What is a Documentary Wedding Photographer?

Well, quite simply, documentary wedding photographer should be all about telling a story.  It’s about weaving the images together to tell the tale of your wedding day.

You may look at my wedding photography on this website and see that my work is different to “the traditional wedding photographer”, but I sometimes have to explain my thought processes and methods for obtaining the images that I do get for my clients.

This genre of photography has several different names; wedding photojournalism, documentary wedding photography and reportage wedding photography. I don’t believe there is any difference between the three names generally, apart from, perhaps, what the bridal magazines see as the fashionable way to describe natural, story telling wedding photography.

As a Documentary Wedding Photographer I love stuff like this, for example:

Dodmoor-House-Wedding-29
London-River-Boat-Wedding-14
rosevine-devon-wedding-8
rosevine-devon-wedding-14
caswell-house-wedding-23
documentary wedding photographer
documentary wedding photographer
documentary wedding photographer

There is a story, within a story in these frames.  Individually, they don’t really mean much.  They might be classed as “record shots” but together, they tell their own little tale of just one character on the wedding day.

A documentary wedding photographer is story teller, through pictures. It’s very straight forward, but not particularly an easy art to do well. You will see a lot of wedding photographers out there that declare themselves “documentary wedding photographers”, but their website is full of directed and posed images, with the odd candid photograph thrown in for good measure (that is not wedding photojournalism).

For me, an image absolutely has to have context and tell a story to the viewer. The following image was shot at a wedding a few years back. Its far from traditional. A traditional wedding photograph of the bride and groom leaving the church in the car would perhaps be a posed image from inside the car, the bride and groom grinning out the back window with champagne in their hands or even a close up of the “just married” slogan on the back.

The image here, for me, sums up the entire essence of this wedding in one capture. You can see the bride and groom in the car, they are touching hands and clearly very happy. However, what made this image for me was the multitude of reflections in the shot. There is the lady, of course, waving (who was granny), the best man can be seen reflected in the back window, as can one of the bridesmaids and her partner. The the right of the image is another guest. I waited for this image to come together – it wasn’t a snap shot. Of course, I had to get in the right position, and to a certain extent, hope everything came together – which it did. The sun reflected on the glass, the lady came along (at first she stood there, and only right at the end did she wave), and the bridesmaid came into view too.

Wedding Photojournalism Image of Bridal Car

Staying on the subject of stories within stories, let’s go back to the first wedding. I want to show a series of images of the bride arriving at the church. It’s important to me as the photographer that moments like this – moments that the bride may have dreamt of all her life – are not interrupted. I don’t want to be the photographer that yells “wind the window down and smile please”. I want to be the photographer that observes the event unfolding, and documents it.

Bride arriving in car
Bride arriving in car
Bride arriving in car
Bride arriving in car
Bride arriving in car
Bride arriving in car

Documentary Wedding Photography is all about capturing the moment and following the passion of the day. I go after moments that appeal to me from the inside and I strive to capture the emotions and energy of the day through the still image.

As that Documentary Wedding Photographer, I am at my most creative when left to roam around the wedding capturing those perfect shots of you and your guests. The moments you may never even have noticed happening during the wedding day itself. Weddings that have reams of formal and group shots will disable my ability to capture those images. I appreciate that most weddings have some form of formal photography, and that’s fine, but I try and keep that to a minimum. To much formal photography breaks the cohesion of the day and the opportunity for me to fully explore and photograph the wedding.

I strive to capture the beauty of the whole day and that includes your guests. They are very important people in your life and, once the magic of the wedding is over, it will be the photographs of the day that you will turn to time and time again to relive those moments.

Wedding Photojournalism and children equal a match made in heaven: Their expressions and emotions are uninhibited and they always have an innocence and carefree attitude that often make for great photographs.

The following wedding Photofilm is a few years old, but there are still some lovely pictures in there.  They still make me smile.

Kids at Weddings: Photofilm

 

As a documentary wedding photographer I aim to make your wedding photos vibrant and a memory for generations to come. Each and every wedding photograph goes through a precise and technical post processing re-touching exercise. I personally edit every one of the selected shots so that you are presented with only the very best photographs of your special day. This is all part of my service.

I shoot with digital equipment, but my love of film images has led me to develop a post-production style that allows my photography to resemble that of the timeless film photos. My photographs are purposefully edited to look like film images. I use natural light and you will often seen some grain in my images. Grain is good. Grain means the camera and the photographer are doing the work – no flash required!

Many people come to me because they appreciate the time and effort I put into the production of my finished images. They often have an appreciation of film style imagery, and not the clinical, over processed digital images that you often see these days.

Wherever possible, I shoot with small cameras and short lenses. This often means I have to really get in amongst the action. Getting in the action is what a wedding photojournalists should be doing – all the time. To my mind, wedding photojournalism dictates this mantra. Using long lenses and popping images out from behind a tree, whilst unobtrusive, will not yield strong story telling images.

I want to make images like this, from every wedding I attend:

Documentary Wedding Photography
Documentary Wedding Photography
Documentary Wedding Photography
Documentary Wedding Photography
Documentary Wedding Photography

I speak at a lot of conventions and photography shows about documentary wedding photography and a question I get asked a lot is:

Don’t all wedding photographers shoot in this way for at least some of the day?

I suppose, when you decant the matter further I explain that a “photojournalist” is a noun whereas “candid” is an adjective.

 

That’s a big difference. I think all wedding photographers can declare declare themselves as “documentary” (at least for part of the day), but how many can truly say they shoot in a “candid” style?

 

Candid is derived from Candour and Candour is described in the dictionary as:

 

“the quality of being honest and telling the truth”

 

So, if the photographer takes it upon themselves to control the moment, tell people to smile, ask them to fake putting their make-up on then yes, you can be classed as a documentary photographer because documentary makers often contrive things.

 

…..but you can’t say you shoot in a “candid” way…..well, not authentically anyway.

 

I shoot in a candid way.  This means that the documentary wedding photography I produce is created with honesty, integrity and without any influence on you or your loved ones.

Essentially, it means a documentary wedding photographer (that shoots candidly) loves to tell stories, and that’s what I do best.

The details still count

Does a documentary wedding photographer take photos of dresses? Do they photograph the details of your day. Yes, of course. Wedding photojournalism is about telling the whole story of your wedding and the details are part of the story of your day. As a photojournalist I will not move, or direct you or your guests in any way. Your dress will of course be photographed, with context, I will photograph it artistically without any intervention from me.

Wedding Details
Great-Barn-Devon-24

A good documentary wedding photographer will set the scene

The location, and scene setting images throughout the day are crucial for the overall story.  The venue images are often the “glue” that fixes all the sections of the day together and it’s important that the venue is remembered in the context of the story too.

I’ll often shoot the venue images during the wedding breakfast, or at dusk, to get a more atmospheric photograph.

Of course, these scene setting photographs should include anything that gives the viewer and idea of location, season and weather.

Documentary Wedding Photography
Documentary Wedding Photography
Documentary Wedding Photography

I never use flash photography during the ceremony, as this can detract from the moment. In fact, I’ll try not to use flash at all during the day and will only use it as a last resort during the first dance when the lighting can be difficult.

I prefer shooting with all natural light as it preserves the natural dimensions of a moment in an image. I tend to use short prime lenses wherever possible which allows me to keep my approach photo-journalistic, and this relies on “stealth” during the service and at the reception. Often, the guests won’t even know I’ve taken a shot of them. The shorter lenses are great for capturing those unexpected moments when there is action going on all around me.

My aim with my wedding photojournalism is to create wedding imagery that not only tell the story of your day, but are also a tangible reminder of the emotions, feelings and details of your very special wedding day. My approach and style, is totally unobtrusive meaning I will not dictate or prompt or manipulate anything throughout your very special wedding day.

Documentary Wedding Photography
Human Touch
Human Touch
Human Touch
Happiness

As I talk about in the wedding portfolio page there is a constant theme throughout weddings, for me at least.  And that theme is; Humanity.

I actively look for moments such as the four above.

In fact, these four images are all taken from the same wedding that I photographed in the Dordogne in 2014.  They are very simple images, but the story is in the context of the picture.

The fabric of these photographs is the element of “touch”; the tenderest of relationships between bride and groom, or the bride and her father.

As a documentary wedding photographer I am constantly watching for these moments which add dramatically to the story of the day.

Wedding-at-St-Bartholomews-Church-22
Old-Wardour-Castle-Wedding-7
wiltshire-weddings-15
Temple Guiting Wedding
Temple Guiting Wedding
Fatherly Love at a Wedding
Kent Wedding
English Garden Wedding
Wedding photography in Italy

So, hopefully that has explained what, in my eyes, a documentary wedding photographer is. I’ll leave you with a few more documentary wedding photographs….. and please feel free to leave comments below on this page.

I believe passionately that wedding photojournalism is about the story. It’s about the people. It’s about the love between the couple but most of all, wedding photojournalism is about the moment. The decisive moment in fact, as the master Cartier Bresson explained.

You can, of course, see more of my wedding photojournalism portfolio and don’t forget the documentary wedding photography blog.

And in the meantime, take a look at a couple of recent Photofilms below.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed shooting them.

 

Shadow Divider

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32 thoughts on “Documentary Wedding Photographer

  1. Brilliant as always, and a few photographers do that very well. A great inspiration for me…

  2. Andy McDonald

    Kevin

    A great post and i hope that those that read it start to appreciate the hard work that goes in to commiting yourself to this style of photography. I feel far to many people (photographers included) believe that this is the easy bit and that posing, fancy flash effects are the difficult elements.
    True documentary photography is an art and i too hope to develop in this direction.

    Thank you for sharing so much in your post.

    Andy

  3. well said Kevin.. and always great pics…

  4. Beautiful photography. Straight photography is the way to go. Love your work and your vision.

  5. Kevin,

    Really appreciate the time you took to explain your thoughts from your heart. I couldn’t agree with you any more than what you have written. Summed it up perfectly for me. Congrats on placing twice in the 2011 Q1 ISPWP contest.

    Philip Thomas (Englishman in San Antonio, Texas)

  6. A great post Kevin. Explained perfectly and a must read for brides as well as aspiring documentary wedding photographers.

  7. Thanks for sharing this Kevin, You are up there on my ‘I need inspiration list’ and as expected some great images.

  8. Great explanation of your art Kevin, and the images are a real inspiration!

  9. Beautifully and clearly explained Kevin, supported by stunning photographs. True photojournalism is an artform and you have perfected a style which is much more difficult to do well than most people realise.

  10. Thanks for a full explination of your style.Although my patner (wife) captures most of the impromtu photo`s ,which the clients love ,after reading this letter i will be attempting to capture more of the same.This is the first photographer blog i have read on this site.It has been so inspirational I dont intend looking any further.Looking forward to my next shoot with all your Ideas in mind .Thanks once again.

  11. Beautiful images – a real sense of time, place and the emotions of the days. Inspirational work :)

  12. Very well said, Kevin. And amazing images to illustrate your points. I agree 100%

  13. Lianna

    If I’m suffering from photographer’s block or struggling to get through my editing, this is one of the 2 or 3 sites I come to for inspiration and a re-injection of motivation. Your style is aspirational. Your article is great too…

  14. a great article about how you work and how couple’s can get the best from you by letting you do your thing! Accompanied by some great images too (naturally)

  15. Really great blog post Kevin…. Images and words

  16. That first image Kevin; it’s the gentle aspect of the photograph that really captures what you do. If you only showed one photograph in your piece (superbly worded by the way) that would have captured it for me. You know, I hang around cars (not in an illegal way you understand) at weddings, looking for that kind of reflection, and as yet have not found it. Three hundred and fifty weddings, and I am still looking for that car shot! I have car shots yes, but not THAT one! Interesting take on the ‘people don’t notice me there’ subject. I as you know use a lot of short focal length lenses, but often I get right in, and with a 24mm, it’s hard NOT to notice the photographer capturing an image. A while ago I became fascinated by Bruce Gilden’s approach in the states. He’s a street tog and photographs mainly in NYC. Straight away I’d say I’m not completely blown away by what he achieves, and I’m certainly not a fan of the harsh flash method, but I do like the way he sucks the reality right into his lens. I’m when I came across his work, as I’ve noticed a lot of that style prevalent in how I cover weddings. This isn’t to everyone’s tastes I’m sure, but you may be interested; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRBARi09je8

    • Kevin Mullins

      Thanks Neale. Turns out I had seen that You Tube vid before. It frightened me then too :-). I do try and blend in as much as possible. I use 24mm and 85mm lenses only these days so I’m invariably on the 24mm and close in (85mm for church/speeches that kind of stuff). I think most people notice my eyebrow(s) before the camera :-)

      The reflection was a perfect situation where everything came together at the right time. I don’t expect the opportunity to present itself too often in the coming years.

  17. It was fantastic to meet you the other evening Kevin at the MPA evening. There are lots of people who ‘think’ they can shoot photo journalistic images at weddings. You seem to have nailed it and RGW images are stunning!

  18. JS Daniel

    Hi Kevin,

    Your work is absolutely fantastic. Love the raw emotions that i see & feel in the photographs. Thanks for sharing!!

  19. You are indeed a good photographer and really like your style.
    I started to follow your blog and look forward to future good stories, nice pictures and intresting technical stuff.
    Regards
    //Leif
    Sweden

  20. Andrew Hayes

    Inspirational stuff. Curious to know do you shoot a mix of documentary and traditional? For example if the Bride want’s formals of Auntie that’s flown from New Zealand, would you oblige them or as the photographer would you call the shots (no pun intended)
    I have reluctantly shot a few weddings. It’s hard work and a long day.
    I like the idea of shooting short, but I suspect I’d be better off with the 24 – 70, I have the 50 1.2 Canon for the studio but the AF would be far too slow for this style.
    The processing on the first image is sublime. Sort of 1950’s American realist look

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