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A Guide to Different Wedding Photography Styles

The nature of wedding photography has changed dramatically over the last 20 years; and such is the current level of diversification, wedding couples can have very different expectation and aims.

Years ago, a wedding photographer was simply a technical wizard who owned a mysterious box that few other people would have know how to use.  Essentially, couples were hiring this person to produce a few correctly exposed, record shots of the big day. And it wouldn’t have been unusual for the photographer to attend up to six weddings in one day. In 2013, nearly all wedding guests own a camera capable of yielding nicely-exposed images at low cost.  So evolution in technology has meant the role of the professional wedding photographer has needed to change considerably.  Technological advancements have empowered photographers with the flexibility and creativity to offer something radically different. This has attracted a different class of people into the profession and resulted in the overall standard of wedding photography improving significantly compared to previous generations. At their very best, wedding photographers offer stunning images that tell a narrative in a very artistic, evocative (and sometimes dramatic) fashion.

But at the same time, the economics of setting up as a photographer via the internet now means that the range in quality and diversity of photography has also widened immeasurably.  It is no longer right to say all wedding photography is the same, and no longer right to assume all clients need the same type of photography.

A Guide to Photographic Styles

A big advantage of the web is the ease in which you can review and check the work of a number of photographers.   Skim through a couple of photographers’ websites, and not only will you see quickly the range in quality, but also the sheer proliferation of photographic styles.  The terms used to describe these different genres can also be a little  confusing because they are used interchangeably  - and sometimes inconsistently and incorrectly!

Documentary photography also referred to as photojournalism or reportage wedding photography, is often used to describe an unobtrusive approach in which the photographer does not direct the wedding couple or guests at all.  Instead the photography captures the flow of the day in a creative way as possible, as it would occur naturally.

Traditional wedding photography is probably the description with the most potential to confuse, but many people mean it to convey old fashioned line-ups of the wedding party and guests.  But it is also frequently used to depict any photographic posing of the wedding couple.

Contemporary wedding photography (sometimes confusingly used interchangeably with reportage photography because they are both, in some way, modern) may refer, to poses with modern, urban or colourful backgrounds. Or perhaps because the photo has an unusual camera tilt, an avant-garde style, or simply just that it is based on a novel fashion-like pose.

Our advice is not to get too hung up on labels.  Labels can be often more confusing than helpful.  Second, photography styles often do not fit neatly into one category or another anyway. Third, it gives the impression that wedding photographers offer, or should offer just one style throughout the wedding (indeed it is quite tiresome listening to arguments about which particular style is superior).

Weddings are rarely suited to just one style.  Photographers will usually need to draw on many skills and techniques during the day.  They cannot for example, start posing couples, or ask them to move to a better light during the church service. It is also very rare for a couple not to expect some photographs within a formal framework which shows them in their best light.  And even the most modern of documentary wedding photographers still get asked to take a few traditional family shots.

Many photographers will of course excel in one type of skill over the other and indeed emphasise and market it.  We describe our style as classical with a fashion edge, although we have to rely on a mix of style,  including pure documentary, during the day.   We emphasise the importance of directed photography, because, within the very tight time scales of a wedding, many couples think that it is important to spend at least thirty minutes partially directing/posing the couple away from the attention of the guests.  The key objective for us here is to give the couple flattering, fine art photographs that they will probably never have taken again.

Selecting and Hiring Your Photographer

As a couple, the main starting point for choosing your photographer is your aspiration (or perhaps, more prosaically, your requirement) for the photography.  Some people see photography in a much more traditional sense: they would like a professional, reliable record of the day; but they do not want to interrupt the flow of the day’s events too much.

Other couples love photography in its own right, and having an artistic and evocative set of photographs is an important part of the day. Indeed an integral part of the day.

Once you are clear on your objectives, examining photographers’ galleries for quality and style is more important than style badges.  The problem is that galleries merely represent the photographer’s best work, so ask to review a whole wedding to check for consistency; and to see how the style translates itself into the different requirements of the day.  Remember that you are there to celebrate and enjoy the day (and party!), so it would not be realistic to expect a whole set of photographs from a single wedding to look the same as the photographer’s portfolio.

Photography awards are another guide to the quality of a photographer’s work, and you would expect him or her to be a qualified member of a professional body such as the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) or Master Photographers Association (MPA).

As you will spend a good amount of time on your big day with the photographer, you should ensure that you have a good rapport – and that you share the same photography goals.  As well as photographic flair, you and your guests are likely to value a high level of experience, organisation and professionalism on the day.  Finally you will need to consider the album ranges offered.

Filed under: Advice

All images copyright Gary Roebuck AMPA ABIPP.