A few weeks ago, I photographed Dylan & Sara's wedding at City Park here in Denver. They wanted their wedding covered in as natural a manner as possible. Sure, they wanted some portraits of famiily and the wedding party but, aside from that, the word from the bride was to just let the day unfold and photograph what happens.
It was a fun, modest-sized wedding and a really challenging assignment, technically. I'll spare you the photo geek perspective and say, simply, that I earned every penny I was paid. It was the kind of experience that got me thinking about modifying my documentary approach to weddings!
Photographing a wedding by observing and capturing what happens organically is called wedding photojournalism or documentary wedding photography. Documentary photography is the discipline I've worked in for 25 years, and the primary reason couples hire me to photograph their weddings.
(Excuse me now as I wander off on a tangent....)
About 10 years ago, wedding photojournalism was all the rage in wedding photography. Recently, though, there's been a move towards a more controlled, illustrative approach that allows the photographer to coach/direct the couples and wedding parties they are photographing. The result is often a hybrid of portraiture and storytelling photography.
The more wedding photography I do, the more clearly I understand that evolution.
I still do about 95% documentary photography in my wedding work, meaning very little, if any, interference in the natural course of events. Any photographer who covers weddings in this manner can tell you how exhausting it is. To be successful with this approach, you need to be (at least) one step ahead of what's going on...all the time.
In documentary photography, it's all about the moment. And there's a reason why moments are so coveted. It's because they are just that...moments - little flashes of magic in life that vanish as quickly as they appeared. I was reared on documentary photography and continue to be moved by the skilled photography of real life.
There is an ongoing discussion, in the wedding photography world, about which is better - wedding photojournalism or illustrative wedding photography. To be honest, I don't see much point in engaging in that debate. Both approaches yield wonderful pictures. The decision about which is better is purely academic. What matters is the kind of photography by which the bride & groom want to remember their wedding day.
In fact, if I'm going to be completely honest here, I'd have to admit there's a part of me that would love to migrate towards illustrative wedding photography. Not because it's easier (both disciplines require hard work and craftsmanship), but because it's way less stressful. There's a certainty you can bring to illustrative wedding photography because very little of the final outcome is left to chance.
But...it is the uncertainty that exists in documentary photography - the not knowing what's going to happen - that makes the resulting images so compelling. It can, at times, lack the polish and beauty of illustrative photography, but creating amazing images purely based on good instincts, artistic sensibility and quick reflexes...well, that's just plain cool...don't you think?