Documentary Wedding Photography

What Is Documentary Wedding Photography?

The world of wedding photography can be ridiculously confusing. If you’re sat at home right now and have stumbled across this page you’re probably newly engaged, congratulations by the way, and have started looking for your wedding photographer. You’ve probably leafed through some friends magazines and looked at all the pretty things inside and maybe even started to picture your big day in your head. It’s possible that you’ve also had a quick search through Google or been to a wedding fair or two and seen phrases like Documentary Wedding Photography, Wedding Photojournalism or Reportage Wedding Photographer.

It can be a minefield but it really needn’t be. So todays post is going to spend a little time explaining what these are all about and whether it’s for you. It won’t take long I promise…

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First things first. Documentary Wedding Photography is a very eloquent phrase for taking pictures of people candidly and without them noticing. There’s a lot more to it than that but in a nutshell that’s what it is. Reportage and Photojournalism are different names for the same approach.

Winding back the clock a little there have been hundreds of incredible photographers that have approached their environment and attempted to capture a very real sense of what it was like to be there without intruding or disturbing that environment in anyway. From Robert Cappa’s celebrated photographs of Omaha beach during the D-Day landings to one of my favourite documentary photographers Corey Arnolds cold and often windy photographs of high seas and tales of Fishermans lives in Alaska¬†photographers have worked hard to tell a story of what is in front of them through pictures.


Ok, getting back on track. Wedding Photography. It’s pretty different to a rolling boat in the Arctic or the horror of a war zone. But our approach as photographers can be the same. True documentary wedding photographers will arrive at a wedding, be very discreet and almost go unnoticed whilst photographing the events of your wedding day unfold all around them.

They will photograph your guests being who they are, laughing and joking or being overwhelmed by the emotion of the day and document it in a way that is creative but also completely unintrusive.

They capture those fleeting moments that maybe a small handful of people saw or perhaps no one but the photographer saw and that’s what makes it so beautiful. It’s a single frame frozen forever by the photographer of something seemingly insignificant but taken on it’s own or as part of a larger set of photographs will tell a complete and vibrant story of the day.

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This is probably the best point to say that I am not a 100% true Documentary Wedding Photographer. If push came to shove and someone asked me if I shoot Documentary Wedding Photography I’d have to say no. The reason for that is very simple. I believe firmly and won’t be told otherwise that that the most important job for me on your wedding day is to make you look awesome! Let me explain that a little better…

As a rule documentary photography means not moving anything and not interfering with a single element of the day. The problems with that is that it It also means not giving any direction or setting any shots up at all which means no portraits. Honestly, I think that sucks a little and I really think it robs you of one of the nicest times of the day.

As I said before I really believe that my job is to make you look awesome and portraits are all part of that. I want to be able to give you a set of portraits where you sit back and say “Yep….we looked great!”. For that reason I’ll give a little direction every now and again to get a better photograph for you. I’ll move you a little closer to the good light, I’ll race around and clear away the plastic wrap on the bed left over from your wedding dress. Hey, if you’ve got spinach in your teeth – I’ll tell you!

What I concentrate on more than anything else is photographing your wedding in a really laid back and relaxed way that shows your family and your guests being themselves, not worrying about the camera and certainly not having to stop enjoying themselves to look at a photographers camera and smile when asked to.

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In real life, on your actual wedding day I think that a documentary approach works incredibly well for 95% of the day. But, you’re almost certainly going to have to cater for a few people along the way with slightly different taste. That might mean a couple of group shots or a staged signing of the register if the Vicar doesn’t allow it at the time. Hopefully, it will also mean using that final 5% to take a little time out and get you away from the crowd to create some epic portraits of you both looking incredible.

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Above all else though I want to be able to tell the story of your day. None of the photos in this post have had any direction or have been posed in anyway.

The photo above for me captures exactly what was happening right then. The couple had just got married, their taxi racing back to the reception with the Priscilla soundtrack blasting out at ear bleeding volumes. Wedged into the passenger seat I swung around to see them cracking open this teeny little bottle of Bollinger they’d stowed away on the way there. They were laughing their heads off and completely caught up in the happiness of that moment.

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Moments like Frank staring up at Tini’s hotel room in the photo above happen in a fraction of a second sometimes. Being able to present a photo back to the couple of a moment like this where neither bride or groom realised the photo had been taken or that that moment even happened is one the best things about documentary wedding photography. It’s inspiring and heart warming as a photographer and keep you excited and ambitious as to what photograph is going to happen next.

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I hope that this has been useful and you’re now a little clearer on What Is Documentary Wedding Photography and whether it’s for you. Ultimately, for me it’s an approach that I love and have adopted certain parts of it into my wedding coverage in order to give you bright, colourful photos that are full of laughs and happiness and tells the story of your day completely.

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If you’re reading this and would like to know more then go and have a read through the page I wrote about how I approach a typical wedding day, or head over to the main page of the blog to see lots more of my most recent work.