Documentary Wedding Photographers
Take a look at pretty much any wedding photographer’s website and you’ll probably see the words ‘documentary wedding photographer’ or ‘reportage wedding photographer’ on there when talking about their style. It’s true – when it comes to weddings we are all to at least some extent going to be shooting some unposed ‘documentary’ imagery. After all no-one’s going to stop you mid-way through your vows and ask you to strike a pose (or at least we hope they’re not!) and so I don’t think we could name one wedding photographer who doesn’t deliver at least some portion of reportage photographs. But to be considered a true documentary wedding photographer that desire to shoot unposed imagery shouldn’t come purely from necessity or be a bit-part to your overall portfolio, it should be born out of a true passion for shooting without directly controlling or affecting a scene and considered and composed with equal care to that of any carefully directed portrait.
Documentary is of course just one of many equally valid genres of photography and it’s easy to see how the lines between styles can become blurred. We’ve already mentioned that even portrait orientated photographers will find themselves taking a certain number of candid photographs on a wedding day but it’s equally true that even the purest documentary wedding photographer (s) will often be asked to take one or two portraits and group shots. There’s always going to be some crossover between photographic genres but as a photographer it’s your overall central focus and the images that you choose to share in your portfolio that truly reveal your style. For the true documentary wedding photographer it’s the thrill of capturing a real moment purely through great timing and skilful composition and without any form of interruption to the scene in front of them that provides the excitement to capturing a wedding.
One of the reasons perhaps for that blurring of the lines is that the documentary style has long been stereotyped in quite narrow terms – a very classical, traditional look nearly always captured in black & white. But whilst we ourselves would identify our style broadly under the umbrella of the documentary wedding photographer, at York Place we believe rules are made to be broken…
For a long time now we’ve been on a mission to break through any pigeonholing and stereotypes and take our documentary style in new directions. We want to explore our own ideas about documentary and resist the cliche’s that this style has, over the years, amassed. We want to bring colour and depth and a raw ‘feeling’ to our imagery to create our own style of ‘wedding photography without posing’ rather than what has now become accepted as ‘traditional’ documentary wedding photography. We want to examine the subtle and unusual relationship between the photographer and the unposed subject and we seek to inject personality into every frame and capture life, colour and character through candid composition.
So what is it that sets our style apart from other photography and even from the ‘classic’ documentary wedding photographer ?
1. We love colour. Even though black and white is seen as the more classic and perhaps more emotional choice for the documentary wedding photographer, we find colour brings out a humour and emotive imagery that we truly adore. Black and white of course has it’s place and can in some circumstances help to make an image even more provocative but we find that colour brings out an energy, light, excitement and truth to a moment that we love to explore.
2. We like to layer our photographs. This means that we try to give a lot of depth to our images and tell a story from background through to foreground often with many elements in between. We wedding photographers (and the documentary wedding photographer in particular) often talk about capturing ‘moments’ but at a wedding, surrounded by guests, each moment is experienced differently by many different pairs of eyes. By focussing not just on the obvious central characters but also on the reactions to what is happening, or in some cases the many simultaneous yet individual interactions around us we can tell multiple stories in one single image. We try to lead the viewer through the image from edge to edge and create almost a series of images within one frame.
3. We don’t use flash. Ironically this is actually firmly routed in the traditional mantra of a documentary wedding photographer but over the years photographers have been reaching more and more for the flash-guns, in part to assist with darker and fast-moving scenarios and in part as an aesthetic choice. For us though to use a flash is to alter the true conditions and to take the subject out of the moment almost as much as if we were to have physically moved them into ‘better’ ambient light. We want to capture the real feel of the wedding day and lighting is hugely important to that, even if most of us don’t necessarily realise the part it’s playing.
Though rarely consciously considered, light is highly influential in the mood and ambience of our everyday lives. If you open the curtains to a dark day you’re going to feel very different to if you open them to find bright sunshine pouring in. If you wanted to have a romantic dinner you’d probably choose somewhere with very soft light or even candlelight rather than somewhere lit with bright office fluorescents. Light changes not just the way we see things but the way we feel about them. It can make a moment romantic, exciting, soft or brash, it can help get us up and dancing or make us calm and relaxed. To change the light is to alter the memory and that’s why, in true documentary wedding photographer style, we choose to simply embrace the ambience around us on the day and work to faithfully capture the colour palette we find; as created by a combination of the couple’s choices, the style of the venue and the natural light of the day.
4. We communicate through light and shadow. As we’ve established we believe that lighting is very important, but equally as significant is the absence of light. We choose to embrace the darkness and use shadows to help accent the depth of an image and highlight the areas we want the viewer to focus on. By allowing the shadows to fall where they may and then incorporating that into the composition we can create a more dynamic and visually exciting image with far more depth than the flat, even light that the more portrait-orientated or in many cases even the fellow documentary wedding photographer might seek to find or create.
5. We don’t just focus on the big moments. A wedding day is often defined by those big traditional set pieces – the entrance of the bride, the rings, the first kiss, the cutting of the cake – these are the foundation of the day for the documentary wedding photographer. But whilst these are all of course important photographs for us and any other wedding photographer to capture they are merely the baseline of what we’re looking for. After all, however tasty a loaf you’ve baked it’s what you put between the slices that makes things interesting. We love to get under the skin of a wedding and take what might easily be dismissed as a ‘nothing’ moment and find a ‘hero’ shot within it – taking everyday interactions and finding the personalities behind them. Ansel Adams once said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” The big moments are there for the taking, but it’s the shots we make that truly excite us.
6. All about the People. Whilst we’re privileged to work in all kinds of incredible settings and with couples who often put so much thought and effort into making their venue spectacular for their guests, for us as photographers where we shoot is almost irrelevant. Whilst we will always photograph the venue and details as part of the record of the day, by focussing primarily on the people in attendance (and that means ALL the people, not just the bride and groom) we try to create photographs that could exist in any space and are equally powerful wherever they are taken. Sometimes venues, locations and decorations can become additional characters of a wedding but, as part of our documentary wedding photographer mandate, our aim is to use them as a context to or reflection of what the couple and their friends and family did or who they are as people, not as the centrepiece of the wedding. It’s our belief that as a documentary wedding photographer no two weddings should ever look the same in the photographs and by focussing on people and personalities, not venues or poses, we can ensure that in our photography every wedding is completely unique to the couple.
7. It’s about creating a piece of art. ‘Documentary’ can be a misleading title – if you were to watch a documentary on TV in most cases you’d probably be expecting to simply watch a factual record of someone or something that has happened, whereas watching a movie with carefully directed actors you’d probably expect something a little more imaginative and creative. Whilst in our definition of the documentary wedding photographer role we indeed seek a truthful representation of an event based on real people rather than actors, we also want to capture images that stand out every bit as much as a directed portrait and photographed with just as much flair and creativity. Though we’re lucky enough to be able to call it a full time job, our wedding photography is a creative pursuit, not simply a financial one.
In our spare time we travel the cities of the world pursuing our love of street photography – an environment where, unlike weddings, no-one has asked you to be there and there is absolutely no guideline or timetable as to what’s about to happen. We try to incorporate the lessons we learn from street photography into our wedding work and this has contributed to the layered ‘streety’ style of our work and helped us to focus on the art of what we do and not just on capturing what’s expected of a documentary wedding photographer.
Beyond this though we strive to take photographs that are not just interesting to those directly involved in the wedding or even to those with a general interest in wedding photography; we want our photographs to be exciting and dynamic enough that even a passing stranger could see and connect with the images. We want to be great photographers, not just great wedding photographers and create original, character driven photographs that escape the classic wedding clichés and offer a fresh perspective.
At the end of the day the most important thing to us is that a couple truly live, love and feel every moment of their wedding day without interruption from us and that they come away with a record that truthfully captures the way that special day felt, not just the way it looked. We want them to experience some of the moments they couldn’t on their big day, see all their friend’s little quirks coming out in the pictures and remember the real experiences, not things we asked them to pretend to do. We want to create photographs that are timeless and unique and that challenge us artistically. In wedding photography there’s no right or wrong way to do things, but for us personally documentary wedding photography is the only way that sets our souls on fire.
So now you understand a little more about our ideas on what the documentary wedding photographer should be focussed on, here are a couple more examples of what we think it should look like. Don’t forget to turn the volume up!
Documentary Wedding Photography by York Place Studios. Dominique Shaw and Liam Shaw are the creative partnership behind York Place Studios and strive to create emotional, storytelling photography that captures the real moments of your wedding day. Based near York and Leeds, the destination wedding photographers travel across their home county of Yorkshire, the UK, Europe and worldwide to capture your special moments.
To view our portfolio go to www.yorkplacestudios.co.uk