Documentary Photography

I.     Course Prefix/Number: ART 237

       Course Name: Documentary Photography

       Credits: 3 (0 lecture; 6 lab)

II.    Prerequisite

Consent of instructor

III.   Course (Catalog) Description

Course covers esthetic and historical developments documentary photography. Content includes impact on artistic, cultural, social, economic, legal, and political issues; historical survey of documentary photographers, including modern practitioners of the medium. Students will produce a portfolio of work employing techniques and ideas learned in class. Course maybe repeated up to three times on different topics for maximum of twelve credits.

IV.   Learning Objectives

  1. Become familiar with the historical developments and social relevance to the medium.
  2. Understand esthetic and technical issues inherent to the medium.
  3. Research and produce a photographic project which can be placed in the larger context of the medium.
  4. Understand technical limitations inherent with photographic field work.

V.    Academic Integrity and Student Conduct

Students and employees at Oakton Community College are required to demonstrate academic integrity and follow Oakton's Code of Academic Conduct. This code prohibits:

• cheating,
• plagiarism (turning in work not written by you, or lacking proper citation),
• falsification and fabrication (lying or distorting the truth),
• helping others to cheat,
• unauthorized changes on official documents,
• pretending to be someone else or having someone else pretend to be you,
• making or accepting bribes, special favors, or threats, and
• any other behavior that violates academic integrity.

There are serious consequences to violations of the academic integrity policy. Oakton's policies and procedures provide students a fair hearing if a complaint is made against you. If you are found to have violated the policy, the minimum penalty is failure on the assignment and, a disciplinary record will be established and kept on file in the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs for a period of 3 years.

Please review the Code of Academic Conduct and the Code of Student Conduct, both located online at

VI.   Sequence of Topics

  1. Definition of documentary photography
    Making a record
  2. History of documentary photography
    1. 1860s war photography vs. Romanticism
      Camera as “faithful witness”
    2. Social landscape photography
  3. Types of documentary photography
    1. Person
      “Day in the life”
    2. Place
    3. Event
      1. Sporting events
      2. Weddings and other celebrations and gatherings
      3. Crime, accident, police, and fire photography
      4. Personal, social, and family events
      5. News events
      6. Other events
    4. Environmental portrait
    5. Evidence of a person
      Environment without the person
  4. Technical issues
    1. Format of camera
    2. Lenses
      Effects of different focal lengths and when to use them
    3. Digital vs. film
    4. Color temperature
      1. Indoor light
      2. Outdoor light
      3. Films and digital white balance
    5. Exposure
    6. Use of shutter speeds and apertures
      Depiction of motion vs. depth of field
    7. Tonality
    8. Color
  5. Esthetics
    1. Color vs. B&W
    2. Light, form, line
    3. Different types of light and effects of each
    4. Depth of field
    5. Selective vs. complete
    6. Motion and stop-action
    7. Pre-visualization
    8. Composition
      1. Parts vs. whole
      2. Detail photos
      3. Personal vision vs. making a record
  6. Social and legal issues
    1. Copyright
    2. Private vs. public property for locations: Need for releases
    3. Model releases
    4. Photography as a political tool
    5. Photography as a tool for raising social consciousness
    6. Personal point of view of photographer and its influence on the document

VII.  Methods of Instruction

Media presentations, lectures, and demonstrations on topics ranging from the use of the camera and photographic printing, to examples from the masters of documentary photography.  Critiques of student work will be held throughout the term to develop standards and evaluative criteria.

Course may be taught as face-to-face, hybrid or online course.

VIII. Course Practices Required

  1. Participation in all critiques
  2. Production of a minimum of 15 over-matted and finished original prints

IX.   Instructional Materials

Note: Current textbook information for each course and section is available on Oakton's Schedule of Classes.

  1. Camera, film or digital.
    Film cameras must be at least 35mm. Format, and digital cameras must be at least 14 megapixels. All cameras should have all-manual capabilities.
  2. Light meter if the camera does not have a built-in meter
  3. Tripod
    One that is large enough to hold a camera steady
  4. Cable release (optional)
  5. For film cameras:
    1. Film
    2. Negative sleeves
    3. Photographic paper
      - Fiber-base for B&W
      - Paper appropriate for color RA processor
    4. Towel for darkroom

    For digital cameras:
    1. Memory card(s)
    2. Storage media
    3. Ink jet paper for printing
  6. Presentation boards
    1. Museum-grade white board
    2. Backing boards

X.    Methods of Evaluating Student Progress

Critiques to evaluate student work will be held throughout the semester. Each print will be evaluated regarding:
  • Technique
  • Esthetics
  • Craftsmanship

XI.   Other Course Information

If you have a documented learning, psychological, or physical disability you may be entitled to reasonable academic accommodations or services. To request accommodations or services, contact the Access and Disability Resource Center at the Des Plaines or Skokie campus. All students are expected to fulfill essential course requirements. The College will not waive any essential skill or requirement of a course or degree program.

Oakton Community College is committed to maintaining a campus environment emphasizing the dignity and worth of all members of the community, and complies with all federal and state Title IX requirements.

Resources and support for
  • pregnancy-related and parenting accommodations; and
  • victims of sexual misconduct
can be found at

Resources and support for LGBTQ+ students can be found at

Electronic video and/or audio recording is not permitted during class unless the student obtains written permission from the instructor. In cases where recordings are allowed, such content is restricted to personal use only. Any distribution of such recordings is strictly prohibited. Personal use is defined as use by an individual student for the purpose of studying or completing course assignments.

For students who have been approved for audio and/or video recording of lectures and other classroom activities as a reasonable accommodation by Oakton’s Access Disabilities Resource Center (ADRC), applicable federal law requires instructors to permit those recordings. Such recordings are also limited to personal use. Any distribution of such recordings is strictly prohibited.

Violation of this policy will result in disciplinary action through the Code of Student Conduct.