At a Lincoln Wedding a man dances enthusiastically around a maypole

What Is Documentary Wedding Photography?

As you start your quest for finding the perfect wedding photographer, you’ve probably been looking through wedding blogs and Pinterest, etc.  Your head is probably spinning at the amount of different options when it comes to wedding photography (don’t worry, everyone feels the same). There are so many styles of photography, but one I am sure you will have seen mentioned is documentary wedding photography. This may have also been referred to as reportage wedding photography or wedding photojournalism, but what does it actually mean? And, more importantly is it the right style of wedding photography for you?

What is Documentary Photography

Documentary wedding photography is based on documentary photography (I know, who’d have though it?). This style has been around since the early days of photography. Simply put, the idea is to capture a straightforward and accurate representation of people, places, objects and events. The master of this style of photography is Henry Cartier-Bresson. Bresson summed up documentary photography perfectly: It is knowing when to press the shutter to capture a unique, fleeting, meaningful moment. That is why documentary photography transfers into weddings so well. A wedding is full of unique, fleeting moments that need to be captured. 

 father, bridesmaid and page boy walk a bride to the church at Gunby Hall, National Trust wedding venue in Lincolnshire.

Documentary Wedding Photography is Discreet

I am sure you have been to a wedding where the photographer spends large portions of the day shouting out orders and getting people to “Smile for the camera” (god I hate that). Documentary wedding photography is the polar opposite of this. The aim as a documentary wedding photographer is spending large parts of the day being discreet and going unnoticed. Only in doing this do you capture the true essence of a wedding and the people there. 

As your wedding photographer, you will barely notice I am there. I will not be asking you to pose, I will not be asking you to move into a position, I will just be quietly and unobtrusively capturing the day as it unfolds. There have been several times where guests ask me “How do you know the couple?” When I explain I am the wedding photographer, the response is usually “We’ve not noticed you”.  This is how it should be for a documentary style wedding photographer.

 father struggles to contain his emotions as he sees his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time.

Documentary Wedding Photography is for Couples Who Hate The Idea of Posing

If you look on wedding blogs or in wedding magazines, it feels like everyone is a natural in front of the camera. However most people are not like that. Most people, like you, are dreading the idea of being photographed all day. Constantly being asked to look at the camera, trying to remember which is your best side, smiling over and over for posed photograph after posed photograph is your idea of hell. 

A documentary wedding photographer won’t ask you to do this. Instead they will capture you when you are not looking at the camera, you won’t have to worry about your best side, because your photographer knows it and will capture it for you. 

A couple kiss as they celebrate getting married. the vicar, out of focus, looks on from the background, string at the camera.

It Documents Your Story

Looking through your wedding will be like looking at a story. The story will be instantly familiar, but you will see moments you didn’t notice at the time. The tightness of that hug, the look in your families eyes as you said I do, how badly some of your friends dancing really is. 

Like enjoying a book, looking through your photographs you see the sub-plots and in-jokes of your wedding day play out. This is one of the reasons I always recommend a wedding album, so you have your favourite book on hand, ready to read again at any time. 

A documentary wedding photograph of a bride preparing her makeup in the mirror. In the reflection, her mother proudly looks on and snaps a photo on her phone.

Documentary Wedding Photography Captures People as they Really Are

As soon as someone sees a camera pointed at them, they change. The body tenses and the forced smile (or frown) comes out. They try to look their best for the camera, but they stop being themselves. Sure it captures a picture of the person, but does it actually capture the real them? Of course not. 

This is the beauty of documentary wedding photography. Because a documentary wedding photographer is discreet, the people being photographed will not react in the way they would to a traditional wedding photographer. This means you capture that smile that only comes out when your partner is really laughing, the look that you only see when your mum is really proud of you, that tear of joy in the eye of your dad, who rarely shows emotion and certainly not in public.  These moments are priceless. They show people’s personality, not just their picture.

A man rushing round a maypole enjoying himself on his daughters wedding day in Lincolnshire.

What About Group Shots?

I understand that many couples will want some traditional formal photographs captured. I am more than happy to capture these on your day and make them as fun and painless as possible.

I would, however, suggest that you limit the number of formal photographs on your wedding day. This is simply because it takes a chunk of precious time out of you having fun with your friends and family. Trust me, after the first few formal photographs, you will be more than ready to get back to the party!

What About Portraits of the Bride & Groom?

Portraits of the couples are again one of those moments where I break the rules of pure documentary photography. This is something I always urge couples to find time for on their wedding day. 

Unlike formal group shots, which can become painful after a while, couples portraits are a great excuse for you to spend a few minutes together as newlyweds. In the whirlwind of a wedding day, you find yourself constantly pulled in different directions and talking with your guests. It can be hard to find time for you to be together and take in the fact that “Wow, we are married”. 

By finding 15 minutes at sunset, as your photographer, I whisk you away from your guests to the most stunning parts of your venue. When here, I get you into a position and then tell you to enjoy a few minutes together. From here, you will naturally do the rest. You will smile, laugh, hug and kiss as you enjoy a quite moment together. I again then employ a documentary style and capture you both totally in love, being together on your wedding day.

A couple in the bluebells at Kenwick Park, Louth. The sun sets in the background as they catch a couple of minutes away from everyone.

You’ll Remember the Moments in the Photograph, Not Posing For them. 

This is to me perhaps the most important part of all. A wedding day is about moments, not posing for photographs. When you look at a picture, I want you to feel the emotion you felt at the time, not simply thinking “Oh, remember when our photographer got us to pose like that”. Photographs capture moments, those moments should be real.

A couple kiss for the first time as husband and wife. in the background, the vicar averts her eyes.

Is Documentary Wedding Photography For Me?

So should you book a documentary wedding photographer to photograph your wedding? A documentary wedding photographer is perfect for you if:

  • You hate the idea of spending your wedding day posing for photographs
  • You want your wedding photography to be a true story of your day
  • You want your photographer to be discreet
  • You like the idea of storytelling photography
  • You want to see photographs of your family & friends as they really are

Looking for a Documentary Wedding Photographer for your wedding?

Wanting a documentary wedding photographer to cover your wedding day? Get in touch and let’s chat.

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