sunset wedding photograph

So you have a lovely long list of photographers’ websites to look at, great! Now what?

Sometimes I meet freshly engaged couples who are just starting the search for their perfect wedding photographer and are… bamboozled. There is so much choice and everyone they speak to gives different advice. Here’s what I tell them:

When you are first looking at a photographer’s website go straight to their gallery. Try to take your brain out of the equation and let yourself respond to the pictures emotionally. By this I mean, don’t worry about what you should like, what sort of pictures you think you want, or how these pictures were taken…  just ask yourself: “do I like these pictures?”

I suggest you do this before you consider the style of photography you are looking for as, you might just be surprised.

bride coming downstairs at manor house wedding

This brings me on to the next question:

What the hell is documentary/candid/fine art/photojournalistic photography and How do you know what style is right for you?

Traditional Wedding Photography

Traditional wedding photography sometimes gets a bad wrap these days, but I’m going to defend it! A bit.

bride and bridesmaids

There are some great photographers out there who specialise in those “must have” photographs. They will take time to take all the group photographs you want, as well as maybe staging photographs with each of your parents, or special moments such as getting into the wedding car. They’ll make sure that each of these photographs is perfect in terms of lighting and posing, leaving nothing to chance.

family group photograph from a wedding

The other benefit is that they tend to be cheaper (not always, but often) and offer limited hours of coverage, just capturing those photographs you really want.

There is a belief that traditional, posed wedding photography is cheesy. Well, yes, a lot of the time it is. Take a look at your parents’ wedding album and I’m sure there’s some cringe in there. But not always!

Good group photographs can be elegant and beautiful (and remember, in years to come, those family pictures might be some of the most important you had taken). Some couples want the kind of portraiture that wouldn’t look out of place in Vogue magazine. A really good traditional wedding photographer will give you this.

Big group photograph at the West Mill Derby

Reportage, Candid, Natural, Documentary, Photo-journalistic Wedding Photography

Most wedding photographers today will describe themselves using one of the words above.

father of the bride waiting for the bride

Do they mean the same thing? No. Are their meanings pretty interchangeable, when it comes to wedding photography? In some ways.

Candid, documentary or reportage photography is, it its simplest terms, photography taken without interfering with or even alerting the subject. This can be amazingly beautiful and emotive and really tell the story of your wedding day, giving you a “guest’s eye view”.

groom smashing plate at greek wedding

Good documentary photography can bring back a moment in time and let you relive it. Good documentary wedding photography is the perfect way to create a collection of photographs to look back on for years to come, to share with others and remember the day, just as it was. It can have the power to make you laugh or cry and can really capture the personalities of those you love.

two grooms during their wedding ceremony

This type of wedding photography is deceptively skilful. If a photographer simply snaps away at people whilst they aren’t looking, the results will be boring and meaningless. Good documentary photographers use the language of light and shade; consider composition; and always shoot with their heart and mind on the story they are telling.

little girl on the dancefloor at a wedding

A pure wedding photo-journalist will photograph your day without any intervention at all. No group photographs, no portraits, just pure documentary. Whilst a pure photo-journalistic approach means no guarantees of what will and won’t be captured, the result can be a stunning and emotive re-telling of your day.

first dance with love letters

Most modern wedding photographers are, in reality, a mixture of these two styles: offering documentary photography for most of the day but still taking a few group photographs and portraits.

Fine Art Wedding Photography

fine art portrait of bride

This is a tricky term to define, even though I use it myself. If I could think of a better term to describe what I do, I’d use it!

black and white image of bride coming down the stairs

Fine art wedding photographers seek to create something more artful and meaningful out of the time you spend together. They tend to be much more interested in capturing how your day feels than what it looks like, and they seek to create beautiful images that you’d want to put on your wall just for their beauty, regardless of whether they were from your wedding or not.

fine art wedding photograph

To see pure fine art wedding photography, check out Just Schmidt an amazing couple of photographers based in Hamburg.

Very few photographers fit snuggly into one definition or another: Heiko and Cati Schmidt describe themselves as primarily photo-journalists, although their work is a million miles from most in that category. But we all throw these terms around as though people should know what we’re talking about.

bride on the beach in the wind

Myself, I am all three, at different times.

Most of the time, I’m a documentary photographer, just telling the story of the day in compelling images;

Sometimes I’m a traditionalist – as I said, I think some of the family group photographs we take are the most important photographs of the day and should be flattering and beautiful;

Sometimes I’m a fine artist – I want to create images that are just beautiful for the sake of being beautiful!

couple on their wedding day being close and emotional

Once you have your short-list of the photographers whose work you love it’s time to narrow it down to the right style of photographer.

Will it be someone more arty, more documentary or more traditional?

To find out, ask yourself the following:

  • How much of the day do you want captured? From morning ‘til night or just the ceremony and afternoon?
  • How important are portraits of you two and how much time do you want to spend creating these?
  • How important is it that these photographs are different or arty?
  • How long do want to spend taking group photographs?
  • Would you rather just enjoy yourself and let your photographer capture the day as it happens?
  • Would you be upset if your photographer didn’t have the perfect shot of you cutting the cake or a photograph of you and a certain family member?
  • How upset will your Mum be if there isn’t a photograph of the family for her mantlepiece?
  • What are you going to do with the finished photographs? Do you want photographs that will look good on the wall? Photographs that wow on social media? Or just photographs that you can look back on and remember your perfect day?

Don’t forget, many photographers share their full wedding collections on-line, so you can really see what your entire wedding photography colleciton might look like.

This should help you narrow down that list further, to those photographers who are going to create the collection of photographs that is right for you. It will help you to avoid taking time out of your day for photographs you don’t really care about; or being disappointed that a certain photograph is missing, or not how you expected.

Got that short-list? Good, now it’s time to make some appointments. Want to know what to ask when you get there? Well stay tuned, that’s where we’re going next!