A bit about “Documentary Photography”, “Photojournalism” and “Lifestyle Photography”.

A lot of people, including many photographers, may not know the difference between “Documentary Photography”, “Photojournalism”,  and “Lifestyle Photography”.   There’s no shame in this as the lines are all a little fuzzy. There are more similarities between documentary photography and photojournalism than lifestyle photography, as the concept behind documentary photography and photojournalism is to tell an unscripted story through images.  The difference between these two genres is that documentary photography focuses on telling a broader story or documenting a particular subject or issue over a longer period of time.  Documentary photography projects are usually long-term and aim to explore and shed light on social, cultural or historical topics. 

Photojournalism, on the other hand, is a quick grab.  It aims to capture events as they happen without any edits or photographer’s touches and it doesn’t “dig-deep” (unlike documentary photography).  If I were to do a documentary photoshoot for example, I might explore “teenagers”. I might follow one or two teenagers around for a year to document the many facets of this period of life to put together a complete story about what it really looks like–I might hone in on drug use, or sex, or the pressures adolescents face as they transition to adulthood.  It would be rich and would have a “story” behind it.  If I were to do a photojournalistic shoot of teenagers, I would just show up and document a teenager for a day to create an honest depiction of what the day in the life of a teenager might look like.  There’s no agenda to photojournalism other than to capture the raw truth quickly. In the wedding world, a photographer hired by the bride and groom to capture the day in an uninterrupted, unposed way, would be a photojournalist. Most wedding photographers who call themselves photojournalists aren’t “strictly” photojournalists however, as they often do some posed portraits of the bride and groom, the wedding party and of course, family portraits.  A documentary wedding photographer on the other hand, might capture behind the scenes of a wedding to tell a broader story about the astronomical costs of weddings. 

A lifestyle photographer has creative freedom.  A lifestyle photographer may be trying to capture a “feeling” or create images that look relaxed, but visually pleasing at the same time.  A lifestyle photographer will probably find or create the perfect light, they might suggest certain clothes to wear, or shoot somewhere out of the home. A lifestyle shoot can be more artistic and there’s a lot more direction from the photographer.   A photojournalist or documentary photographer would never tell the subjects to move into the light, or tell their subjects to hug, jump, smile, etc.  Honestly, I would say that lifestyle photography is the contemporary take on the 80’s and 90’s “Olan Mills” family photography.  While everyone might not be in a studio smiling at the camera, it is posed, while not looking “posed.  It is coordinated, directed, and scripted. 

I would say that my personal style of photography is a mix of photojournalism and lifestyle photography.  Unless someone specifies that they want a shoot that is strictly photojournalism (which is my dream client), I’m usually going to direct a bit and make the images look pretty.  I’m going to find the right light and angles.  I will direct my clients to do something in order to evoke a certain response–laughter, connection, movement, etc.  All this said, photojournalism is my heart.  Capturing moments that aren’t staged and creating images that are honest and stand the test of time is my favorite approach.  I believe that these unscripted images are the ones that not only stand the test of time, but age like fine wine.  These are the images your kids will see one day and will be reminded of what life was like when they were younger.  There is more to the image than what everybody looked like in the fall of 2024.