A photographer’s approach to a wedding will have a major impact on the photos he or she creates.
This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2018.
As you search for your wedding photographer, the “About Me” sections on their various web pages provide a peek into their styles. A photographer might describe himself or herself as taking a photojournalistic or editorial approach, but exactly what does that mean?
Wedding photographers typically fall into five broad categories: photojournalistic, documentary, natural, editorial and artistic. However, there are few hard delineations between styles, and many of them overlap one another.
True photojournalists are purely candid shooters. They observe the events around them as flies on walls, capturing everything but participating in nothing. You may not want your photographer to take a photojournalistic approach all day long, but this is a great method for capturing ceremony and reception photos. A photojournalistic wedding photographer may make only light edits to images during the post-production stage.
Documentary photography, like documentary film, aims to tell an authentic story in an aesthetically pleasing way. This style of shooting has become especially popular among couples in recent years, as it blends the best of candid/photojournalistic photography with more stylized images. It’s a great approach for pre-wedding and detail images, as the photographer will set up a shot before capturing the events that unfold naturally from that setup. Post-production edits tend to be limited and focus more on enhancing an image than entirely changing it.
In the middle of the spectrum is a category that’s a bit harder to name; many photographers refer to it as timeless or natural. A photographer who focuses on this style will use a blend of techniques to tell the story of an entire day, from romantic couples’ portraits to your sister’s hilarious pre-dinner toasts. Post-production editing styles vary based on the photographer, but they tend to be light-handed, as in documentary photography.
An editorial photographer takes composition and styling a bit further than a naturalist; he or she often spends more time staging an image, whether it’s a flat-lay of an invitation suite or the perfect composition of a mother buttoning up the bride’s gown. Interesting lighting and shooting techniques elevate the imagery to look like something you’d expect to see in a fashion magazine, and editing practices may be more complex, with creative adjustments made to contrast, color saturation and other elements.
A photographer shooting in a fine art style is trying to create images that you might see hanging in a gallery. Instead of intimate portraits that feel candid and natural, an artistic photographer’s portraits might feature the couple very inconspicuously small against a wide, beautiful backdrop. Post-production editing might play heavily into a fine-art photographer’s work with the use of Instagram-like filter treatments and other adjustments.
What It Means
It’s important to know that very few wedding photographers shoot exclusively in one style, even if they describe themselves that way. For example, a highly stylized, editorial or fine art photographer will—or should—capture candid photos on your wedding day, and similarly, a documentary photographer should still be able to coordinate those all-important formal photos.
Ben Hartley, head photographer with Style & Story, says that his team approaches wedding photography like a Venn diagram, with editorial (or styled) vibes in one circle and a documentary (or story) approach in the other.
“We want to be in the middle, where it’s very real and authentic, because honestly there’s nothing that we can fabricate or stage or produce that’s more interesting to a couple,” he says. “In a lot of ways, we do find ourselves almost crossing the bridge multiple times, depending on the client.”
For Chris Keels of Christopher Keels Photographer, who describes his work as a blend of documentary and portrait-focused, it’s all about facilitating a beautiful moment.
“You’re creating opportunities for photos,” he says. “If I didn’t have to pose a shot, I wouldn’t. But I live in the real world, so I know that we have to sort of direct some things.” That means, for example, positioning a bride in a spot with good lighting as she’s getting ready. “It’s almost like cooking: You’re not going to be a great cook with just OK ingredients,” Keels explains. In this case, how a photographer composes a photo—the lighting, the styling of the elements in the frame and more—are the ingredients.
Naturalist Nicole Dixon, of Nicole Dixon Photographic, takes a similar approach.
“I’m really looking for those natural qualities so that [the photos] don’t look super-staged,” she says. “I want them to pop on their own, rather than being over-stylized.”
Husband-and-wife duo Caleb and Meg Sanchez, of Sanchez Studio, take that mentality a few steps further. Their candid, documentary approach to the wedding day means they don’t enjoy telling people where to stand or how to pose—but they don’t let that stop them from capturing posed photos of the bridal party or the couple’s families.
“We really do endeavor to kind of make those moments feel candid,” Caleb explains. “It’s not like we scream at them, ‘Look candid!’ It’s more like we’re giving them prompts; we’re stepping back and giving them a moment to talk about the day, to have time together, just themselves, and then kind of creeping forward [to take the photo] as they get more comfortable.”
Finding Your Style
Being armed with the information you need to select your wedding photographer is important. Here’s why: Googling “documentary wedding photographer in Columbus” yields 1.93 million results in under a second, and “editorial wedding photographer in Columbus” yields nearly three times as many hits.
Referrals from friends and family are a good place to start, as are Instagram and Pinterest. Make a note of the images that you’re drawn to, even if the photographer who took them isn’t local.
“When you see a certain wedding photo,” Caleb suggests, “[ask yourself], ‘How is this speaking to me?’ ” If that’s too esoteric to nail down, try to recognize how a certain photo makes you feel.
“People react to photography emotionally,” Keels says. “It’s about identifying what photos you keep [coming back to]. What emotions in the photo do you resonate with?”
Armed with the knowledge of the style of photography you like and shots that resonate with you, you’ll be ready to narrow down a list of photographers based on their online galleries and, possibly, their “About Me” pages. As you’re perusing the online galleries, Hartley suggests looking for two main elements: longevity—how long the photographer has been in the biz—and consistency. “Consistency really is everything,” he says. “Anybody can get a bull’s-eye, but can they get a bull’s-eye three times in a row?”
When you’re ready to start meeting with photographers—and you should plan to meet with several before making a decision—come armed with that arsenal of favorite shots and the words or emotions you use to describe them. Talk to your potential photographer about what you like, why you like it and whether it matches their style.
And while most photographers can incorporate an element or two that’s outside their norms, be wary of any who readily agree to break with their own typical style to get your business.
“I actually had a couple come to me last month, and they really liked me and they thought they liked my work,” Dixon says. “But the further along [the bride] got, I was like, I’m not what she’s looking for. So I gave her a few names of local photographers that were more suited to her stylistically, and she was very appreciative of that.”
You’ll know that a photographer is The One if you like both their work and their personality.
“It’s about more than just being there to click the button down,” Caleb says. “It’s about creating something beforehand that creates more of a relationship between the four of us.”
“And then when the couple trusts us,” Meg adds, “the entire family trusts us and the bridal party trusts us, and we just get these incredible moments all day long because we’re able to have this really awesome relationship with everyone. Those candid moments just happen in front of us because we’re already really comfortable, and we just kind of let ourselves melt into what’s happening all day.”
A photographer’s personality has another effect on the wedding day, says Hartley. It’s tied in closely with shooting style—a laid-back photographer will be more of a fly on the wall, while a Type-A one will be more hands-on in posing couples, for example. When a photographer’s personality meshes with your own, it makes the day more enjoyable for you and ensures the photographer can provide the types of photos you want.
Hartley says that in terms of importance, a photographer’s personality and quality of work should be almost 50/50—or rather, 51/49. That slight majority of 51 percent should be given to the photographer’s personality, because he or she will be by your side throughout the entire wedding day. A bad fit there can spell disaster.
“That’s why I really tie personality in so much with shooting style,” Hartley says, “because it’s really what you’re going to remember. They kind of shape a lot of that day.” ?