Monday, July 21, 2008

Two styles of wedding photography

Let's talk a little bit about weddings.

Most people think that a wedding photographer just shows up and takes pictures. Nothing could be further from the truth (we also eat your food, drink your wine and hit on the bridesmaids). First of all, a good wedding photographer has to be able to shoot under different conditions, quickly changing between indoor and outdoor, small room and big room, and if they live here in Tampa or St. Petersburg they better be prepared to shoot on the beach. Any good photographer will tell you that the skills necessary to shoot a couple on the beach at sunset are quite a bit different than the skills necessary to shoot a bridal kiss in a cathedral. If a photographer ever says that it's the same, he's not trying very hard to get you a perfect image...

What I want to talk about in this post is the two distinct styles of wedding photography: traditional and photo journalist.

Most people don't realize that there are two different types of wedding photography. Much like KFC with crispy and original recipe, both styles are good but most people tend to favor one over the other (great... now I'm hungry for chicken..) The truth is that there really weren't two different types of wedding photography until 1996. Up until then most wedding photography would be considered traditional in nature. That means that your photographer would carefully arrange everyone into traditional poses for your vital shots. Bride and groom together, bride and groom with parents, wedding party,... you get the general idea. Most shooters had the poses down to an assembly line and could do it in there sleep.

However, in 1996 John F. Kennedy Jr. got married. The photographer who shot his wedding used a "photojournalistic" style of shooting. Simply put, he acted like paparazzi. He moved around a lot and tried to "capture the moment" and the resulting pictures that were beamed to newspaper outlets around the world reflected this style. Instead of the world seeing John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife standing stiffly on an altar with their wedding party, they saw the happy couple coming out of the church or, in probably the most published photograph, they saw John F. Kennedy lightly kissing his new bride's hand. And to make matters even worse, it was in black and white! That wasn't the way that wedding portraits were supposed to look! Please stand still while I take this picture in living color!

Well, where the Kennedy's go the world will follow. Soon, photographers who had been shooting the same way for years began to run into customers who wanted their wedding pictures to look like the ones from John F. Kennedy Jr.'s wedding (well, actually they wanted to be the girl in the wedding but would settle for similar pictures). And so was born the photojournalistic style of wedding photography. To be fair, most photographers shot this sort of stuff at a wedding anyway but it was just considered "filler" for the most part. Now, the filler has become the meat of the shoot. (and now I'm hungry again...)

Where the traditional style of wedding photography is intent on showing everyone posed perfectly in their beautiful (or sometimes not so beautiful) bridesmaids dresses, the point of photojournalistic wedding photography is to tell a story. The idea is to capture the event as it transpires so that later, when a person looks at the photographs, they are transported back to that day and the emotions that went with it. This style of photography lends itself beautifully to flush-mount wedding books. Unlike the "old school" books that were really just pages with built-in frames for you to slide the formal portraits (pull out your mom's wedding album to see what I mean)... flush-mount books are more like scrapbooks, using multiple pictures per page, color, graphics and other tools to tell the story of the wedding. A photojournalist wedding photographer will also take many pictures that a traditional photographer would never think to take because he knows that they can be used later in the wedding book. Now, it's not considered odd at all for your photographer to be taking pictures of your shoes or the makeup on your dressing table because he is attempting to record the things around you so that you can relive this moment for years to come.

Just before shooting the picture below, the groom said, "I suppose we all need to set down our beers..."
"No," I said, "I want them in the shot."

Now, this certainly doesn't look like a traditional shot of a groom and his groomsman before the wedding (my parents don't have a picture like this from their wedding) but this is what they were doing, this is who they are, and this is what the groom sees in his mind's eye when he thinks of his buddies.

Now don't get me wrong, there is certainly a place for the traditional wedding portrait. I do my best to get all of the classic shots when I'm at a wedding but I don't place as much importance on them as I do on the others. I know that years later when you go back to look at pictures from your wedding you will not linger for very long over the perfectly posed formal portrait of your wedding party. It's the pictures of you kissing on the dance floor for the first time or the shots of all of your girlfriends trying to help you squeeze into your dress that will make you smile and make you remember that wonderful day.