Predominantly, my style of work is documentary. I tell a story, through photographs. This is often referred to as reportage photography, wedding photo-journalism, candid, fly-on-the-wall, call it what you will, in essence they are all very much one and the same. The key essence for me that defines my style is telling the story. 

As a documentary photographer, I don’t want to influence the day, you have planned it down to the minute detail, and I am pretty sure that asking the photographer what they would like to do is never part of the wedding plan. So I start each wedding with a blank canvas, and the objective of capturing the humanity and flow of the day. It is a more skilled approach, for there is no script to follow, no guarantee of the pre-visualised photograph, and the pressure to capture the story and not miss a thing, and this is the challenge that I love which makes every wedding as fresh as the first. And for me, that drive and excitement is essential if you are going to tell the story at its best. I could simply ask a bride to look at me and smile, but I know very few brides who would do this comfortably. I have to wait an anticipate, and actively seek the moments, knowing from experience what is likely to happen and when.

This moment could never have been planned, and the bride was fighting the veil in the wind, but I knew that with patience, it would eventually do what I wanted, in a way that could never be pre-arranged. It tells a story, a very happy and confident bride, sharing the moment before heading into the church.

One of the clear advantages of the documentary style is the capture of emotion, no posed photograph will ever capture this. And of course, as those in the photograph were focused on the moment, not the photographer, they will have very little recollection of the photograph being taken, if at all. Therefore when they see the finished image for the first time, it can be extremely powerful. For me, these are some of my most sought after images. They can never be planned, None of my true documentary photographs ever are, and yet they have more impact than any image that might be on the list. It’s the moments you don’t remember which are often the most powerful.

This little boy had a few attempts at throwing confetti up and over the bride and groom, and it is his efforts, and the reaction of the bride and groom which make it for me. There is the action of the throw, and the reaction of the bride, it is dynamic, and it just worked better in black and white. There is just no way this shot could have been planned as part of the day, these little moments just happen, and having a documentary focus is all about spotting opportunities and going the extra mile. 


The first dance doesn’t always yield the best shots, it is often only when the pressure is over, that the bride and groom reveal the true emotion. This photograph, taken towards the end of the evening, says just this, “we did it”.

With a traditional approach, I could have taken a photo of the bride with her mother. But I knew she was waiting with great anticipation to see her daughter, and just had to catch this moment, which would never show in a posed photograph. The mirror was the spotlight, the frame, and the story is clear to see, but of course I didn’t need to tell you that, you knew it already from the photograph!

However, documentary wedding photography can be seen as a double-edged sword, for with creativity can come the artistic feeling that the documentary style is the only one which can be used on the day. I have heard of photographers who refuse to document such elements as the cutting of the cake, or the walk down the aisle, as this is seen to be a traditional element of the day. For me, if it happens, I will document it. And if there is something you truly want, then as long as it happens, for me it becomes documentary. I would never say no to a specific photograph if that is what my client wants, and it might disrupt the documentary fee, but for me this gives my clients a more balanced collection of images, and at the end of the day, the day is theirs, not mine. Above all, I want them to be happy, and for this to show in their photograph

There is also an element of interpretation. in the following photograph, some might argue that the moment is posed, for it would be simple to ask the bride and groom to stand in the doorway, and direct the proceedings. But a subtlety and level of respect is required, to allow a couple to share that first moment of privacy and peace together, that rare moment during the day that they can have just to themselves. I know, as do the bride and groom, that they wandered out there themselves, and stood where they did, to share their first moment as husband and wife. I respectfully moved away, and allowed them that time, and yet they still got the photograph. So whilst some might not see this photograph as documentary, to me it does not matter, for it is how the client sees it which is important.

One of my favourite things is to observe from afar – with this couple we had taken some photographs on the bench, as it was their wish. I then left them for a while and walked away, and that is when that private connection appears, and natural moments appear. I could never have posed this shot, it just would not be possible, the energy and emotion would be missing. This approach also allows me to capture the couple in their chosen surroundings, to give a sense of place.

The bridesmaids spot the groom arriving, though the bride knows she cannot look. This could never be planned, but was a key part of the day, and that particular part of the story, when excitement and anticipation are high.

I love this photograph, it tells me so much about the bride. It is raining, and yet it just doesn’t matter. In fact had it not been raining, with no need to dash under the umbrella, the photograph wouldn’t have happened. 

I knew this surprise was coming for the groom, but I could not direct the helicopter, and I did not wish to impact upon what was going to be avery emotional and proud moment. The price is clear on the ground and above, and comfort is provided with a touch of the hand. Anticipation was key, that this reaction was possible, to ensure I was in the right place at the right time. There is never the chance for a second take.  

I feel that attention to detail and setting the scene are crucial elements of telling the story – you have written the script, and these elements should be recorded just the same. I will always get shots of every detail, and also set the scene with the landscape, making sure I photograph it at the optimum time, when the light is best. Little details, which make a big difference.

So in essence, my style is very much focused upon observation and documentation, telling the story, but I also ensure that other elements are included. of course, that photograph which is asked for is in there as well, it is after all, part of the story.

 Robin Goodlad is a Dorset based documentary wedding photographer, specialising in the use of natural light for photography 

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