Nov 29, 2019
Documentary style, what is it? What's the pros and cons? Wedding photographers, who claim to be purely documentary, are they? In this post, I'd like to highlight my thoughts on this growing trend, and I'd like to suggest that a new definition is needed.
Documentary style photography or reportage in its purest form would mean that absolutely every photograph taken at a wedding would be unposed, and not setup. The photographer wouldn't interfere with anything, nor offer suggestions, nor move things around. Instead, they would take a back stance and capture everything from a distance. No family shots, no couple portraits, no shots of shoes, or a dress hung up — no suggestions on what would be a better angle or better light, etc.
Furthermore, it would be quite a raw approach, as it wouldn't concern itself with beauty at all. Let's say the bride got into her dress early and has plenty of time before the ceremony, and there was gorgeous window light seeping through a window. A pure documentary photographer wouldn't suggest getting a portrait, even though it's a brilliant opportunity to get one. Or if Mum was present, an obvious time to get a picture. In these cases, a documentary photographer would keep firing frames even if the bride is sitting in a messy, ugly corner, with horrendous light!
Would you want that? I think not.
Hence it needs a better definition because none of the best wedding photographers does this.
Documentary, reportage or candid is what most brides ask for when I get an email enquiry, and this is what I say I offer. I promote myself as such. Because, based on what people understand that to be, that's true about what I do. But is that entirely true under heavy scrutiny - in the strictest sense of the word - based on what I mentioned prior? A new definition is needed. I'm endeavouring to do that, which is quite difficult to articulate.
I've started to tell all my potential brides that typically 90% of the images taken at a wedding are purely documentary style, but you need to trust me for the rest! :) I can't stress this enough, without trust, there's nothing to go by. It's a trust relationship. You might hire the most technically brilliant wedding photographer, but if he/she makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, that won't be good!
Another thing I'm big on is arranging consultation calls before booking. That way, I can get all the information about the wedding, and go through every aspect of the day and what it typically involves. It goes a long way and helps the bride get a good feel for how I work.
Should a bride tells me that she wants 100% documentary style - I'm more than happy to oblige. Although I will share my thoughts on why I think this is a bad idea! That's the courteous thing to do. It's way easier for me to shoot 100% documentary. No managing family shots, no couple portraits, no stress when it's raining trying to find sweet spots, etc. She ultimately has to make a choice, and I'm happy to accommodate.
Let me share my approach to different parts of a wedding, and why I believe it's the best.
100% documentary-style. I don't interfere at all. I know exactly where to place myself for the bridal entrance, the exchange of the rings, the lighting of the candles, etc. It's relatively predictable, and since I'm an experienced wedding photographer - I know precisely where are the best places to position myself. Take a look through my galleries, and you'll see what I mean!
90% documentary-style footage. I get shots of the shoes and dress, and it's crucial to find the best places to do so. Often-times, I need to move the dress to a beautiful wardrobe to hang it. That means that's set up, consequently not documentary. I don't interfere with the bride or bridal party getting makeup done, or what's happening on the morning. This means everyone is relaxed, and I'm not bothering them. However, I do like to get a shot of Mum and Bride, Dad and Mum, Dad and Bride, etc.
However, that doesn't mean I'm not getting candid and natural moments. Of course, that's HIGHEST PRIORITY but the fact is, not every wedding presents amazing tear-jerking emotional moments like when Dad first sees the bride, so I must take the initiative if I don't get that. I'm hardly going let them get into the car without getting at least one picture together. Suffice to say; I understand what needs to be photographed, and I know how to distance myself when needed. I'm not pushy, so everyone is calm and relaxed.
0% documentary-footage. Goes without saying; they need to be set up! I've learned an amazing trick on how to get family shots done in 10 minutes that's completely hassle-free. I recommend designating a person on each side of the family to help me with them. Since they know who all the family members are, they round everyone up and bring them to the location that I've chosen. Staring with the biggest family shots, then I work my way down to the smaller immediate ones. It works incredibly for the following reasons. 1. The guests that are extended members come out first, and within a few minutes, I get everyone lined up, neat and tidy. Fire few frames and boom, I'm done. They can go back inside to enjoy the reception. 2. Less time spent outside, in winter this is a big deal. 3. While I'm photographing the groom's side of the family, the designated person can be gathering the bride's side of the family - which is what makes it time-efficient. Everyones a winner!
95% of this is documentary style. I like to move about discretely, and get people laughing, and do my best to be unnoticed. However, I will politely ask a few people who are assembled in groups to smile for a portrait. Perhaps Granddad and Grandma are sitting down next to each other, but they look quite tired, so I can't get off the cuff natural shots. In that case, I'll get a quick portrait of them smiling.
100% documentary-style footage. Like the ceremony, there is no interference from me during the speeches. It's 100% unposed and natural. And boy these make for amazing shots - so much laughter and funny reactions.
First Dance and Party Shot
100% documentary-style footage. Once again, super fun reactions.
As you can see, yes, most of what I shoot is indeed documentary style, but not all.