What is a Documentary Wedding Photographer?
Well, quite simply, a documentary wedding photographer should be all about telling a story.
For me, 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”.
On this page I will 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, storytelling wedding photography.
As a Documentary Wedding Photographer I love stuff like this, for example:
There is a story, within a story in these frames.
Together, they tell their own little tale of just one character on the wedding day.
A documentary wedding photographer is a storyteller, 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”.
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 wonderful wedding at Wrest Park.
It’s far from traditional but tells a complete story. It adds context to the moment if you like.
Of course, its important to the key shots during a wedding, but I really love to explore the whole event visually.
In this image, the bride’s friends crane to take a peek at the bride and groom as they say their vows.
This is a moment the bride will never have even noticed on the day, but the moment has been captured for her to remember forever.
These types of moments are what drives me as a visual storyteller.
None of it is contrived.
None of it is staged but all of it is real.
A little more about stories within stories
As this Bridal Prep moment evolved and remembering I want to tell a “story within a story”, I moved away from the bride and to her immediate left.
This gave me a wider frame, and within that frame, I can build the story and fill in some context for the viewer.
You can read more about how this particular set of images evolved over on my Why I Love The Wedding Pictures section.
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.
I appreciate that most weddings have some form of formal photography, and that’s fine, but I try and keep that to a minimum.
Too 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.
Take a look at this Wedding Photofilm from Rickie and Will’s Wedding in the Dordogne that I photographed recently.
In three minutes, I feel this sums up my style as a documentary wedding photographer:
As a documentary wedding photographer, I aim to make your wedding photos vibrant and 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.
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 see 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 photojournalist 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 storytelling images.
I want to make images like this, from every wedding I attend:
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 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, I suppose 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.
Details such as locations and table decorations are all very important elements of the wedding day too.
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 an idea of location, season and weather.
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.
The fabric of these photographs is the element of “touch”; the tenderest of relationships between bride and groom, or the bride and her father or any of guests.
As a documentary wedding photographer, I am constantly watching for these moments which add dramatically to the story of the day but don’t take away from the emotion.
Documentary Weddings – The Quirky Moments
I’m a big fan of “people watching” and I really do try my best to blend into the environment at a wedding.
Using small, discreet cameras (in fact, I’ve been a Fujifilm ambassador for several years) I can often shoot images where people simply have no idea I’m even there.
Honing this skill has allowed me to get glimpses into the personality of the people at the wedding.
These are the type of images that make me smile and make my clients happy too.