What is Documentary Wedding Photography?

Documentary vs Posed

I get asked this a fair bit by clients so I thought a blog post was in order!  I think of myself as a reportage/documentary photographer, but what does this actually mean?  Traditional wedding photography was basically a collection of group shots and then some staged shots with the happy couple.  This was back when we were all shooting on film, and my own wedding photos follow this pattern.  Now that digital photography is firmly established couples expect more, and the era of candid/documentary photography is very much upon us ( I think this is a good thing ).  Simply put, documentary wedding photography is unposed, follow the day, shoot what happens photography.  This is a documentary wedding photo…

They had no idea they were being photographed, it was a candid moment at the reception between the bride and her father.  This is a posed photo by comparison…

There is nothing wrong with this ( they loved it ), but it is a posed photo.  There are various degrees of documentary wedding photography.  Some photographers are 100% documentary, nothing is posed.  They turn up and they document the day looking for awesome moments.   There is a lot of skill that goes into this, from choosing the right backgrounds to being able to use flash in a non invasive way.  It’s not just turning up, putting the camera into burst mode and then firing away.  Then there are people like me, who are 90% documentary/reportage but we will do posed/group shots.  I believe they are important, as a record of the day.  It’s impossible to guarantee that you will capture everyone on the day, so the group/posed shots are a kind of safety net, to capture those people who have evaded you otherwise during the day.  This is a good example of a shot that is 50% candid and 50% posed….

Dunchurch Wedding - confetti line

I love the confetti shots, its not a candid shot because I set it up, but there is a large element of chaos in the confetti run which means its a nice mix of the two genres ( in my opinion ).

Blending into the background

Part of the skill of documentary photography is being inconspicuous and this is where gear can play a part.  I use a Sony A9 as my main camera for weddings, the main reason for this is that it is completely silent and I find that I can fade into the background a lot more easily than with a big DSLR with a loud shutter sound.

So which should you go for?  Well, that’s up to you of course.  I do find that couples who want a whole load of group shots come to regret it on the day and often abandon the idea when they realise what a stress it places on the whole timeline.   If you are going to go for group shots allow 10 minutes for each one.  That may seem a lot, but once you factor in the missing relative who has disappeared off the toilet just when you need them most, it starts to make sense.  When couples see the final shots its always the candids they prefer, but don’t discount the group shots, there are an important record of who was there on the day, and you can always opt for a mix of the two.

Here are some more examples of what I consider to be Documentary Wedding Photography from my own archives.

Kids playing at this wedding near Henley
Old friends reunite at a wedding near Reading
Old friends reunite at a wedding near Reading
Bridal Prep - hairspray
Kids having fun at the wedding in Reading
Kids having fun at a wedding in Reading

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