Bride reading letter from groom before wedding at Formby Hall, Liverpool

Why do I love to shoot this way, and what is and what isn’t documentary wedding photography?

Documentary wedding photography or reportage is a style that I fell in love with while studying over 20 years ago! Unlike posed static images, this form of storytelling was full of life, movement and emotion. The pictures drew you in, and you felt part of their story. It was something I instantly connected with and still feel strongly about today.

After leaving education, documentary photography stayed with me. I love how it could freeze a beat in time without having the pose or stage the moment. The advent of digital made this process more manageable. From the first wedding I shot in 2009, documentary has been part of my process.

Documentary Wedding Photography 

Over 20 years, we have seen many photographic terms twisted and misused to the point they bare little semblance to their original meaning. No industry represents this more than wedding photography, and no term more so than ‘documentary wedding photography’!

For over a decade, couples have sought an alternative to the ‘traditional wedding photographer’. The response from many photographers was to start using zooms lenses, removing themselves from the wedding and shooting from as far away as possible in a documentary style! Unfortunately, this was a style easy to mimic. Today, the term typically describes a photographer draped in cameras with huge lenses’ sniping off’ headshots like crazed paparazzi, producing isolated black and white portraits.

I would like to put the record straight! Documentary wedding photography, contrary to its chronic misuse, is an unobtrusive style of wedding photography. It is a form of photography with the minimal direction that allows couples and guests to relax and enjoy the wedding yet delivers images full of life, emotion and context.

Documentary Wedding Photography

The term’ documentary wedding photographer is often interchanged with either ‘reportage wedding photographer’ or ‘wedding photojournalist’, but essentially, they are the same. When used correctly, it is an observational and unobtrusive approach to photographing a wedding.

For me, the approach should be as ‘hands-off’ as possible, immersing you and your guest in what will undoubtedly be one of the most important days in your life. As a result, actions, reactions, emotions and context are all genuine, and the photographs reflect what was felt, not just what was seen.

Unobtrusive does not mean shooting from afar through a telephoto lens. Authentic documentary-style wedding photography is about recording those most genuine moments. Still, to do this, you must be able to almost anticipate them happening before they do.

When photographing a wedding, I look to break down any barriers between the party and me as the photographer. I love getting to know your guests and getting a feel for how they will react to a moment or conversation. Who will laugh at the jokes, cry at a speech, or be on the dance floor first? If truly mastered, this style of photography as a collection or individual image will convey your guest and wedding honestly and with authenticity.

Documented wedding images should be able to tell the viewer what is happening at that moment without further explanation. They should be images you reach for time and again, not just because they are beautiful, but because just by looking at them, you feel instantly transported back to the most special day ever.

Couple laughing in field at Chester Fields

My Wedding Documentary Style

Documenting a wedding is ultimately about creating a beautiful, elegant, emotive and genuinely timeless set of photos that tell the story of your wedding. Done correctly, skilled, artistic and unobtrusive wedding photographers will create treasured memories that you will want to look at again and again. They will instantly transport you back with utter clarity and direct emotional impact when you do.

It is a style of photography I have loved for over 20 years, and I feel genuinely proud to have been chosen to document such personal moments in this manner. Using this style, your photographs are not just simply wedding photographs. They are photo documentaries. I love looking at a photograph and feeling the life, energy and emotion I saw leaping out at me. I love capturing those fleeting moments, those little things that often go unnoticed, subtle emotions and nuances unique to each wedding, family and couple.

Over the years, I have remained good friends with many couples I have worked with. Seeing the joy my photos continue to bring, in some cases over a decade since they were taken, is a very real and genuine honour. I have seen many fads come and go, but natural documentary photography is not one of them. It is powerful, honest, emotive and, most of all, timeless!

My work as a documentary wedding photographer should always evoke a reaction. The authenticity I look to produce in my documentary coverage and across the wedding day coverage is worth much more than a pretty picture or regimented formal family photograph.

Laurie + David

To recap on what my style in documentary wedding photography is:

  • I am a storyteller; my wedding photographs present a narrative of your day through a collection of images. At an individual level, each wedding photograph must depict authentic observed moments, not just isolated headshots.
  • Individual documentary pictures must convey the subject and scene honestly, with authenticity and, notably, with no direction from the photographer.
  • Subjects should be photographed within context whenever achievable to convey narrative.
  • Photographs should tell the viewer what is happening in the moment or scene without further explaining what an image represents. It’s not just about being an unobtrusive wedding photographer. There’s so much more to it than that.

It focuses on storytelling, creating an accurate and elegant documentary record of the most important day of your life. The most professional documentary wedding photographers will even find and capture moments and stories that you didn’t see on the day and tell a story that you may have been too focused to see unfolding around you.

Documentary wedding photographers apply their unique style and personal interpretation; it’s a highly subjective, wide-ranging photographic discipline utilised in many different ways. But, ultimately, it’s about accurately and honestly telling the day’s story. 

To help with your wedding planning we have put together a comprehensive 32 step guide taking you every step of the way from picking your venue, to last minute details. Wedding planning, shouldn’t be stressful, and we would love to join you on your journey from saying “Yes” to “I Do”

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