We’re often asked what is ‘Documentary Photography’ & how does that term translates itself into the world of wedding photography? In this blog I will address just that! I hope that this information will help you understand the term a little better. So let’s ask the question:
Documentary Photography, in its purest form, is the ART of visual storytelling. In general terms, it’s the ability to showcase a story through a number of images. Documentary photography is a ‘style’ which is informative of the facts. It showcases real events, genuinely & honestly, as they happen without manipulation.
Many wedding photographers, including ourselves, deem their wedding photography work to be ‘documentary’ in terms of style. As stated above, we are recording a real life event, genuinely & honestly, as it happens, without manipulation.
If you like the ‘documentary’ style, this is a term you should look out for when researching your own wedding photographer. However you must bear in mind that the term ‘documentary wedding photographer’ is still a very broad one. It’s like saying you like a particular colour. As an example, let’s say pink! What we need to ascertain is what shade of pink would you like?
The ‘shade’ I am referring to is not a light & dark scenario, not literally anyway. It’s more about the creative eye of the photographer. Being a good ‘documentary wedding photographer’ is much more than clicking the camera!
As I have said above, being a great Documentary Wedding Photographer is an art. Photography is said to be a medium like no other. A photograph should be able to convey thoughts & feelings to its viewer, a language of its own.
A wedding photographer is responsible for telling the story of a wedding day, albeit in pictures. This story, which is being told through the photographers eyes, is being immortalized in time. This day will never come again. The photographer is creating memories for the newly-weds, their family & friends, to remember & enjoy for a lifetime. What they visualize & how they visualize it, is what makes them unique
Good documentary photographers are deemed to be so by the quality of the finished work they produce. The images, of course, need to be technically proficient. They also need to be genuine, honest & believable!
In order to produce a good wedding portfolio, a photographer needs to, first & foremost, understand the story they are about to capture. They need to be abreast of the timing & the order of the day, so that they can be in the right place at the right time! They also need to have a firm understanding of their customers’ needs.
They also need to understand, to a very high standard, every part of the equipment they carry & the effect each part of that equipment can create. They must carry a varied range of reliable equipment including cameras & lenses so that they can give the portfolio several looks. They also need to carry lighting equipment, batteries, chargers, the list goes on. In addition to the equipment they will carry with them on the day, it’s crucial that they have access to back-up equipment i.e. back-up cameras & lenses at the very least, should they experience any technical problems during the day. A photographer should research the geographical location i.e. venues, so that they are fully prepared. Dib, dib, dob, dob, style!
A precious day stands ahead of them & they will need to have confidence to decide, at every juncture, which part of their equipment they will use at any given time. They need to be calm at all times, no matter what! This job requires a high level of experience & confidence to do well, but not in an obnoxious way. A good documentary wedding photographer should be a compliment to your wedding day. They should seamlessly blend into their surroundings. Sometimes they will be very visible, for example during the formal photographs where they will need to provide direction, & other times they will need to be extremely discrete & adopt a ‘fly on the wall’ approach in order to get the very best of their subjects. They will make the job in hand look easy, but make no mistake, this is not, in any way, easy.
A good wedding portfolio needs to include a variety of images. This range should include very wide shots (what we deem to be establishing shots) which set the scene, to close-up detailed imagery, & everything in between. Every image must have a purpose. Whether it’s showcasing people or details, it MUST have a story of its own.
The portfolio needs to show consistent quality throughout the day i.e. the photos taken at the start of the day should be just as good as the ones taken at the end. The creative eye of the photographer should not drop off in any way.
One of the things we love to incorporate into your wedding day portfolio is some ‘subtle’ imagery i.e. the viewer may have to look a little deeper to understand it’s true meaning. It often includes a story within a story which will, like a piece of art, spark the imagination of the viewer.
Shown below are some great examples; a photo within a photo; a Bride & Groom dancing, flagged by parents & Bridesmaid & partner doing the same; and finally, a Dad giving his Daughter a precious hug before he walks her down the aisle & gives her away.
Good documentary photographers use their imagery to showcase emotions. Certainly one of our goals, as your wedding photographers, is to be able to showcase all of the different emotions both our newly-weds & their families feel throughout the day. It’s most definitely NOT about one look! This story will spand 10 – 12 hours & a number of emotions will be experienced. ALL of these emotions deserve to be documented!
Shown below are: happy tears; a ‘diva’ moment; a Groom’s reaction to a little tipple (!); surprise; pure joy; & finally laughter. Each image has its own meaning & together they make a wonderful story!
The first thing a good documentary wedding photographer needs to do is to fully understand the art! They need to demonstrate a very high technical ability in using their camera equipment. They also need to be a master of light, understanding light sources & how to manipulate light to get the best effects.
A great documentary wedding photographer is able to engage with their subjects. They must, on some level, have a connection. This in turn forms a base of friendship & much more importantly, trust! Trust is THE most important thing! Trust instinctively allows your subject to relax, safe in the knowledge that they are in good hands. This in turn greatly affects the photographer’s ability to tell the tale.
If you look back through the archive of wedding photography it used to be about one look! Your photographer would turn up at the church & capture a set of formal photographs. The photographs would usually be available during the evening reception when the newly-weds & their guests could pick & order their favourites.
Let’s face it, most of us are camera shy! So in order for the subject to be able to express very real emotions will come down to how much they are able to relax in front of their photographer & how comfortable they feel with the person who is clicking the camera!
Believe me when I say that very few people think they take a good photo! What this really means is that the camera makes you feel intimidated! Let me explain further….. we all have, what we call, a ‘photography persona’. So, if I put a camera up in front of you now right now (difficult I know, but bear with me!) , you would change! Unless you are camera trained you will probably feel a little shy & bashful. Perhaps, even a little embarrassed.
What a great photographer is able to do is to put you at ease i.e. put the camera up in front of you, without you changing. I’m not going to tell you how we do this, as it’s a magic recipe, but believe we when we say we’ve cracked it! Have a look for yourself at our portfolio.
When a group of people are laughing together in a photo, it may have happened naturally, but more likely than not, it’s something the photographer has done or said to get that immediate reaction. This is especially true during formal photographs where a photographer is recording a certain group of people. Although composed in terms of structure, the image is show-casing REAL friendship & REAL happiness.
As documentary wedding photographers Kent, we know how important it is to form a relationship of friendship & respect with our customers. We are being invited to showcase one of the most important days of their life. It’s a position of huge trust, & one not taken for granted. I will just say though that as with all relationship, the friendship & respect has to work both ways in order to get the very best results.
By forming this base of friendship & trust, our subjects are able to communicate effectively so that we, in turn, can give them what they want.
If the relationship between photographer & subject fails for any reason the end result will be disappointment.
I hope that this blog has given you a small insight into the world of Kent documentary wedding photography. Now when you research ‘documentary wedding photographers’ you can keep in mind the deeper meaning to a photographers work & think, not only of the finished image, but also how much friendship & trust the photographer had gained to create the image in the first place! We are invited to the most precious of days. It’s a gift to be so close to the newly-weds & their families on their wedding day. As I’ve said many times we get to capture the most private & poignant moments & the most public of declarations. We do this with friendship & trust. Without both, we would not be able to achieve the high level of success that we enjoy.
In closing I just wanted to share one last thought. I wrote this blog during the Covid-19 Pandemic & I have to say I really struggled to get the words onto paper. The world is currently in a great deal of pain & the people within it are grieving. Many have lost loved ones without being able to say goodbye which is unbelievably hard & we are all making sacrifices on a day-to-day basis.
None of us know what’s round the corner, but one thing I know for sure, is that photographs have provided much needed comfort in the darkest of hours. It’s kept us connected to each other & giving us hope that the world will, at some point, be normal again. Social Media has come into its own but it’s photographs that are mostly being shared, thereby reminding us of happier times.
So in closing I would urge you to keep taking those images & immortalizing those memories. They are, & will remain forever, priceless.
Stay well & stay safe & we will see you once the madness is over!
Blushing Bride Photography