What is a documentary wedding photographer?
To be a documentary wedding photographer is to tell an authentic story without taking control of the wedding. In other words, it’s the complete opposite of a ‘traditional wedding photographer’. For me it’s about being part of any given moment to take pictures that honestly document experiences in real time.
Human brains work by remembering the best, worst and last parts of any experience, so you remember by recalling fragments that you piece together into a story. Documentary wedding photography is that same process – sequencing fragments of a story that you rebuild with feelings.
Unfortunately, the industry loves to confuse itself to clients, and what many people don’t entirely understand – including photographers and wedding magazines – is that documentary wedding photography or wedding photojournalism, reportage or candid are merely labels leading to the same thing. The end result for couples is commonly understood as ‘natural wedding photography’, being the perception of un-staged real life. For the photographer, the distinction is in the craft and ability to adopt a working style of patience and foresight that honestly captures an unfolding story.
Is there a difference between a documentary wedding photographer and a photojournalist? The terms are interchangeable in my opinion but consider that photojournalism is rooted in press photography and the primary objective is to create a particular viewer response, legitimately or not. Documentary photography is less focused on a singular expression but on the overall experience as a photo essay. I might like to suggest that a documentary photographer documents a story whereas the photojournalist chases the headline.
I’m not too hung up about the label you may wish to give me, but feel it’s important to express that a documentary wedding photographer is a true storyteller, using pictures that express themselves in context of the bigger story of humanity, documenting those qualities that make us human. Every image should have something to express in isolation and collectively portray the full experience of the wedding day. For you, this means that every wedding is shot to be authentic and bespoke. Approached in this fashion, I’m sure you can see how wedding day photography becomes a lot more diverse and valuable as a legacy of memories.
When I work as a documentary wedding photographer, the opportunity to explore and express what I see defines the photography. The timetable isn’t too important and I’m not directing when and where you need to be. I aim to be peripheral as much as possible and treated like any other guest.
A lot of images and a lot of time and effort goes into my documentary photography, both on the day and in production. While I shoot with digital cameras, my images are given a specific film inspired finish to precise standards. My whole production is hand-made for a personal, tailored touch. My clients come to me because they appreciate my ethos and passion in my work and love the nostalgic romance of real photography crafted for a day they may have been dreaming about since childhood.
Whatever style of wedding photography you prefer, inevitably, couples will request group shots of family, and expect detail shots of the wedding dress, flowers, decorations, rings and so forth. As part of the wedding day, those elements are never excluded, but the preference remains to capture such images in context and not deliberately staged for effect.
The worst thing to request from a documentary photographer would be a long list of group and grin shots. This is like asking Gordon Ramsay to make you beans on toast, when he could instead be cooking something with a name you can’t even pronounce. I do appreciate the desire for such group formals, and I do shoot them for you, but they will be quick and concise.
I invite you to choose documentary wedding photography like mine if you are someone who is not keen on being the centre of attention all day, isn’t overly keen on posing and values the experience of their wedding day and guests not being interrupted by the need for photos. As I say in my business, I provide ‘wedding photography of everything that interrupts nothing’.
Be sure to also read my approach to blending contemporary wedding photos into the big day.