Wedding photojournalism: Telling wedding stories

When shooting a documentary wedding, the idea is to tell the story of the big day Amateur Photographer

Avoid the staid and traditional wedding images by telling a candid story of the day. Kevin Mullins explains how to master wedding photojournalism.


Wedding photography styles have evolved over the years and there is, of course, no right or wrong way to shoot one. Over the past few years, for example, we’ve seen the rise of the vintage-style wedding. We are all very much aware of the formal and traditional style of wedding photography, and we’ve probably all been at weddings where we have spent more time in a group shot than actually enjoying ourselves. Luckily, every couple getting married will have their own idea of what they want from their wedding photographs, and one style that is currently very popular is documentary wedding photography or wedding photojournalism.

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When shooting a wedding like this, the idea is to tell the story of the wedding through pictures, without any direction or intervention from the photographer. And the key thing to remember is that you should be shooting in a candid manner. This doesn’t mean that the photographers who direct their clients and organise the shots are wrong – it just means that those who choose to shoot in a truly documentary style choose to do it totally candidly. And this is more difficult than it seems. When you have a gorgeous bridal prep room and the make-up artist decides to prepare the bride in the bathroom, sometimes it’s difficult not to interject. However, the plan is to tell the true story of the day, and that day must be allowed to flow completely naturally.

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Observation

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Listening

Emotion

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Be different

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Remember it is a story

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Keep it simple and light

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Behind the scenes: Overcoming difficult conditions

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Shooting this image proved a little problematic for a few reasons. While the light was good inside the barn, the bride and groom were standing in front of a very large full-height glass window. This meant that the subjects were swamped with light and I had to use the camera’s spot metering and exposure compensation to get a correct exposure. Additionally, the pastor had indicated he was happy for me to photograph from the front, but he did not wish to hear any ‘clicks of the camera’. Luckily, the Fujifilm cameras I use have an electronic shutter mode, which I can resort to when I need silence. In this case, as the bride and groom were deep in prayer, I was able to shoot this image not only in silence, but also from my hip, which helped me respect the moment more. Thanks to the electronic viewfinder (where you can see the live exposure), I could check my exposure and shoot the image safe in the knowledge that the moment had been captured. In post-processing, very little needed adjusting as I could see exactly how the image would come out of the camera.

What is candid?

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Kevin’s top tips

Position

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Use your skills as a photographer to position yourself accordingly for the image you are about to capture. For example, get down low to shoot children, rather than shooting down at them from above.

Light

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It’s imperative to understand the way ambient light works. If you have a ceremony at 4pm in December, the light is going to be much more difficult to work with. Use of metering can create a more dramatic image that has impact.

Get in close

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Using small cameras will allow you to be nimble and react to the environment around you.  Observe and listen, move in close, raise the camera and shoot, then remove yourself from the scene to let the moment run its course.

Humanity

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Weddings are all about humanity – and it is everywhere. Even if you think the wedding is boring, there will be emotion in the form of human touch, smiles, hugs and kisses. Keep an eye out for these moments.

Story

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Remember to use wide scene-setting images to tell the story of the day. You will be looking to answer who, why, where, when and what. Wide shots can often allow more context into the frame.

Kit list

Small cameras

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The Fujifilm X-T1 and X100T cameras are perfect for documentary weddings. The X-T1 has a flip-down screen that allows you to get shots you may not be able to achieve by raising a camera to your eye.

Prime lenses

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Try to steer clear of zooms. There is nothing wrong with them, but by using just a couple of prime lenses you will add uniformity to your coverage. You will also start to understand the focal length and the types of images you can achieve with them.

Sustenance

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Weddings are unpredictable, so you may be shooting for prolonged periods of time. Make sure you keep a bottle of water and some power snacks, such as peanuts, in your kit bag. It’s impossible to operate at your best when your body is flagging.

Lighting

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While most documentary wedding photographers will shoot using available light as much as possible, it’s important to have something in the bag for when the light is simply not there. A small LED torch is suitable, or a full flashgun – just make sure you know how to use it and when.

Spare batteries and cards

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You will shoot a lot during a documentary wedding. If you are using smaller cameras, the batteries may not last all day and you will almost certainly fill a regular memory card. Use fast memory cards such as UHS-II where possible.

Kevin Mullins

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