Documentary Wedding Photographer
“I tell stories, through pictures”
What exactly is Documentary Wedding Photography?
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 wedding 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 list of photographs to follow, but there is 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. The easy option for example might be to simply ask a bride to look at me and smile, then move on to the next shot. However I know very few brides who would do this comfortably, and is this what you want to see years down the line; a forced smile, or a real genuine one? Therefore documentary wedding photography is about waiting, anticipation, actively seeking the moments. Often this only comes with the experience and instinct of knowing what is likely to happen, and when.
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 you 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.
Observation, not orchestration
Telling the story is so important. A documentary wedding photographer approach should allow you to look back on the story, and see it unfold exactly as you remembered, a true faithful record. The moments are authentic, they are real. There is honesty. They may bring a tear to your eye as you remember, that is what it is all about. There should be no need to explain what is occurring in the photograph, it is obvious. And for me as a documentary wedding photographer, I want to get to the end of the day, having been as invisible as possible, and for people to wonder if there was even a photographer there at all.
Capturing the details
Some photographer choose to just shoot pure documentary, however I like to strike a balance with some traditional elements, with the ultimate goal of telling the story, and those little details that define your day are just as important. 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 this is balanced with that particular photograph or memory that you might want recording as well, it is after all part of the story.
Documentary wedding photography can be seen as a double-edged sword, for it can be seen that the pure 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, for me this gives my clients a more balanced collection of images, and at the end of the day, the day is yours, not mine. Above all, I want you to be happy, and for this to show in your photographs.
There is also a question of balance, which is where I often like to use creativity to facilitate moments. I might position a couple where the light is amazing, and the background stunning, and then leave them to themselves and retreat to observe. 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 am looking for that moment when you are yourselves, when you talk to each other and act like nobody is watching. So whilst some might not see these moments as pure documentary, to me it does not matter, for it is how the you as the couple sees it which is far more important.
“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.”
Robin Goodlad is a Dorset based documentary and reportage wedding photographer, specialising in capturing powerful moments through observation. He is a member of the Wedding Photojournalists Association, with whom he has won a number of awards for his wedding photojournalist approach.