and the shots can often be taken in just a moment. Try going to the location, or a similar location, ahead of time and take a number of test shots. Get your settings according to the light and character of the scene so you will be able to get good images without preparation in the moment. Since you have to be ready at any moment, and because you do not have the ability to constantly record images like you do on video, you need to keep the camera in a location on your body that is both hidden and easily accessible. From here you need to take as many photos as you can, each trying to capture the most significant moments of the event.

  • slide 3 of 7

    Take Them Continuously

    Try at all times to keep the photos coming at a respective rate. This means that you should not go any longer than a few moments without taking a picture. This will then make it easier to create a sequence out of the photos later on if you must. Try to think in terms of a relative story arc when you are taking the photos.

  • slide 4 of 7

    Video Function

    Since most digital cameras today allow for some kind of video recording you should try this out as well. The image and sound quality are going to be sub par, but it will allow you a quick instant to get footage that you would never be able to get with a standard digital video camera. Try to not over-do this because it will use up the storage space on your memory card and will not allow you to get many photos, which will be the best quality of images you have.

  • slide 5 of 7

    High Resolution

    Many cameras will let you set the image quality you want to get, and you need to keep it at the highest possible resolution. The reason for this is that you will likely blow up and alter the image, including adding photo motion, and if you do not have a large high quality image it will end up degenerating by the time you get it on the screen. Better quality images just end up giving you more options.

  • slide 6 of 7

    Placing Them in the Film

    When you begin implementing the photos in the editing process consider exactly what you have. If you have enough to portray a sequence, try to keep it short since a series of photos will get boring to even the most attentive audience after a short while. It’s always best to use photos out of sequence, or in a very short sequence as B-roll. If you are trying to use them as a sequence you need to consider leaving them strait and not applying any form of photo motion. This will allow them to stand out more and be looked at as a main storytelling piece instead of simply an aesthetic augmentation as is with B-roll. If they are just employed at different places you should try to apply photo motion to maintain the visual flow of the film. Feel free to use color correction on your photos, which is something that is often overlooked when dealing with pictures.

  • slide 7 of 7

    The Crystal Clear Image

    The perfect photo can tell more than a thousand of digital video tapes, so this may be your opportunity to obtain an iconic image that will really speak to the audience. Photos are an essential part of the diversity that makes up documentary film so keep in mind that your moments of limitation may end up being some of the most important for your project.