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What are Reportage & Documentary Wedding Photography?

You’ll often see the words reportage, documentary wedding photography, and photojournalism used interchangeably in the world of wedding photography.

But all you really need to know is that it’s my aim to create a visual narrative of your wedding day as it unfolds before me.

To watch the story that’s taking place and retell it through the medium of photography.

Ultimately, the goal of a documentary wedding photographer is to transport you back to the authentic, beating heart of your wedding day whenever you look through the images.

It’s about more than just documenting; it’s about preserving the living, breathing, joy-filled story that each wedding day inherently becomes.

I’m  Simon, a documentary wedding photographer based in Derbyshire

I’m an award winning member of both the Wedding Photojournalist Association and This is Reportage and have been in love with the documentary approach since stumbling over Jeff Ascough’s work when we were looking for a wedding photographer.

Simon Dewey Derby Wedding photographer

Put simply, a documentary wedding photographer will take a hands off approach to the day. Telling the story through candid, unstaged photographs. This allows for the couple to enjoy the day without worrying about leaving lots of time for staged photos and group shots.

Whilst documentary wedding photographers all work in the same way, their styles can be very, very different. I like to merge a bit of a Fine Art style with my reportage, but for very different takes check out York Place Studios, Jeff Ascough, or Cafa Lui – and see how a similar approach can deliver very different styles of documentary wedding.

Why All The Different Names?

Maybe because as soon as people cotton on to how brilliant it is, it becomes overused? But also maybe because it comes itself from several different disciplines that have worked their way into wedding photography.

I used to prefer the term documentary wedding photographer – but I’m beginning to like photojournalism more. The emphasis on journalism reminds me I’m supposed to be telling a story. And watching and listening to that story.

And, also, I often forget how to pronounce reportage (despite being an award winning member of This is Reportage)

What is the history of Documentary / Reportage Photography?

Ever since the invention of the camera, photographers have been working to document something – but one of the earliest recognised documentarians was a photographer called Lewis Hine. Hine used photography to show the exploitation in American industry at the turn of the 20th century. The Farm Security Administration’s exploration of America between the wars produced many inspirational photographs (such as Dorethea Lange’s Migrant Mother).

In 1947, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger and David ‘Chim’ Seymour founded the Magnum photographic agency, originally set up to document the realities of post-war life, with important members including Eve Arnold and Stuart Franklin – and these photos are still a huge influence on photographers working today.

As time went on inspirational photographers continued (and continue) to blur the lines between art and straight documentary storytelling – giving us a rich tapestry of styles and influences to draw on. Photographers such as Nan Goldin, Larry Fink and Sebastio Salgado bought fresh new styles to the genre.

Around the turn of the millenium, documentary photography started making itself into the wedding world and has been an approach that has been taken on by many photographers as the best way to tell such personal stories.

How Do You Spot Good Documentary Wedding Photography?

I think that the priorities for reportage / documentary wedding photographers are different. For us telling the story – capturing moments and giving context (a lot of the time in the same image) are more important than how the image actually looks.

Certainly the first question I always ask is ‘how do I tell this story’… and the photos follow from their.

Which doesn’t mean we aren’t obsessed with georgous light, colour and composition. Just that they aren’t the number one priority. (And combining all three lets us express how it felt to be there on the day)

There are loads of brilliant examples of reportage at both the This Is Reportage and the Wedding Photojournalism Association websites

Is It A Popular Style Of Wedding Photography?

Yes and no. People can see it as pretentious and too messy. (My first photographic mentor told me that it just shouldn’t be allowed on the wedding day, and that I was to stop the bride as she came down the aisle to get a good shot.)

We certainly abstain from taking control – knowing that we’d get ‘perfect’ photos if we stopped and staged everything but preferring the rough and real to the fluffy perfect stuff.

You won’t as see much of it in magazines and blogs because it doesn’t suit their style.

A documentary wedding photographer usually has no interest in photographing your day as if it were a product catalog or fashion magazine (google ‘editorial wedding photographer’ if that’s what you’re after)

Is a Documentary Wedding Photographer for Me?

The couples I tend to work with are often very relaxed and informal and don’t want to take control of every aspect of their day. They often describe it as a ‘big party with friends’ and want to relax and enjoy their company in the brief time of the day (it really does fly by)

For these people, it’s absolutely perfect as it fits around their day and captures the relationships and moments between those family and friends – rather than focusing on the couple all day.

On the other hand, if you like to maintain close control over your day- including what photos are taken and how – this style of photography is very much not for you.

Why Do You Photograph Weddings Like A Photojournalist?

I photograph everything like a photojournalist.

I turn up with a camera and document everything as authentically as possible and try to tell the story behind what’s being captured.. Which, to me, means without preconceptions and expectations of what it’s meant to look like.

It stops me making formulaic cookie cutter wedding photography & leads to wedding photography that’s creative, fresh and energetic.

It’s also very focused on family and stories and relationships rather than the details and ‘things’ on the day – which probably hints at where my interests lie and what makes me tick as a person.

Does Documentary Wedding Photography have a Look?

I think just a few years ago Documentary Wedding Photography was associated with grainy black and white images & I think this was because of a couple of things.

Firstly – the early photographers used film, and the high ISO films needed for darker venues and churches were usually a lot more appealing than shooting on colour film.

As digital sensors started to replace film, the same often held true – a grainy black and white looked a lot more natural and classic than a colour photo with a lot of digital colour noise.

But since then reportage has come a long way and embraced colour photography a lot more – especially as more photographers have come along who are influenced by Street Photographers such as Alex Webb or Matt Stuart

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