Why I love to shoot this why, and what is and what isn’t documentary wedding photography?

The style of photography I fell in love with while studying (over 20 years ago!) was documentary and it has been a natural part of my wedding photography style, ever since I started shooting weddings in 2011.


Over 20 years, I have seen many photographic terms twisted and misused to the point they bare little semblance to their original meaning. No industry represents this more than wedding photography and no term more so than ‘documentary wedding photography’!


For more than a decade couples have been looking for an alternative to the ‘traditional wedding photographer’. The response from many photographers was to start using zooms lenses, removing themselves from the wedding and shooting from as far away as possible or documentary-style! This was an easy style to mimic, and today the term typically describes as a photographer, draped in cameras with huge lenses ‘sniping off’ headshots like crazed paparazzi, producing isolated black and white portraits.


I would like to put the record straight! Documentary wedding photography, contrary to its chronic misuse, is about an unobtrusive style of wedding photography. It is a form of photography with minimal direction, that allows couples and guest to relax and enjoy the wedding, yet delivers images full of life, emotion and context.

Candid photograph of bride groom and bridesmaid in Liverpool

Wedding Photography Documentary

The term ‘documentary wedding photographer’ is often interchanged with either ‘reportage wedding photographer’ or 'wedding photojournalist' but essentially they are the same. When used correctly, it is an observational and unobtrusive approach to photographing a wedding.


For me the approach should be as ‘hands-off’ as possible, allowing both you and your guest to be completely immersed in what will no doubt be one of the most important days in your whole life. As a result, actions, reactions emotion and context are all genuine, and the photographs a reflection of what was felt, not just what was seen.


Unobtrusive does not, however, mean shooting from afar through a telephoto lens. True documentary style wedding photography, is about recording those most genuine moments, but to do this you have to be able to almost anticipate them happening before they do.


When I photograph a wedding, I look to break down any barriers between the party and me as the photographer. I love getting to know your guest, and to get a feel for how they will react to a moment or conversation. Who is going to laugh at the jokes, cry at a speech, or be on the dance floor first? If truly mastered, this style of photography as a collection or individual image will convey your guest and wedding with honestly and with authenticity.


Documented wedding images should be able to tell the viewer what is happening in that exact moment without the need for further explanation. They should images you reach for time and again, not just because they are beautiful, but because just by looking at them you feel instantly transported back, to the most special day ever.

Page boy caught eying up the sweet cart at wedding in Wales

My documentary style

Documenting a wedding is ultimately about creating a beautiful, elegant, emotive and truly timeless set of photos that tell the story of your wedding. Done correctly, skilled, artistic and unobtrusive wedding photographers, will create treasured memories that you will want to look at again and again. When you do, they will instantly transport you back with utter clarity and honest emotional impact.


It is a style of photography that I have loved for over 20 years, and feel genuinely proud to have been chosen to document such personal moments in this manner. Using this style your photographs are not just simply wedding photographs, they are a photo documentary. I love looking at a photograph and feeling the life, energy and emotion the I saw leaping out at me. I love capturing those fleeting moments, those little things that often go unnoticed, subtle emotions and nuances unique to each wedding, to each family and to every couple.


Over the years I have remained good friends with many of the couples I have worked with. Seeing the joy my photos continue to bring, in some cases over a decade since they were taken, a very real and genuine honour. I have seen many fads come and go, but real documentary photography is not one of them. It is powerful, genuine, emotive and most of all timeless


For me, my work as a documentary wedding photographer should always evoke a reaction. The authenticity, that I look to produce in my documentary coverage and across the wedding day coverage is worth so much more than just pretty picture or regimented formal family photograph.


To recap on what my style as documentary wedding photography is:


  • I am a storyteller; my wedding photographs present a narrative of your day through a collection of images. At an individual level, each wedding photograph needs to work on its own and depict genuine observed moments, and not just isolated headshots
  • Individual documentary pictures need to convey subject and scene honestly, with authenticity and importantly with no direction from the photographer
  • Subjects should be photographed within context whenever achievable in order to more effectively convey narrative
  • Photographs should tell the viewer what is happening in the moment or scene, without the need for further explanation on what an image represents. It’s not just about being an unobtrusive wedding photographer, there’s so much more to it than that

Black and white photograph of female vicar, bride and bridesmaid at wedding in Yorkshire

It’s a focus on storytelling, on creating a faithful and elegant documentary record of the most important day of your life. The most professional documentary wedding photographers will even find and capture moments and stories that you didn’t see on the day and tell a story that you may have been too focused to see unfolding around you.

Documentary wedding photographers apply their unique style and personal interpretation; it's a highly subjective, wide-ranging photographic discipline, utilised in many different ways. Ultimately, however, it's about telling the story of the day, accurately and with authenticity.