I love being a documentary wedding photographer in Lancashire. Not only do I get to shoot a whole ton of awesome weddings in a natural and vibrant style, but I also get to hang out with my photography pals too.
I recently joined a few photographer buddies of mine at one for Lancashire’s best wedding venues – Bashall Barn – for a ‘styled shoot’ . ‘Styled shoot’ can mean a lot of things, but it in this instance it allowed me and my friends to practice some of our techniques, try a few new things out with our cameras, and just generally enjoy shooting.
Of the photographers attending I was perhaps the most documentary in style. Rather than ask our models to do any posing – I left that to my more traditional pals I simply shot the moments as they happened in front of me, capturing the moments, in between the moments. Okay, so occasionally, when there was a nice pose, I shot that too, but as usual it was the more natural stuff that caught my eye.
But seeing my friends work and watching their more traditional creative take on things, it made me wonder about why I prefer documentary style…and why you might like this style for your wedding
.But before we go into that, let’s take a look at…
Well, let’s quote a website we all know and love….Wikipedia.
“Documentary photography usually refers to a popular form of photography used to chronicle events or environments both significant and relevant to history and historical events as well as everyday life. It is typically covered in professional photojournalism, or real life reportage, but it may also be an amateur, artistic, or academic pursuit.”
Hmm, that’s not too clear is it? For a start, they’ve used a couple of photographical terms – ‘photojournalism’ and ‘reportage’ – to explain a photographical term. Very helpful…if you already know what these terms mean….
Documentary, photojournalism and reportage…..these terms are almost interchangeable. But, here, in one word, is what documentary photography means to me: storytelling. That is to say…using photos to tell a story.
So what kind of photos tell a story? Good question. Why not take a look at some my photos from the styled shoot below. Which do you think tell a story? It’s tempting to say that the photos which aren’t posed tell a story, and o that are….don’t. But I’m not sure it’s as clear as that all that. You’ll notice that in some of the photos the bride and groom are stood together, as if posing, but they’re really laughing, and you can tell by the expressions on their faces that it’s genuine. Is there a story here? I’d say, yes, there is.
The key phrase for me is ‘emotional connection’, and by that I mean the emotion you experience when you look at a photo, which if the photo is of you, is closely tied to the memories the photo stirs up. If the photo makes you feel happy, sad, makes you laugh out loud, or cry with joy…then this is a great storytelling photo. Even better, if the photo makes you remember what you were feeling at the time it was taken, and makes you feel those emotions all over again, taking you back to the moment then that is just fantastic…and for me personally….the best kind of photo there is.
Well, that really depends on you and your tastes. Documentary wedding photography isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine, it means there’s something out there to suit all tastes. Some brides and grooms out there really like the more traditional posed style of wedding photography. I know this from chatting to couples at wedding fayres. The thought of photos of the mother-of-the-bride welling up during the wedding ceremony or, later, the best man pulling some hilariously terrible moves on the dance floor is quite off-putting. They’d rather have photos of themselves pretending to kiss passionately while their guests surround them in a heart-shaped ring. Again, if that’s what they like then that’s fine.
But I prefer documentary style and I’d like to tell you why, using my own wedding photos from way back on 2014. Alas, I can’t show you these because the copyright belongs to another photographer. But I can describe some of the well enough.
We were really happy with our photos. My wife, Eleanor, looked beautiful in every shot and there were some nice, elegant group and couple photos which various family members now have framed on their wall. That being said, the photos that we liked the most, the ones that really stuck with us were the ones which weren’t set up at all. A couple of personal faves were the look on Eleanor’s face as I said my vows in the church, and a tender moment between myself and me old mum as we had a hug before the ceremony. They were really nice photos, albeit shot from quite far away. And why did I like them so much? Because they take me back to the moment. I remember feeling vey lucky as I looked into Eleanor’s eyes, and I remember feeling very grateful for the loving upbringing I had as I hugged Old Ma Peet. The posey photos we received, they’re lovely photos sure: well composed, in focus, properly exposed as all professional photos should be. But they’re also clearly staged, and all I can remember is standing for the camera and following our photographer’s (very nice) directions.
Our photographer left our venue, Solberge Hall, at about 8:30-9pm, not long after our first dance. This is was a pretty typical for a wedding photographer at the time, and we didn’t have a problem with it at all. But as the years passed and I developed my own style of unique style of documentary wedding photography, I thought it was kind of a shame that the photographer left as early as he did. So much cool stuff happened as the lights went down and the party kicked off – my wife’s family ‘canoeing’ across the dance floor, all of the wedding guests slamming Tupperware into the floor to song from ‘Zorba the Greek’, 20 survivors screaming RATM’S infamous lyrics ‘F@^& you I won’t do what you tell me’ at the DJ at 2:30 in the morning. We have great memories of those moments…..I only wish we had some photos too. That’s why I like to stay later than most photographers. Some of the most emotional and dynamic photos happen once everyone has let their hair down.
So yeah, that’s why I prefer and shoot documentary style. It’s all about real moments, real memories, real emotion. Telling a story of your wedding. Creating a visual legacy for you to enjoy for years to come. Don’t worry, I still take your formal group photos and couples photos….but it’s always natural and really easy-peasy with no pressure from me at all. Relax, enjoy your time with your loved ones, and let the photos take themselves.