Documentary wedding photographer, wedding photojournalist and wedding reportage photographer are terms used interchangeably but really mean one thing. Depending on the ‘what is in fashion’ approach glossy magazines, wedding blogs or publishing houses may favour one more over the other. The truth of the matter is they all refer to a wedding photography style which is meant to be unobtrusive, discrete and very observant. I dare say observant is the most important ingredient when discussing this type of photography. One of the slight misconceptions of documentary photography is the belief that it is when people don’t realise they are being photographed then it is photojournalism in the making taking place. I think this is only partially true and even more so when we add wedding into the documentary photography equation. Here, I will try and describe my own approach to documentary wedding photography. How it works for me, how I understand it and how I execute it.
Have a quick look at this image below which was featured on a Moment Junkie website which showcases only the best of non-posed, moment-captured, documentary wedding photography.
Before I pressed the shutter button on my camera I had had a nice chat with some of the people on the photograph. I had also exchanged a few words with Lisa, the beautiful bride, and asked her if I could take a sit in the car having anticipated what would happen once she got ready for the departure. Everyone there was well aware of my presence but very few if any knew what sort of image I was patiently waiting for. Oftentimes photojournalism is born as a result of experience, patience and ability to predict the next move. No-one posed. No direction was given.
Same remains true with the two images below, which were made during Marta’s visit at a hair salon prior to taking vows in Tower Hamlet registry office. I say ‘made’ purposefully here. Everyone knew I was there. Come on, where can you really hide in a room the size of a bigger kitchen. In fact, we did talk quite a lot. It is just when I pressed the button whilst still talking ( Yep, I like talking;¬) they totally weren’t expecting it. I had made the picture before I took it. Candid, modern documentary wedding photography. No posing just chatting. Feel good experience.
Unlike world conflicts, wars and natural disasters which lends themselves best to pure reportage and photojournalism weddings are events where the presence of the photographer is very much known to those partaking in this beautiful ceremony. True and pure wedding photojournalism is no mean feat and numerous means and cunning ways need to be employed and deployed to desensitise the bride, groom and wedding guests about the photographer’s presence. Strangely, I choose talking. I know it seems as if I am contradicting my previous definition of documentary wedding photography which I said was discreet and unobtrusive. Well, I up to a point I am. I have found it really helps you and your couple to relax, be more natural and less posy. Chatting gives me opportunity to create bond and build trust. It turns me into one of the guests and then no longer am I the photographer, the stranger with a camera. Now that I ‘befriended’ my couples and guests I can move about silently being as discrete as only humanly possible. My camera and me don’t draw attention. It is very important for me to get rid of ‘the photographer badge’ as quickly as I can from the moment I enter the wedding zone.
There are, however, great pure photojournalistic opportunities which when arise are really great to capture. Like this picture of a loving couple I took during Emma and Zoe’s wedding at Bushill Golf Club. Honest and candid capture beautifully flavoured with wedding decorations and guests’ silhouettes in the background.
Photojournalism is also, if not mainly, about telling a story. Having a layered image where you have more than one thing happening is crucial. As the name suggests it is supposed to be a journal written with pixels as opposed to ink. It needs the plot. Imagine a cake where the three layered one on a shelf in your local bakery display window is the most expensive and tastes the best. Layer one is the foreground. Second layer is the action and then to finish it all off you have the icing which is the background. Such three layered photographs are really difficult to compose during the extremely fast-moving parts of the wedding day. How I wish there was a couple talking, kissing or simply peeking through the window on the image attached below. Henri Cartier- Bresson considered to be the father of modern photojournalism once said “Of course it’s all luck”. I guess I could have had more of it in this scenario.
Here you can see the groom busy with his tie – our foreground – preface to a book if you like. Let us move on to our second and main layer – groom’s mother looking proudly at his son. Missing here is the before mentioned finishing layer – the icing – someone or something outside the window. Maybe next time.
Stories can also be told with more than one photograph. This is quite modern approach to wedding photography and more and more talented wedding photographers put more than 10 best images from weddings they photographed trying to tell the story and depict the whole day as it was unfolding. These photographs were taken during the wedding in Staffordshire at a stunning Heaton House Farm. The couple had thought about everything and so did they prepare various games for their guest.
We can clearly put those images into a story. We know the two participant, we know the game and we know who won it. Emotions documented. Action captured. Story told.
As a documentary wedding photographer I personally love shooting through objects like chairs, plants, curtains, etc. It adds this completely different dimension to the finished photograph and makes it feel as if I really was the fly on the wall. Have a look at the three images below.
They all make the viewer believe they were taken from some sort of a camouflage vantage point well in fact I made use of curtains, glass reflection and a plant in a living room. Simple little tips and tricks that enhance the meaning of modern wedding photojournalism.
To conclude this short article, I believe documentary wedding photography is constantly evolving. Some photographers execute it masterfully in its purest form photographing the wedding from a distance, keeping their profile really low and being as discrete as possible. Some wedding photographers like me like to get to know the couple, share the excitement with them and let it shape and paint their wedding photographs. Please visit my wedding blog to see more of modern documentary wedding photography.