Sometimes it makes sense to tell stories with true, existing environments. This is the real world as Thumbtack sees it.

Composition and subjects

While the studio style is distilled and direct, the documentary style is a deeper, more layered form of storytelling. Here, the rich details of a subject’s life come into play. So use lighting and composition to reveal those details. Don’t clean up any unique flaws or make anything feel “staged.” Just enhance what you’ve got.


Shoot subjects near natural light to add tonal contrast and warmth. Aim for soft shadows and full dynamic range. Don’t shoot in dark spaces that need extra fill light.

Wardrobe and props

Wardrobe and propping should reflect the subject’s personality, life and environment. Pick authentic and visually interesting props that won’t overpower the scene.

Documentary don’ts

Avoid compositions that feel overly staged or contrived.

Don’t fill the scene with so much light that it feels artificial or flat.

Don’t shoot in locations that feel unattainable or heavily stylized.

Don’t use lighting gimmicks that draw too much attention, like filters or lens flares.

Putting it all together

There’s no better filter than natural light.

And speaking of light, use it to reveal a location’s unique character and eye-catching details.

Keep compositions simple and uncluttered.