My Style: what is documentary wedding photography?
Documentary wedding photography is a style that goes by several names and descriptions that you may have seen on bridal websites or in bridal magazines: candid wedding photography, reportage style wedding photography and photojournalistic wedding photography. These all essentially mean the same; an approach to photography that uses natural, unposed pictures to tell the true story of your wedding day.
To me, documentary wedding photography is all about using photographs to set the scene and capture real moments in time that show emotion and human connection:
Each of these images tells the story of a moment in time captured within the frame. When these little stories are grouped together then they add up to a more complete story of the human interactions and all the characters present at the wedding.
One of the most important aspects to my work is that I am always paying attention to what is happening around the room or place in which I'm working. This enables me to tell the story of the wedding day more fully than I could by stage-managing posed shots or by simply following the bride and groom around.
This series of images took place in just a few seconds immediately after the wedding ceremony: the bride and groom walk back down the aisle, are greeted by the wedding co-ordinator and are handed a drink of champagne and have a quiet moment together. The guests began to move in to the room behind them. As the congratulations started the bride was hugging her mum. At this point I had also noticed that the groom had dropped to his knees and reframed the shot to capture both the bride/mother and groom/son interactions.
What started off as a shot of the bride and her mother with other guests in the background becomes a series of shots showing the bride with her mother while her son runs to hug the groom. The mother of the bride's yellow jacket draws is the most prominent part of the image so in the final image of the sequence I moved and reframed the image so that the groom and son become a more obvious focal point.
Thanks to Mike Andrews for this last image which is a behind the scenes shot of me capturing this lovely sequence of events (I'm the one on the left of the frame with the camera!).
Although documentary wedding photography seems simple: telling stories with pictures, it takes a lot of thought, effort and, importantly, practice to do well. I like to think that this is where my previous career as a forensic scientist - a trained observer - pays off! Interestingly a lot of reportage/documentary photography follows a similar pattern to that of the forensic photography coursers that I took:
An establishing shot to set the scene and then shooting and presenting images in a 'narrative' that leads the viewer into the and through the scene!
My photographs have a context and story to tell the viewer, sometimes as a standalone photograph and sometimes as part of a group of images within the context of the whole wedding day.
Documentary Wedding Photography is all about capturing moments and following the action, emotions and events of a wedding day. Instead of constantly interrupting your day for formal, posed shots, my passion is to get in amongst you and your guests to capture the true story of the wedding day. I won't take over and stage manage your wedding day.
I use a small camera system with small lenses, avoid using a flash as much as possible and always dress like a wedding guest when I'm working. I blend in and capture images that show the true story of your wedding as it was seen through the eyes of your guests. Often guests aren't aware that I am actually 'the professional' photographer which means I can get on with photographing people behaving naturally and having a great time at your wedding. I work hard to convey the atmosphere, action and emotions of a wedding. I especially like to capture fleeting moments going on among you and your guests, some of which you may never even have noticed.
Although I appreciate that some formal group shots are required at most weddings I try and keep that to a minimum. Too many posed, formal shots breaks the flow of the wedding day and hinders my ability to fully explore and photograph the wedding. I want to let the wedding flow as you've planned it and not take control and impose myself on you and your guests.
My decision to go down the route of candid, documentary wedding photography came as a natural progression; partly from preference and also from watching how people react to different approaches to photography and the behaviour of photographers. Many people, including most of my own family, are not comfortable posing in front of a camera. This can result in a lot of awkward looking family group shots (both at weddings and in my personal family shots). Smiling on demand does not come naturally to many people either; including most of my own family. Getting a photograph of my mum looking relaxed and smiling naturally has become a life-long quest!
Traditional, formal wedding photography also requires a level of 'micro-management' as it requires a set list of shots and poses that 'must' be taken on the day. This can become an unnecessary stress for photographers as well as couples and their guests. For a lot of people, having a photographer take over and stage-manage their day is off-putting and is a barrier to them being able to fully enjoy their wedding day.
Many people aren’t happy being moved around and directed for photographs either: move back a bit, lift your chin, lean forward a bit, look at the camera, look away from the camera, etc. etc. (I also always ask before I touch anyone to pose them when I am working). Even worse from a photographer’s point of view is that people can become anxious, irritated or bored with the whole thing. The couple at the very first wedding I shot as lead photographer gave me a very long list of group shots but then got fed up after 15 minutes of people lining up and asked me if I’d mind just taking one shot of everyone! Naturally, I said 'yes'.
At my own wedding back in 2001, the photographers had my wife and I out for so long we both were freezing (it actually snowed later that night). We may be smiling and sharing a loving look in those photos but you can’t fake being warm and stop yourself from shivering and/or having mottled skin from the cold. Even worse was that our dinner was ruined by the delay they caused: dry, overcooked lamb isn't great. I am always very conscious of the venue’s running order as a result and also keep an eye on how everyone is doing/looking in the weather conditions on the day.
Also, my favourite photograph from my own wedding doesn't have either me or my wife in it: it's a candid shot of a guest's daughter hanging from a parking meter outside the registry office!
I also started off in wedding photography with Richard Hill's partner in Lenscurve Photography and mostly worked as his 'second shooter'. We originally met studying studio photography classes at college in Glasgow. Richard always preferred to do the formal shots and I was given the freedom to wander among wedding guests and get candid shots. Over time Richard and I found that our couples more often than not chose mainly candid shots for their albums and prints.
By taking a wholly candid, documentary approach to wedding photography I am able avoid this anxiety, awkwardness or ill-effects of the weather by concentrating on capturing real-life images of people having a good time. I do, however, understand the requirement for 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 up the flow of the day and the opportunity for me to fully explore and photograph the wedding. Not relying on list of shots also means that I avoid the problem of every wedding having the same poses and basic shots, just with different people in them.
I am at my most creative when left to blend in and mingle with wedding guests to capture those moments you may never even have noticed happening during the wedding day itself. Weddings that have reams of formal and group shots dramatically reduce the opportunity I will have to capture these images.
As a documentary wedding photographer my aim is to create beautiful photographs as a permanent, true record of your wedding day that can be passed down through the generations of your family. All of my photographs are subject to my thorough and precise editing and re-touching process (I use Capture One Pro 12 and Affinity Photo if you're really interested). This ensures that you are only presented with the very best photographs of your special day.
I use a small, discrete digital camera system (Fujifilm X-Series) with compact lenses and avoid the use of flash if at all possible. My editing style is intended to have a timeless look to it, whether in colour or black and white. This means that I fully embrace an editing style that emulates the look of film photography, including some ‘film-like’ grain in my low-light images. I personally love this look as I do shoot 35mm film on a camera older than I am in my spare time and all my favourite old movies were shot on film. This look is also one of the reasons I chose my Fujifilm X-Series camera as they can replicate it so well.
The equipment I use was specifically chosen to help me to get in amongst you and your guests and be as unobtrusive as possible.
I want to make images like this, from every wedding I attend:
As I shoot in a candid way so my documentary wedding photography is created with the intention of being a true and unique record of you and your guests on your wedding day. I love to tell stories with my photographs. I will also cover the detail shots, dress shots, ring shots but in a way that fits with the my telling of the story of your day.