When you first start to plan your wedding and begin to look for a photographer to capture your big day, you might already feel there is plenty of choice and things to consider. Things such as the price, where they are based, how many photographs you can expect and if there are albums included. The list of things to consider goes on. However there is perhaps one thing that can have a bigger impact on the look and feel of the photos you receive, as well as how the photographer goes about his work during the wedding itself. That is the style of the photography.
You can be forgiven if this is something you’ve not come across before. Surely a photograph is a photograph, and a wedding photographer is a wedding photographer. Broadly this is true, but photographers that have been doing it long enough may have developed or slipped into a particular style that best represents how they go about their work. The main “styles” are detailed below, with some overlap between them at times. If a photographer doesn’t mention their style, it may be best to ask them, as it’s important to be on board with the kind of look they will be aiming for, and if this aligns with what you have in mind too.
If you’re not overly concerned with the style you will receive, then it’s still important to know what to expect, or you might be in for a surprise. If you are looking for a particular style, then make sure you book someone that matches this so you can all strive towards a common goal.
If you’ve ever looked through your parents’ wedding album you’ll have noticed a few things. Firstly, how few photos there actually are, and secondly that the vast majority of the images are all very posed, traditional groupings of people where everyone is facing the camera. Back before digital cameras, film was precious and you had to make every photo count, so it had to be set up, posed and lit correctly to make sure the highlights of the wedding day were presented to the couple with very little of anything else. Now of course we can be a bit more frivolous with our photo taking, but a traditional photographer will still put a lot of emphasis on these classical shots, lots of groups of guests, of the wedding party and the couple facing the camera. Of course there are likely to be times during the day when all aspects are photographed, but there is unlikely to be many candid or more spontaneous image, and less emphasis on storytelling than other styles.
We’ve talked above those staple wedding photos above, and a classical style still aims to deliver these, but overall the photographer is less focused on staging situations and posing people, and will try to be more unobtrusive during the day. There is a greater focus on lighting and composition to bring something different to the table, as they often know where best to stand to get the shot, even if this is from afar. There is a greater inclusion of the surroundings to give context to the wedding day, and some candids are on offer too, but only when these are likely to happen on their own, rather than going out and finding them. A classical style is traditional with less posing.
Photojournalism moves away from posing and a traditional style and instead heavily focuses on storytelling, context and the raw emotion of the day. Details and events are captured as well as the natural reactions of those involved. Often this style required a lot of experience to pre-empt when something is going to happen, but because the results are so unscripted and natural, they are appreciated all the more. Formal photographs can still be requested and will not often be denied, but there is little incentive to get those cheesy candid group photos where everyone faces the camera. It’s a very popular style of photography these days, especially for those who hate the idea of posing all day and just want to enjoy themselves and their wedding day. You will often notice details and nuances that can otherwise be missed on the day.
Reportage or documentary photography is very similar to photojournalism, and sometimes all three names can be used interchangeably. Again there is a greater emphasis on telling the story of the day and documenting the events as they happen rather than setting situations up. Formal photographs may now have more of a candid or unusual element to them with regards to poses and locations so as to appear more spontaneous in nature. Natural emotions and reactions are the name of the game here, and the wedding can appear very relaxed and informal. Oftentimes the photographer won’t even be noticed milling around the venue happily snapping away.
Commercial or fashion photography takes a traditional style a step further can produce some stunning. Magazine-worthy results, but often at a considerable time and sociability penalty for you and your guests. There is an emphasis on times/places where light can be controlled, and there is often a small studio set up arranged for immaculate portraits. As amazing as these images can look, there is often little overall context and storytelling, and perfecting the look can take time away from your guests. As there is usually a lot of extra kit and potentially assistants needed to fulfil this style, the price of photography may be considerably higher.
Fine art photography is essentially a toned-down version of commercial/fashion photography. There is still the want to create very stylistic images, but with a simpler set up and perhaps limiting this to times of the day where there is more time or more creative opportunities. The environment comes more into play to give some context, as well as the use of unusual angles, composition and framing to bring the location to life and deliver something different. Again this is a style that takes some time & experience to perfect and a bit of ‘out of the box’ thinking, but you’ll get more storytelling while maintaining a high end standard.
As it sounds, a dramatic shooting style can deliver images with a wow factor, but its best suited to times when the lighting and circumstances can be tightly controlled, and there is time to set things up correctly. It can be difficult to deliver a consistently dramatic look throughout the day, as it doesn’t always lend itself to the situation. As such, dramatic imagery should be part of a photographer’s wider arsenal, who may generally have more of a traditional, fashion or fine art style for the remainder of the day. Dramatic images are best created in bright sunlight or at night, where simpler methods can sometimes be a bit lacklustre in the results.
A natural light photographer will tend to avoid using flash and supplementary lighting if possible by relying on the ambient light for the majority of the day. This can mean the sun, reflected light or constant light at a venue (eg candles, fairy lights, lightbulbs etc). While this gives a ‘what the eye sees’ effect to the images that better reflects the scene as you remember them, there can be a lack of consistency with details lost in shadow, or a moody look if the weather isn’t that bright or at a darker venue. This can appeal to some who aren’t fussed about a ‘bright and airy’ look to their photographs.
Black and white
More of an editing style than a shooting style, and can effectively be done to compliment any of the above approaches to the wedding day. Hearkening back to the heyday of photography, with a grittier and grainy appearance to the images. Black and white images work really well with a heavier contrast to highlight light and shadow, or more of a muted image to bring out more detail in the lights and darks of a photo. This style lends itself to occasional standalone images that you want to make a focal point of a gallery or album, rather than entire scenes or the whole gallery.
Really you have a pretty wide spectrum of styles to choose from. At one end are the very posed and traditional styles, at the other more of a documentary and natural feel, and some even blur of the lines to include classical and fine art photography. I think everyone has a different idea of what they think wedding photography is all about, and some of you may even be open to changing your mind and doing it a different way if you find the right photographer. What’s most important is that you prioritise what you want out of the day and try to find a compromise that includes outstanding images and having a great time. Sometimes having amazing photos but not spending much time with your guests is as bad as having an amazing wedding and having hardly any photos to show for it.
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