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Not a day goes by where I don’t love being a photographer, but on certain days, my camera skills lead me to something new and something truly incredible. This was one of those experiences. I photographed a rodeo, documentary style, but not just any rodeo, the Special Kids Rodeo of 2017.

This was the 4th annual Special Kids Rodeo here in the Town of Queen Creek and just like in previous years, it was deemed a “day of yesses” for local children with special needs. Everyone here went out of their way to make sure each child had the time of their life, making the events possible for any child who wanted to participate, regardless of their disability. It. Was. Awesome. There were so many fun activities for the kids to do, I just followed a group around and snapped away. And let me tell you, I was honored, and humbled, and just plain thrilled to be part of this day, even just as a photographer. I was inspired by the kindness of the volunteers and overjoyed by the pure happiness of all of the participants. It was a day that really just made me happy to be alive.

These were all shot with my Canon 5D Mark III and my Sigma Art 24mm f/1.4. See all of my camera gear here.

Documentary session at the Special Kids Rodeo 2017. Photos by Kristine Underwood of Kristine Elizabeth Photography

© Kristine Elizabeth Photography. Please do not remove my logo, duplicate, or edit my images. Thank you!

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Prepare yourself, this is the most adorable story you’ll hear today. These two absolutely stole my heart during our session with their love story. I’m serious, I said ‘aw’ so many times it started to sound weird to me, but honestly that’s how heartwarming these two are.

After dating for years and years, they finally got engaged…at this very park, on this very railroad tie, witnessed by their GoPro camera. I love it so much. Just listening to them retell the story made me smile over and over again. A special place, a special story, a special couple.

They brought me back here today, on their dating anniversary for one last desert photo session. This park has become one of their favorite places in Arizona and it’s part of who they are, so it was the perfect spot. We had such a fun day hiking, chatting, taking in the breathtaking scenery, laughing, and getting some pretty amazing photos before they say goodbye to Arizona. I was truly honored to take these pictures for them. The only bad thing about all this is that they’re moving…to Canada!

These were shot with my Canon 5D Mark III and my Sigma Art 24mm f/1.4 lens. See all of my gear here.

© Kristine Elizabeth Photography. Please do not remove my logo, duplicate, or edit my images. Thank you!

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When it comes to documentary photography there’s a lot of black and white out there, but should you always choose black and white? Honestly, I think it depends. Let’s talk a little bit about choosing color or black and white.

Most of the time when I’m shooting an everyday moment or a documentary type photo, I’m trying to capture or convey some sort of emotion. Something inspired me and I want whatever that was to come through in the photograph. For me personally, when I look at a picture, a black and white image usually speaks to me more than color. Usually, but not always. I always try to ask myself “does the color add something special to this image?” If the answer is yes, I keep the color. If the answer is no, black and white it goes.

Let me give you an example…

These were shot with my Canon 5D Mark III and my Sigma Art 24mm f/1.4. See all my gear here.
Choosing color or black and white when it comes to documentary photography.

In the images above you can see our oldest daughter, Madilynn shaking off (like a dog, she said – haha) after her dad sprayed her down with the hose on a warm spring afternoon. After careful consideration, I decided to keep these in black and white versus color.

Here’s why; even though I loved the color version and being able to feel the warmth of the sun as it hit her hair while she shook the water out of it, I felt like the background was distracting. Part of the pavers were wet from being sprayed with the hose, creating lines and darker colors and there were lots of vertical architectural lines making the background very busy. I felt like Mad sort of got lost in all of it and I really wanted her to pop, so I changed it to black and white.

In the black and white version, you still get the brightness from the sun as it hits her hair, but the background distractions are muted, more balanced, and she stands out more. So in this case, I felt that the color took away from the power of these images, so I went with black and white.

And of course, there is always an element of personal preference too when choosing color or black and white, so don’t be afraid to go with your gut!

I go through this same process with every photo and a lot of the time, I end up choosing black and white for my documentary shots, but there are definitely times when color is necessary and makes the photo even better.

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What’s the difference between lifestyle and documentary photography, you ask? Well, there are all sorts of thoughts on this subject and some would even say it’s in the gray area, but I’ve formed my own beliefs about it and I’ll tell you what they mean to me and my business, and why I deeply love them both.

Lifestyle photography

During a lifestyle session, the photographer will be involved. She will help guide the subjects into poses that photograph well and may tidy up or set the scene to look the best in photographs. She may also direct the subjects in what to do, where to go, or give prompts to help create emotion or personal connection.

Documentary photography

During a documentary session, the photographer will not be in involved. She will work only in the background. She will not intervene with the subjects, the scene, or with the events unfolding (or very minimally so). She will only photograph real life as it happens.

© Kristine Elizabeth Photography. Please do not remove my logo, duplicate, or edit my images. Thank you!

The photo on the left is a lifestyle session. I had control; I made sure the subjects were sitting in a well lit room with natural light, positioned them with side light coming in from the window, and chose bright colored books for them to read, since the background was very neutral. I didn’t direct them on what to do, I just set the scene and let them go.

In the documentary photo on the right, I had no control over anything. The room was dim and poorly lit, there was a bright light shining up towards mom and baby, and the nurses were busily working in front of and around me. I stayed out of the action and snapped away, documenting the birth of this sweet little guy as it really was.

Both images are beautiful and both are amazing, but they’re very different.

I generally say I am a lifestyle photographer because I like to have some control over the subjects and the scene (mostly lighting), but the truth is, I am really both. While I love the gorgeous more curated look of lifestyle photography, I am equally drawn to the raw, honest emotion seen in documentary photography. If you asked me to choose one or the other, lifestyle or documentary, I don’t think I could. My passion for photography includes both.

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