What is Documentary Wedding Photography?

You’ve probably heard various buzz words to describe a documentary wedding photographer, like reportage photographer, candid photographer, natural, unposed…etc. Now you’re probably wondering “Is a documentary style of coverage for me?”

This page will answer those questions, and many more, while at the same time describing my approach to unique and natural way of telling the story of your wedding day.

The best place to start is with a definition of the word “documentary”.

Here’s a dictionary definition I found that suits:


[dok-yuhmentuh-ree, -tree]
Movies, Television. based on or rec-creating an event, era, life story, etc., that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements:
eg a documentary life of Gandhi

The idea is to present a factual record of a story without interfering, like a news reporter. This means an observer can look through a set of images and get a true understanding of what exactly happened, rather than ‘what did the photographer make people do’.

This is my main approach for wedding photography, meaning I won’t spend all day posing you for formal photographs, but instead I’ll provide you with a faithful record of what really happened at your wedding.

Here are a few examples. You can see more in my portfolio.

Getting the Most From Your Documentary Wedding Photographer

As a professional documentary wedding photographer, I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to develop and improve as an artist. While there are many professional wedding bodies, very few actually cater and promote the art for documentary wedding photographers. One organisations that definitely caters for our needs is the WPJA (Wedding Photojournalist Association).

I read an article on their website that summed up a few important points to remember when looking for a documentary wedding photographer or photojournalist:

Trust Your Photojournalist

A photojournalist wedding photographer said: “We’re not selling a product, we’re selling a promise” “If you don’t trust your wedding photojournalist, then why did you hire them?”

If you’re constantly worrying about the photographers—are they getting good shots; taking enough pics; Do I look good?—then you’re not living in the present. “When you let that go, the imagery is much more confident, because you’re not thinking about it the entire time. You can’t worry. If you’re being primped and prompted at every turn, you’re not going to enjoy your day, and the photos will reflect that.”

Some ask is it right for the groom to cry at his wedding? You have to be comfortable enough in front of your photographer to show whatever emotions are present, even if it means crying, and trust them to document that in a beautiful way. After all, you don’t have to look good every second of the day. “You just have to trust that wedding photojournalists are artists and thereby trust their vision of your day,”

Accept the Fact You Can’t Control Everything

Trust is also closely related to giving up control. Part of trusting your photographer is being able to hand over the reins. Accept that you cannot control everything; that’s why you hire professionals to carry out a shared creative vision. Realise that when you try to control too much, you’re actually hijacking the creative process.

For example, another photojournalist who is not a fan of the shot list said: “The family list is fine, but not the lists of all the moments: the candles, the garter toss, the bride walking down the aisle.” He once received a four-page list, down to the silverware on the table. “It was beyond duty,” he says, “And I was just going down, checking off the list.”

If you give a wedding photojournalist too long of a to-do list, it distracts them from what you hired them to do in the first place. Surely you’d rather they shoot spontaneous, once-in-a-lifetime moments that can’t be predicted, and therefore, could never be included on a list. “I don’t want to think about all these expectations,” “I just want to tell the story.”

— by Meghan McEwen for The Wedding Photojournalist Association

Bonus Material on Getting the Most From Your Documentary Wedding Photographer

Over the years, I’ve picked up a few things too that will help you completely decide if you’d like a documentary photographer for your wedding.
If you do choose a documentary approach, remember:

Don’t Focus on the Number of Images or the Type of Album

Every wedding is different and you can’t compare one wedding to another. Your results will totally depend on what’s happening at your wedding. Are you having fireworks or a sparkler exit? Will your guests uninhibitedly get on the dance floor and not be camera shy? Are there some touching, emotional moments expected during your speeches? If so, these moments will be captured and naturally will contribute to more images that other weddings without these extra elements. Your focus should be on: The emotion in the images. The storytelling. etc. Does it matter if you get 500 or 300 images if you don’t like the images?

Don’t Feel the Need to Always Direct Your Photographer During your Wedding Day

Remember your day will be documented in an unscripted manner and direction is counter-productive. Never worry whether the photographer has captured the cute bridesmaid walking down the aisle. Or the look of love in your eyes as you listen to your grooms speech. When you do that you’ll be less involved in the events happening around, resulting in less documentary moments to capture. This also why some couples have an “unplugged wedding”. This is where during the ceremony they respectfully ask their guests to put away their cameras and phones and just enjoy the moment. It’s been noted that, while people are busy taking their photographs, they’re not actually immersed in the occasion itself. They become a casual observer. Instead they’re experiencing everything behind a screen and this psychologically makes them detached from the emotion of the event.

Avoid the Pinterest List

From my perspective, receiving a long list of Pinterest-inspired images to recreate will take away from my creativity. That’s because I’d only be thinking of the next image on the list rather than capturing what’s naturally unfolding in front of me. Besides, which would you prefer: Me to recreate images from someone else’s wedding that has no doubt being copied by numerous others photographers. Or would you rather I document your wedding, creating unique images that no one else will ever, or can ever have? If you know the answer get in touch with me now!

Inform your Family and Friends Beforehand How a Documentary Wedding Photographer Works

Family and friends will also need to understand my style. For the majority of the time, I won’t be at the front constantly directing like a wedding co-ordinator the whole day. That way, they won’t be constantly interrupting asking if a certain photograph has been taken. Or asking, “how about we put the bouquets on the train of the bride’s dress and photograph her and her maids looking over their shoulders at the camera”

Choose Your Videographer Carefully

There’s no use hiring a documentary photographer if your videographer has a style that involves a lot of directed footage. For example: asking you to button up your wedding dress several times or “pretend to put on your make up”, as they need to record it from different angles. We all need a shared understanding of how the day will be captured. If you want any recommendations, I’ve worked with some great videographers who’s style blends in well with the natural, unposed style of coverage.

Documentary photography is a wide-ranging form of fine art photography that can probably be defined in many different ways. The goal of the documentary photographer is to create an accurate representation of the subject. Here’s another useful resource to read for tips on documentary photography.

Obviously I’d love to hear from you too if you have any further questions. Feel free to get in contact with me. In the meantime, here’s even more wedding planning tips for your wedding.

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