Also known as documentary, photojournalism, or docushite…
It’s quite a marmite style. Most photographers I know either love it or hate it. And it’s regularly said that reportage wedding photographers we don’t know how to pose people, or light, or even compose a photo. So why do people practice shooting in a documentary style and why do people book them?
One of the first things that comes to mind is the hands off approach. A wedding day is just that – a wedding day. It’s a once in a lifetime event that passes so quickly. You get to spend time with family and friends, some who have often come from overseas, some who you may rarely see – but all of which are important to the couple. Reportage photographers don’t want it to turn into a photoshoot because they realise the importance of that time with family and friends. A lot of documentary photographers will take some group shots and posed shots – but it’s usually a priority that they are dealt with quickly and the couple can get back to their guests and living their day. It overturns the stereotype of the bossy photographer that spends ages taking lots of stylised group shots.
The focus on real moments
I occasionally second shoot for other photographers – and I’m often asked to get some posed and detail shots (often of the groom and groomsmen) before the wedding day even begins. What I’ve noticed is that after these posed photos, I’ve set up a relationship with the groomsmen and guests that I want them to pose and act for the camera. I’ve essentially been training them – and it takes me a while until I can get back to the point where I’m accepted as part of the scenery and people start acting naturally again.
But couples who’ve opted for a documentary approach relax and let you make the best images out of what is really happening. I don’t know about you – but I much prefer images that tell real stories and bring back memories to photos which are flattering or a ‘good likeness’. You can deliver photos that show how the day felt, of moments that really happened, rather than what the photographer told the couple to do.
It helps with camera shyness
Reportage wedding photography is often chosen by people who don’t like being in front of the camera. This means they can relax and enjoy the day whilst knowing that the photographer is working in the background to create great photos of their day!
You get to capture things the couple didn’t even see
In that time that would normally be reserved for group shots, people are laughing and hugging. Children and adults are playing games. Relationships are playing out between grandchildren and grandparents. And little girls are deciding they want to be a drag queen when they grow up. All this is important family history – and it won’t be there to capture again.
Saying that, we all miss hundreds of moments at weddings, either because we were focused on something else, or too slow to get a useable image (and I’ll return to the topic of perseverance and trusting your judgement later). It’s completely natural and we and whilst we can certainly master our equipment and prepare ourselves better to capture every moment possible, we cannot always be in the right place at the right time.
Saying that, I’ll return to being in the right place at the right time in a future article – because a little anticipation goes a long way!
The photos are exciting and unique
They’re not set up, or copied from Pinterest, and they’re made using the raw materials of what is really happening. Every photo is a new creative challenge as the reportage style asks for you to be present and make the best image possible out of the materials you have. This tends to make for more exciting and unique photography. As a documentary photographer you’re unlikely to take the same photos twice. And as a couple or family who’ve booked a documentary photographer you should be receiving a collection of photos full of dynamic compositions and unique moments.