Documentary Wedding Photographer – What exactly is one?

You’ve probably heard various buzz words to compare to a documentary wedding photographer, like reportage photographer, candid photographer, natural, unposed…etc. Now you’re probably wondering “Is a documentary style of coverage for me?”

This page will answer those questions, and many more, while at the same time describing my approach to the art of documentary wedding photography.

The best place to start with is with a definition of the word “documentary”.

Here’s one I found that suits:


definition of word documentary

So the idea is to present a factual record of a story without interfering, like a news reporter. This means an observer can look through a set of images and get a true understanding of what exactly happened, rather than ‘what did the photographer make people do’.

This is my main approach for wedding photography, meaning I won’t spend all day posing you for formal photographs.

If that style of coverage rings your bells, then a documentary wedding photography coverage is probably for you.

For example , these are the typical types of images I capture at a wedding:

documentary wedding photographer capturing a proud bride's father looking on the happy couple during the wedding ceremony

Documentary wedding photographer captures happy bride and groom being showered with confetti

Documentary wedding photographer photographed Indian man being carried on aloft as the family arrive for a Hindu wedding

Documentary wedding photographer photographed woman taking selfie with friends waving in the background

You’ve probably seen that other wedding photographers whose emphasis is on a natural, unposed style of coverage use a lot of black and white images. Does being a documentary wedding photographer simply mean making an image black and white?

I find that the black and white or monochrome image does allow the viewer to concentrate on the emotion of the image rather than being distracted by the colours, and that’s my aim to touch your heart, to pull you into a photograph and for you to sense the joy, sadness etc of the captured moment. But that’s not to say I don’t also shoot in colour, (have a look at my portfolio here as proof) but certainly my emphasis is black and white.


As a professional documentary wedding photographer, I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to develop and improve as an artist. While there are many professional wedding bodies, very few actually cater and promote the art for me as a documentary wedding photographer. One organisations that definately caters for our needs is the WPJA (Wedding Photojournalist Association). I read an article on their website that summed up a few important points to remember when looking for a documentary wedding photographer or photojournalist:

TRUST YOUR WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALIST (A.K.A. DOCUMENTARY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER)

* “We’re not selling a product, we’re selling a promise,” says Cheung, who considers trust the single most important part of wedding photojournalism. “If you don’t trust your wedding photojournalist, then why did you hire them?”

* If you’re constantly worrying about the photographers—are they getting good shots; taking enough pics; Do I look good?—then you’re not living in the present. “When you let that go,” says Cheung “the imagery is much more confident, because you’re not thinking about it the entire time. You can’t worry. If you’re being primped and prompted at every turn, you’re not going to enjoy your day, and the photos will reflect that.”

* Cheung says you have to be comfortable enough in front of your photographer to cry, and trust them to document that in a beautiful way. After all, he says, you don’t have to look good every second of the day. “You just have to trust that wedding photojournalists are artists and thereby trust their vision of your day,” Cheung says.

YOU CAN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING: ACCEPT IT

* Trust is also closely related to giving up control. Part of trusting your photographer is being able to hand over the reins. Accept that you cannot control everything; that’s why you hire professionals to carry out a shared creative vision. Realize that when you try to control too much, you’re actually hijacking the creative process.

* For example, McGraw is not a fan of the list. “The family list is fine,” he says. “But not the lists of all the moments: the candles, the garter toss, the bride walking down the aisle.” McGraw once received a four-page list, down to the silverware on the table. “It was beyond duty,” he says, “And I was just going down, checking off the list.”

* If you give a wedding photojournalist too long of a to-do list, it distracts them from what you hired them to do in the first place: shoot spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime moments that can’t be predicted, and therefore, could never be included on a list. “I don’t want to think about all these expectations,” says McGraw. “I just want to tell the story.”

— by Meghan McEwen for The Wedding Photojournalist Association


Over the years, I’ve picked up a few things too that will help you completely decide if you’d like a documentary photographer for your wedding.

Here are a few I’m sharing with you:

If you do choose a documentary approach, remember:

DON’T FOCUS ON THE NUMBER OF IMAGES OR TYPE OF ALBUM.

Every wedding is different and you can’t compare one wedding to another when the coverage is natural and fluid and totally depends on what’s happening at your wedding. Are you having fireworks or a sparkler exit? Will your guests uninhibitedly get on the dance floor and not be camera shy? Are there some touching, emotional moments expected during your speeches? If so, these moments will be captured and naturally will contribute to more images that other weddings without these extra elements. Your focus should be on: The emotion in the images. The storytelling. etc. Does it matter if you get 500 or 300 images if you don’t like the images?

DON’T FEEL THE NEED TO ALWAYS DIRECT YOUR DOCUMENTARY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER DURING YOUR WEDDING DAY

Remember your day will be documented in an unscripted manner and direction is counter-productive. The more you’re worrying whether the photographer has captured the cute bridesmaid walking down the aisle or the look of love in your eyes as you listen to your grooms speech, the less involved in the day you’ll feel resulting in less documentary moments to capture. This also why some couples have an “unplugged wedding”, where during the ceremony they respectfully ask their guests to put away their cameras and phones and just enjoy the moment. It’s been noted that, while people are busy taking their photographs, they’re not actually immersed in the occasion itself. They become a casual observer. Instead they’re experiencing everything behind a screen and this psychologically makes them detached from the emotion of the event.

AVOID THE PINTEREST LIST

From my perspective receiving a long list of Pinterest-inspired images to recreate will take away from my creativity as I’m only thinking of the next image on the list rather than capturing the beauty of the event naturally unfolding in front of me. Besides, which would you prefer: for me to recreate images from someone else’s wedding that has no doubt being copied by numerous others photographers, or would you rather I document your wedding, creating unique images that no one else will ever, or can ever have? If you know the answer get in touch with me now!

INFORM YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS BEFOREHAND HOW A DOCUMENTARY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER WORKS

Because of this style of coverage, family and friends will also need to understand that for the majority of the time, I won’t be at the front constantly directing like a wedding coordinator the whole day. That way, they won’t be constantly interrupting asking if a certain photograph has been taken, or asking “how about we put the bouquets on the train of the bride’s dress and photograph her and her maids looking over their shoulders at the camera”

CHOOSE YOUR VIDEOGRAPHER CAREFULLY

There’s no use hiring a documentary photographer if your videographer has a style that involves a lot of directed footage. eg asking you to button up your wedding dress several times or “pretend to put on your make up”, as they need to record it from different angles. We all need a shared understanding of how the day will be captured.


If you’re convinced you’d like a natural, unobtrusive, documentary wedding photographer to cover your wedding day, have a look here at my wedding portfolio.