Documentary Approach Workshop | Personal Review

I had this big idea to write a final blog about the documentary approach workshop I took, an overview about what I learned, what I loved and how I was challenged. But… honestly… I just haven’t felt like it recently. It’s been hard to tie the words together, to talk about the feelings I experienced, to look back at the photos I took throughout August. And I have no idea why.

Burn out? It’s possible because there was a lot of practicing. Daily shooting was recommended and even though I couldn’t keep up with that, I tried my best. And I did three DITL challenges in one week to get the hang of it (and failed two other days). The overflowing of emotion that came with adopting this documentary approach was overwhelming alone — who knew that your why and your heart would be questioned repeatedly to help you break down your own barriers.

It was a lot. It was intense. And it was wonderful. I wanted to write a beautiful blog praising the patience, understanding and relentlessness of the teacher and assistants. Because they deserve it. I just… I just can’t the words right now… my mind is blank.

So instead, I wanted to share with you some of the things that were said throughout the workshop that spoke to me — that hit me deep in the feels. That made me question why I even pick up a camera.


Because documentary is a great big ball of techniques and moments and rule-breaking and moments that never quite panned out but what you got was still magic because it was recorded… it’s not any one of those things alone and it’s never all of those things together.

When you look at an image, how should you decide if it’s good or not? Well, you shouldn’t DECIDE. You should look and react. How does it make you feel? What does it say to you? Does it feel powerful?


This much I know: if you feel uncomfortable, you’re doing it right. 

Because NORMAL is not represented in photography. There’s a lot of tendency to show upper class life and lower class life. There is a tendency to depict and fetishize ‘the other’, in both positive and negative ways, being both celebratory and critical. But everyone in between, in suburbs and homes that look the same and trips to Target and McDonalds? Unless it’s making a critical statement, no one ever photographs it.


When you neglect to take pictures of your real life and your real memories because you don’t think those memories are going to look a certain way – you’re failing at fulfilling your why.

Today I’ve come to realize the biggest distraction in any image is the distraction of other people’s expectations. 


Your why can be anything. It can be to shoot for stock. It can even be to impress other photographers. It CAN. There is nothing wrong with any of it. But you have to identify it, do some soul searching, and then focus whole heartedly on why you’re doing any of this in the first place.

I encourage you to visit the websites below – they belong to the instructor and teaching assistants in the documentary approach workshop and their work is spectacular.

Jessica Thomason   |   Lauren Mitchell   |   Felicia Chang   |   Heather Whitten

I’m enamored with how they capture everyday life and how they shoot whatever the hell they want without giving a damn what someone else thinks. And I thank you for them for all of the tough love, the constructive critiques, the continuous encouragement to push ourselves and the endless hours to spent over five weeks teaching us more about what they do so effortlessly. This workshop? Totally worth it.

To read more about the Documentary Approach Workshop:
Week 1: Intro & Daily Shooting

Week 2: Photo Essay
Week 3: DITL Mobile Challenge
Week 3: DITL Assignment
Week 4: Bye Week
Week 5: Final Assignment

wendipants - “Today I’ve come to realize the biggest distraction in any image is the distraction of other people’s expectations.”

Profound. And true of so much more than just photographs.

Final Assignment | Documentary Approach Workshop

So this is it, the final assignment of the Documentary Approach Workshop I’ve been taking for the past month. It’s been a journey for sure but one of the teaching assistants, Lauren Mitchell, put all these feelings we have been sifting through the last through weeks into words that made sense:

This much I know: if you feel uncomfortable, you’re doing it right.

Uncomfortable is the feeling I’ve had the entire time. It’s new, it’s different and it’s hard. But totally worth it.

For our last assignment we were to “shoot for strangers.” Well… my subjects aren’t exactly strangers, but they volunteered to let me document their Saturday morning. I love this family with all my heart; we’ve been able to watch their kids grow up a week at a time because we visit with them almost every Friday night. To Mike and I, they are family.

So you know, this post is photo-heavy much like the DITL assignment I posted a couple of weeks back, but I hope it tells a better story. At least the Calvin and Felix are more adorable than me and Mike. :)

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Week 1: Intro & Daily Shooting
Week 2: Photo Essay
Week 3: DITL Mobile Challenge
Week 3: DITL Assignment
Week 4: Bye Week
Workshop | Personal Review

Project 52 | August #2016CMP52

If you missed Weeks 27-30 of Project 52, click back to see July’s #2016CMP52 Photos.

Another five weeks in the hole! Shooting this month was a little different from others because I spent most of my time thinking about the documentary approach workshop I’m taking. So most of my photos were taken with my 35mm and I pretty much kept my aperture above f/4.0. My head was in “documentary mode,” but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s just a different way of thinking about the subject.

Regardless of what mode I was in, I was still able to take a new photo every week for my Project 52. Which is a feat in and of itself. The yearlong commitment has began to wear on the rest of the group; in Week 1 the forum had 20+ pages and this past week there were maybe 3 pages. So, it’s not easy. But I’m in it to win it. Here are my photos from August. ;)

Week 31: Negative Space


Ideas had for this prompt? ZERO. I couldn’t think of anything so I ended up setting up the camera for myself.  Used the tiny hallway between my bedroom and my bathroom (because the wall is blank) and tried a few different times to get the framing right, and then went to town with my remote and my expressive eyes.

I like the final image. Even with the messy bun, greasy bangs and puffy eyes, it’s still fun and goofy. But what I’m most proud of is the post production! It’s not very often that I work Photoshop magic, but for this image I did extend the canvas so that my face would sit at the bottom left… because the original had me fully centered and taking up most of the frame. Took a couple of YouTube videos to figure it out – and I’m very happy with it. Definitely need to take more self-portraits.

Settings: f/4.0, 1/100 sec, 50mm, ISO 1000
Camera and Lens: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF50mm f/1.2L USM

Week 32: Photographer’s Choice 


I love fairs. I’m not really into the rides, but I love the hokey-ness of it, the fried food and the people watching. This year we went back to the Oldham County Fair (where I got A LOT of really great photos) with some of our friends who also live in the county. With eight kids in tow, I was having a field day photographing them on the kiddie rides and noshing on corndogs. And while they waited in line to ride the big ferris wheel with their parents, I saw something I wanted to capture.

I stopped all the way down to f/16.0 because it was so bright out (sunny 16, y’all) and I wanted the entire wheel to be in focus. I wanted to get as much of the wheel and the cars as possible with shooting below. And I walked away with a new favorite photo. I love the colors, the sharpness, and that pretty clouded sky. The whole thing makes me happy and reminds me of our super fun night at the fair.

Settings: f/16.0, 1/200 sec, 35mm, ISO 250
Camera and Lens: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF35mm f/1.4L USM

Week 33: Lines


I got stuck with this prompt (and to be honest, stuck the next couple weeks too). I had a couple of different shots, but decided that this one was the most interesting to me. It’s a scene I see everyday when I get to work, and it’s filled with so many lines. The most obvious ones are the parking garage levels, but look around and you’ll see hundreds of lines intersecting. The building lines, brick lines, deck railing, the telephone pole, the grid on the garage… there’s a lot to see here.

Ignore the fact that I didn’t really check my settings before I took the picture. I see them now and I’m like GAH!, but in the moment I saw the lines and wanted to take the photo as fast as possible. You never know who escaped the looney bin and is walking the streets in downtown Louisville at 8am on a Monday.

Settings: f/4.0, 1/2500 sec, 35mm, ISO 1600
Camera and Lens: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF35mm f/1.4L USM

Week 34: Juxtaposition34_juxtaposition900

True story: Juxtaposition is lost on me. I get the concept, I do, but when I look at someone else’s photo I rarely think “Oh, great juxtaposition there!” Which is funny because all the women in photo workshop do this. And I do not. But this was my attempt. And since I have a hard time finding juxtaposition in photos, I’ll tell you what I see here: heads turned opposite ways, little screen vs big screen and younger vs older.

Hell, I tried. That’s all the matters.

Settings: f/4.0, 1/400 sec, 35mm, ISO 8000
Camera and Lens: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF35mm f/1.4L USM

Week 35: Repetition


I have seen patterns everywhere this week, but none that encouraged me enough to carry my camera to work. So I decided to find patterns in nature and turned back to macro photography! (It really is fun. I get winded when I do it because I hold my breath, but I just love how the images turn out.)

This is a red clover – as in Thumper’s favorite treat – and I happen to find one single clover next to the house. So I killed it. And proceeded to sit on the front porch with the little flower and my camera and have my way with it. The awesome thing about flowers is the symmetry in their shape. When you magnify it though it gets even more awesome.

Settings: f/–, 1/160 sec, 50mm, ISO 200
Camera and Lens: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF50mm f/1.2L USM

August is My Fave | Instagram Love


I always look forward to August. Fair Day alone is enough to make it spectacular – and not just the Kentucky State Fair, but REBA! And then there was Oldham County Fair too – we have so much even though it really is just a small county fair. A couple of girls nights out with my favorites. Meeting Baby Winnie for the first time. Birthday wishes for my mom and brother. Free Toms in the mail. And all the while I’ve been taking my documentary approach workshop – I’ve been blowing up Instagram these last few weeks. The funny thing with the workshop is that I’ve began to really like the wide format on Instagram versus the square 1:1 crop. You may have noticed that I favored it a lot if you follow me.

One of the things I had to do for this workshop was shoot a “day in the life” (or DITL) project. I tried it with my phone first and it wasn’t too bad, but I thought I had messed up big time – I didn’t share any pictures as I took them that day. (You can see them here now.) But the very next day I decided to do a “live DITL” and post to Instagram. It was fun, or more fun than I expected rather. I did it all over again with dSLR that weekend and it was not fun, but it’s in the books. This was the mobile DITL I did live – they’re chronological down columns, from left to right.


But all that fun aside, I want to do a little “real talk with Brooke” for a minute. I had a very high-stressed morning on August 9th. The day my phone locked me out. And the only way to restore was to wipe it. I was mostly furious with the fact that it was the only option and that I was going to lose all of my podcast subscriptions, but I wasn’t worried about my photos. Because every month I download my photos, including my Instagram images, to my computer and back them up. So while I lost eight days of images, I wasn’t upset about it. I only tell you this so that you don’t have to deal with this. So download your photos, send to a cloud, do whatever makes you feel good – but don’t rely on your phone to keep them safe.

That is all. Move along, take pictures and find some Instagram Love. xoxo

Documentary Approach Workshop | Bye Week

I thought it was silly to have a bye week in a 4-week documentary approach workshop. Why not just get all four weeks done in a row?

That was before I knew what I was talking about.

Week Three was so crazy. Four days of nonstop shooting. Tons of culling. Editing to follow. Checking in to see what other participants were sharing. Commenting. Asking questions. Worrying if I messed up. Can I take a mulligan? OMG WEEK THREE.

Week Three is why there was a bye week.

After capturing my “day in the life” assignment on Sunday (along with cooking and hosting), culling down to 50 images on Monday and then editing/posting late on Tuesday… I was spent. I didn’t want to think about pictures, didn’t want to look at my camera… I needed a break. And I thought a couple of days would be enough of a break, but I was wrong. I only took a few photos the last half of the week and most those were with my phone. The instructor said the DITL assignment would take its toll… I thought she was exaggerating… I’m fine admitting I was wrong.

Now we head into the final week, Week Four, of the workshop. There’s a new challenge and a new assignment, both which have me curious but also nervous. But there’s a lot I’ve learned from this workshop. Not only about photography, but about myself. It’s been more a personal journey than I expected and I’m excited to see what the last week brings.

To read more about the Documentary Approach Workshop:
Week 1: Intro & Daily Shooting
Week 2: Photo Essay
Week 3: DITL Mobile Challenge
Week 3: DITL Assignment
Week 5: Final Assignment
Workshop | Personal Review