At the two ends of the Wedding Photography spectrum, sit two totally different approaches to wedding photography. At one end, sits “Documentary” or “Photojournalistic” style. This approach is sometimes described as “candid” wedding photography, but I don’t think that gives the photographers that focus on this style enough credit. Its not as simple as tagging along and taking the occasional “snap” of the action. It is about creating a photographic essay of the day. Recording details big and small, moments seen and unseen, the emotion and the excitement of the day. It is about conveying the nerves and tension leading up to the “I Do’s” and the relief, love and fun of the moments after. A true photojournalistic wedding photographer never poses or directs, they anticipate and pre-empt.
At the other end sits the more traditional “Posed” or structured approach. While these photographers will sit in the background at times capturing the day candidly (yes, I mean that in tis case) their approach is to use set up shots, posed photos, portraits, artistically arranged details and a timeline that they have structured themselves to tell your story. The photos will include the candid moments, but those Pinterest perfect images of flowers, of perfume bottles and jewellery carefully laid out, or rings delicately stacked and those gorgeous posed portraits of couples will be the punctuation to their story. They craft these images to incorporate important details, to tell a story in a single image. It is no less of a skill or art form than the pure documentary style photographic essay, it is just different. They will have a range of poses that have been practiced and refined through countless weddings and through working with models and other similar style photographers. Their approach may be as hands on as physically moving your hand or fingers, or adjusting your hair and dress while you pose for the portraits.
And then there is the middle, somewhere in between where most of us sit. Speaking entirely for myself, I use both approaches, usually mixed throughout the day, but in all honesty, my personal leaning is toward pure photojournalistic, with the occasional creative moment where inspiration hits me and I need to create something unique. I have in the past worked predominantly documentary style , but have still kept time allocated for portraits and formal photography in my offered packages. As time has passed, and I have developed my style, I have found that I tend to work differently in smaller more intimate weddings than in big formal events when I run with a second shooter and/or assistant.
What I have found works for me, is that when I am running solo, I get far better results just staying with a documentary style approach. This doesn’t mean I don’t spend time creating portraits or don’t do family group photos, it just means that when I do, I don’t require a set amount of time or a set schedule to work from, I just respond to the day. I will take more relaxed family group photos (no rigid standing poses) when the opportunity arises organically, when my couple grab me and ask for them. I will then at some point when the moment is right, grab the couple and suggest we steal 15 minutes away from everyone to go for a walk, and I will just look for some nice light, and let them be who they are together and capture that.
When I am shooting larger weddings and working with a second shooter and maybe even an assistant, I find that it works slightly better to take a little control. To schedule times for photos. To gather the family and work methodically though the different groups and to keep a consistent style through how we arrange the groups, pose everyone and light the photos. I find it better for everyone if the bride, groom and bridal party seperate themselves from the guests and we spend an hour creating some nice photos uninterrupted by anyone. Big wedding require structure to make room for the images that you will want, and so when I need to, I fall into a structured approach to make sure nothing is missed. Its about efficiency and consistency, and the more people present, the more things packed into the timeline, the more I need to stick to a system and not just go with the flow. When I do this however, it is always my main concern that my couple feel no pressure and are allowed to relax.
So, what style of photographer should you hire? Well, that depends on your day, on the kinds of images that you want and your own personality. You won’t find many photographers that just operate doing one or the other. They will usually take, like me, a mixed approach, but you probably want to decide which way they lean… documentary style or posed, and pick the one that best fits with you and your own tastes.