Documentary wedding photography appears to be what every client is asking for these days but what does it mean and what exactly is documentary wedding photography?
In virtually all of my wedding consultations over the last few years my clients tell me they are looking for documentary wedding photography, candid, reportage or wedding photojournalism, reinforcing this by telling me they don’t want their day to be overtaken by the photographer or dictated by set shots that they’re parents may have had at their wedding.
I absolutely understand what they mean, wedding photography like most creative industries has trends and styles, and at the moment, the days of wedding photographs taking hours and consisting of a long list of well trodden poses is over.
But what defines a documentary wedding photographer? And what defines my documentary style? I’m sure there are many people who are in a better position to define what documentary photography is, so I stress this is my own perspective. In it’s purest form a documentary photographer will approach a wedding as an observer, telling the story of the day without interfering or choreographing shots. A documentary wedding photographer will provide an authentic reflection of your day, blending the moments and emotions of a wedding day and delivering them in a story that truly captures the essence of the wedding.
This sounds easy right? Just keep clicking and you have enough shots to show everything that happened on the day? In fact this could not be further from the truth. Crafting a story from a wedding day is an art form and requires skill, simply google ‘Why should I hire a professional wedding photographer’ and I’m certain you will see my point.
A documentary wedding photographer will elegantly capture the moments of a wedding, balancing light, composition and emotion to deliver an image that tells a story, instantly taking you back to your day. Great documentary wedding photography evokes emotions and bottles the feelings of your day, but even more than that it can tell you exactly what was happening in that moment, as equally plain to interpret for those not at the wedding as those involved in that moment. That’s what I mean by telling a story, each photo will depict a unique part of your day and stitch together with the rest of your image collection to provide the narrative of how your day unfolded.
What’s my documentary wedding photography style?
Some wedding photographers will practice their craft with purist discipline, never altering anything within a scene. While this is laudable, it’s not quite my style of documentary photography and I’m fine with that…. Much like many specialisms, there are different flavours and so we each need to find our own groove.
I ask myself, would you be prepared to move something in a scene to make the photograph more pleasing for your client? The answer is a resounding yes. Why wouldn’t I remove the crisp packet that distracts from the shot? Of course, I would firstly do my level best to choose my composition in such a way that this was not in shot in the first instance and if it meant losing the moment or interrupting/pausing a moment then I would not interfere, choosing the moment over the distraction. I would never stop, pause or alter the direction of something happening, but a lot of great photographic images are about predicting the moment, and if I can predict a moment then I can see if something may make the shot poorer for it.
Equally I would not be afraid to ask a bride where she plans to put her dress on if I see it hanging in a dark and cluttered room, suggesting she might find it easier in the light filled room next door. Is this pure documentary, absolutely not and I understand that a purist documentary photographer might shudder at this, but does it make the most of the scene and help me to deliver better images, I believe so. I would not tell the bride where to look or how to stand, or choreograph the scene in any other way, I just believe in putting your best foot forward.
What about ‘detail’ shots of the dress, shoes and table dressings?
To me these are as much about the story of the day as the guests. It’s fairly evident at most weddings that an enormous amount of time is put into the little details that make a wedding unique. Capturing these are equally important to the emotions of the day as any candid shot. In many instances it is these details shots where you find family heirlooms, the broach that was worn by grandma on her wedding day or the table names that recall memorable family holiday destinations.
This also extends to the formal portraits shots on the day. I completely understand that although my wedding couple may want a documentary wedding style to their photographs, they also want a few formal shots with mum and dad and aunt Bessie. So, I take the shots, their not pure documentary but they mean something to my couple, and I want them to be as good as they can possibly be. I do limit the number to between 8-10, and then I’m back shooting in my documentary, observed style.
Would you move the bride and groom or ask them to look somewhere?
No. But for 20 minutes during the day I take my couples for newlywed portraits on their own, let them say hello to each other and spend time capturing the first moments of married life. I set them up to succeed, by keeping the session super relaxed and fluid. During this time, and only if required, I make gentle suggestions to improve the shot.
Ultimately as a documentary wedding photographer I will capture a wedding in a beautiful, elegant and natural way, telling the story of the day and delivering timeless and emotional images. I may not be a purist, but my approach puts my bride and groom first and enables me to deliver a documentary wedding photography style blended with a customer experience that I think set’s me apart from other photographers . I simply want to deliver a set of images that my bride and groom will treasure. If you’d like to see more of my work, then please visit my blog.
Documentary wedding photography by Damion Mower. Damion Mower is an award winning documentary wedding photographer available for weddings in Buckinghamshire, across the UK and for destination weddings. Damion captures elegant, natural and unique wedding photography for couples to cherish for a lifetime.