Alternative Photography Styles for Your Luxury Wedding

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Wedding photography can either seem like the simplest thing in the world or the most complicated. You can get your Uncle Bob to take all the pictures, in which event you probably end up with a lot of well meaning, but low quality shots of people’s shoes. Alternatively, you could look for a professional who can capture the life and luxury of your big day.

Thankfully, the world of professional wedding photography isn’t as complicated as it seems. What’s important is to keep your personal style and ethos in mind. As competitive as the wedding photography field is, what the jargon comes down to is how the photographer operates and how much you want to integrate them into—or lose them in—the beautiful chaos of your luxury wedding.

wedding photography

Documentary/Reportage Photography

In essence, what these two terms refer to is how a wedding photographer structures their day. Most weddings involve photos of the couple at the ceremony, and then some preordained group photos after the ceremony in which different groups of guests pose awkwardly together. Documentary or reportage photography avoids this process of structured shoots and random party photos in favor of something more elegant. The photographer aims to capture photos that tell a consistent, chronological story. The idea is that you could look at the photos ten years later and read them like a picture book.

This style is partly a process of being attentive and finding great moments to photograph. A big part of it is also getting involved in the party and enjoying yourself. In the best tradition of "gonzo" journalists like Hunter S. Thompson, the story of the wedding is less about the wedding itself and more what the people do on the day. Hopefully your wedding isn’t quite as debauched as Fear and Loathing, though (unless you’re going for a Jordan Belfort approach).

wedding photography

Where some wedding photographers like to float around the edges, taking pictures with a paparazzi lens, documentary and reportage photographers like to get stuck in. I’ve made some good friends among the guests at other people’s weddings, and I genuinely believe this approach—being friendly, chatty and having a drink—makes getting great photos easier.

Great luxury wedding photography doesn’t just mean well shot and composed photos. It should fulfill the purpose of telling the full story of the wedding for a couple, who are probably too wrapped up in getting married to notice every detail. If all you’re interested in is setting up a great shot, the glitz of a lavish wedding can easily overwhelm the humanity and joy of the day. Ultimately a photographer is still a guest at a wedding. Why not let them act like one?

wedding photography

Natural/Candid Photography

On the surface, natural photography can sound similar to documentary photography. The two ideas are often used in tandem and can blend into each other. But where documentary photography is more about the structure of the day, natural photography is more about how the photos are taken, and the photographer’s approach to his subjects.

Natural wedding photography is sometimes referred to as ‘candid’, but this can conjure up negative ideas of catching people off guard. What the natural photographer specifically looks for is moments of emotion. At a wedding this tends to be happiness: be it tears of joy or hearty bursts of laughter.

However, it can also involve the pitfalls and stumbles that are natural as part of any big event. Nothing ever goes quite to plan, and a proper story will tend to incorporate this, rather than airbrushing it out. This can require a delicate appreciation of tone, and a consideration of whether guests are happy to be photographed. Overwhelmingly though, natural wedding photography is about celebrating people and relationships. The photographer will have a keen eye for details, flitting between groups and conversations. They will also have an eye for a great shot that emphasises these emotions: strong contrasts, beautiful backgrounds and perfect framing. 

wedding photography

This marriage of natural and documentary styles has led many photographers (and couples) to move away from the classic group photo. Wedding photographers don’t like it because they realize that organizing slightly inebriated wedding guests into height-appropriate rows is like herding cats, and self-conscious poses tend not to be very engaging. Lots of people fake smiling together doesn’t make for the most genuine memory; it’s just a visual list of all the people who were attending.

Natural photography is about finding something more raw, more personal, and more true to the spirit of a wedding and its guests. The participants in group photos may change, but you’d be hard pressed to tell most of the resulting photos apart. An intimate portrait of a couple’s embrace or a grandmother holding a baby are the moments that matter. Moments you can identify with and look back on with fondness. The analogy I always use is that a traditional shoot is like a photo album, a documentary shoot is more like a flipbook, and a natural shoot is like a photo essay that studies different characters.

Some people just want the photo album, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Simply focusing on the artifice of a luxury wedding can mean missing out on all the human beauty of the occasion. Great photography should compliment each unique couple, guest and setting with regality and poise. There are benefits to a more straightforward approach, and you may be afraid to give a photographer that much leeway to snap as they see fit. It’s worth checking out some examples of the different styles. Imagine yourselves, your wedding and your guests within those pictures, and see if you don’t like the result.

Nick Huxsted

Nick Huxsted is a London-based writer who often follows his wanderlust across the world, having travelled extensively and spent five years living and working in Australia. Interested in travel trends, entrepreneurship and wellbeing, Nick writes when he isn't running his own business and is particularly fascinated by the luxury travel market. ...(Read More)

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