In the wedding world, defining photojournalistc, portrait, and fashion photography can be a difficult task. Any given photographer’s website header might include a seemingly oxymoronic combination of “photojournalism, fine art, and classic portraiture.” I hope that this will serve as a resource for articulating and understanding what you’re looking for in a photographer. On one hand, brides often like the sound and feel of photojournalism, but on the other hand have been inundated with magazines and wedding dress ads which are the products of complex lighting set-ups and unadvisable supermodel eating habits. From my experience in San Francisco it seems like most people want their wedding pictures to encompass a combination of portraiture, photojournalism, and fine art. I would like to provide couples with a vocabulary for understanding, articulating, and locating a photographer with the style they are looking for. One way of looking at it is that for each of these three types of photography their is a varying level of control the photographer has on his or her subjects’ actions.
The aim of wedding photojournalism is to capture an event as it occurs and tell the candid story of an event. Ideally the subjects are completely unaware and unconcerned with the photographer’s presence. As its name sugguests, photojournalism developed in the news and print media. Wedding photographers in the 1980’s such as Denis Reggie, a former sports photographer, began using the term “wedding photojournalism” to describe an approach that emphasized capturing sponteanous action and emotion. While wedding photojournalists tend to use their on-camera flash or shoot primarily with available light rather than strobes and studio lighting, it’s not snapshot photography. Award winning photographers have a keen sense of compositional and lighting technique, which often requires split second decisions and the ability to anticipate a scene to be in the right place with the appropriate camera settings as a moment unfirls.
Classic portraits encompass the widest and oldest category of wedding images. We’ve all seen the sepia 1870s pictures of families dressed up in their Sunday best all staring grimly at the photogpher as they wait expectantly for his flash gun to fire sparks and soot over their heads. We’ve also seen modern tasteful portraits of a couple walking on the beach as they turn and gaze into each other’s eyes before they lightly kiss. While the beach walk may seem a little more like photojournalism, the reality is that they probably wouldn’t be on the beach in full wedding attire while all their best friends are at a party 15 minutes away if they weren’t with a photographer. Portraiture is thus a much more inclusive category than true photojournalism as there is a wide range involvement on the part of the photographer. While true photojournalism documents the events of a given day as unobtrusively as possible, I think people like Richard Avedon have proved in their portraits that there is more than one way to tell a story.
Fashion & Fine Art
The goal in fashion and fine art photography is to make everything look flawless. This is the “magazine look.” Photographers who specialize in fine art and fashion often spend less time shooting actual weddings and more time in a studio, or on location where they can pick the time of day, props, models, and set-up elaborate (and expensive) lighting equipment to capture a certain feel. They create the scene, rather than utilize the events of the moment. Next time you look through a bridal magazine’s ads try to figure out how many different sources of light are on any given model. It’s not uncommon in a fashion shoot to have two diffused lights on the dress, one to highlight the bride’s face, another softer light coming from the side to soften the shadows, and finally a light from behind to fill in hair texture. That’s five lights for a basic set-up.
Defining what style of photography someone shoots cannot be accomplished simply through words. While terms can be helpful their meanings are often interpretted by photographers in different ways. Ultimately pictures speak for themselves, and a photographer’s website and portfolio will let you know what types of pictures they actually value and look to create. It should also be noted that there are fantastic photographers that specialize in each of these categories, and that in any given hour a photographer might take all three types of images.
My personal style is to shoot primarily photojournalistically during the preparation, ceremony, and reception portions of a wedding. I usually take classic formals after (though sometimes before) the ceremony of the family and guests. One of my favorite parts of any day is the time I have with just the bride and groom. Whether 3 hours or 20 minutes, I see this portrait session as a creative time for both myself and the couple to capture the essence of their relationship and the memories of this momentous day. This is the part of the day where they get a little while to enjoy each other and celebrate their wedding day by themselves. Rather than direct them I may brainstorm with them or give them a scene to explore together. With a bride and groom that love each other this can mean an explosion of beautiful, funny, and creative moments. Have I mentioned that I love what I do?