What is documentary style wedding photography?

bride and groom take a stroll through London town with bemused litter picker


If you’ve started your quest to find a wedding photographer I bet you’ve noticed buzz words such as documentary, photojournalism and reportage wedding photography jumping out at you from your screen. In fact, so many photographers lay claim to this style it’s really hard to know what exactly is the defining element of this genre. Sometimes you’ll click through to a website and see a load of posed portraits or some obviously staged group shots. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking “that surely ain’t documentary!”

So let’s take a look at what I believe to be the defining elements of documentary style wedding photography.


confused wedding guests trying to figure out how to take a selfie

documentary style wedding photography captures bride tripping over


Yes this genre has several different names; wedding photojournalism, reportage, candid, documentary. It’s my view they’re all different ways to describe the same thing: un-orchestrated & honest wedding photography. No asking ‘Can you just do that again?’ or ‘Can you look over there and laugh?’ If it didn’t happen real time, it’s not real. Put simply a documentary wedding photographer is a factual story-teller through pictures. It sounds very straight forward, but it’s not particularly an easy art to do well.

Looking at the dictionary definition, documentary photography involves using ‘pictures with people involved in real events to provide a factual report on a particular subject.’ For me this means the way I capture a wedding has to be non-fictional, fact based and true to life. It’s all about capturing the moment, the emotions and energy of the day without setting anything up or barking orders.


father of the bride and groom get emotional over the beautiful bride

toppling naked strawberry wedding cake

bridesmaid gags after drinking from a hip flask


I’m never looking to create a ‘heightened reality’ of the day. I want to keep it real and tell the story of the day as it unfolds in front of me. It’s about capturing details and following the natural progression of the day. I’m always looking for those moments the couple may never have noticed happening during the wedding day itself. I simply chase the moments that appeal to me. Somewhere in me is an innate radar for picking up emotion, humour and energy. I favour the real moments over the polished and posed ones. The images I create are still beautiful in their own crazy and fun way. They just have a whole lot of honesty about them.

Individually the details, the moments I see, may not mean a great deal to the viewer. They may even seem a bit like a ‘snapshot’. What will make them stand out is context. Without the right context an image can be pointless. As a collection the images I create work together to build a story from each wedding. You would certainly look at my wedding photography and notice a huge difference to that of the “traditional wedding photographer”.

Here’s a few examples of the sort of images I love to capture:


documentary style wedding photography scene

wedding guest panics on the beach holding car keys

best man downs a drink at the top table before his speech

happy wedding guest embraces bride at the disco party

groom in fits of laughter at the best man's speech


It is a wedding day after all and these things seem to go hand in hand. We’ve all been to weddings where the bride and groom’s families are subject to what seems like an hour’s worth of posed portraits, right? Whilst I do shoot documentary images, I’m not a monster and this is your day not mine! I am happy to do a few formal family photos, particularly if they’re something you feel you must have.

I still inject a whole load of fun and energy into these so they sit nicely alongside all the other natural and candid images I’ve taken in your collection. I’m certainly not the photographer who is going to do a long list of formals. I want the bride and groom to enjoy the day to the max without standing and posing for the camera. I normally do around 4-6 group shots and then it’s back to what I do best- getting in the mix capturing real moments.


wedding guests all pose with a funny face for the camera

groom and groomsmen in morning suits gather outside for a photo


Everyone I’ve asked has agreed- they hate it when the bride and groom disappear for the entire drinks reception to take photos. I’ve never wanted to be the photographer charged guilty of this! There really is no need to do this anyway. The most meaningful images of the bride and groom can be created in just 10-15 minutes. We head to a nice spot, we relax and have a laugh. I invite the couple to enjoy these few minutes away from their guests, most likely the only bit of the day they are actually alone. This is my opportunity to capture the two of them together. There’s no posing and little direction from me. I’ll be looking for interesting backdrops and compositions and always seeking awesome light. Perhaps this is not documentary in its purest form but without creating some ‘alone time’ there really is little opportunity to capture the bride and groom alone together.


bride and groom scare away London city pigeons

bride and groom in beautifully decorated church

man on mobility scooter interrupts bride and groom kissing

bride and groom enjoy an oyster from the buffet


It’s a strange thing, asking a relative stranger to spend the biggest day of your life with you! During the vows for example I could be just 6ft away from you. It’s vital you like me and trust me. It’s all about trust. If you like someone as a person it’s easier to build up trust in the relationship. Can you see your photographer being someone who could easily fit in with your close circle of friends? Will they get on with your family? What about the ones who HATE having their photo taken?

I love conversing with guests and getting amongst it, I’m certainly not hiding in the bushes with a long lens, paparazzi style! Being involved at close quarters is what all wedding photojournalists should be doing. I want you to look back at your photos and feel like you’re there once again. You don’t really get that by hiding and papping from afar. I believe that capturing the essence of a wedding day is done by observing, getting in close to the action and seeing things for what they are. Being unobtrusive and shooting candidly is a difficult thing to do. It takes a certain skill to get close and not have people put their guard up or duck out of the way!

bridesmaids share a joke during the wedding ceremony

documentary style wedding photography on the dance floor


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Do you feel that the way I photograph weddings could be the right fit for your day? Do you love the images you see here and in my portfolio? If it’s a yes and yes, head to the contact page where you can either book a call or fill out my contact form.