Photojournalistic Wedding Photography – Is it The Right Style for Your Business?

Photojournalism at its core is quite simply journalism, the act of gathering and presenting information, through the use of photography, as opposed to other mediums.

The job of a photojournalist is to capture moments as they happen with minimal interference. The mere presence of a photographer is usually going to shape the course of events in some way but in general a photojournalist makes a point to not influence a scene nor alter photos drastically after taken.

What is Photojournalistic Wedding Photography in a Practical Sense?

Photojournalistic wedding photographers will follow a wedding throughout the day and capture moments in a candid fashion; photographing without interfering with the moments of the wedding. They will keep up with the events of the day without doing things like asking someone to change what they are doing or where they are standing.

In wedding photography, some of the biggest challenges come when the photographer is required to direct the subject or subjects of the photo. Direction is something that many photographers struggle with, so shooting in a candid, photojournalistic style can be appealing to many wedding photographers because of this. It does however, come with its own set of challenges.

Often times the best photojournalistic-style wedding images come about when the photographer allows scenes to unfold organically before them.

This sounds lovely, until the bride and groom are having an intimate moment together but the lighting is unattractive, or they’re facing a wall and you can’t get your lens into the right place to capture the moment. These challenges are just the nature of the business and sometimes you may have have to get creative with whatever lighting conditions you’re dealt or veer from strict wedding photojournalism and do a little directing of your subjects.

After all, it’s your business and there’s nothing stopping you from doing a combination of traditional wedding photography and photojournalistic wedding photography if that’s your style.

Image of a wedding on a lake of groomsmen look on as the bride and groom of the wedding exchange vows and share a funny moment
Photo by Paul Friedman of Maine Mountain Media

Ultimately, the job of any wedding photographer is to tell the story of the day.

Story tellers utilize many different tools to portray the story they choose to tell—and the tools you have at your disposal in wedding photography are your eyes, your feet, your intuition and foresight, and in many cases, lots of memory cards.

Photojournalists generally take a lot of photos because when trying to capture moments in a candid style, you aren’t afforded the luxury of being able to recreate a scene if you missed it.

Over time once you’ve gotten more of a grasp on the photojournalistic style, you end up learning what to look for and you get better at anticipating moments and this can cut down on wasted and unnecessary shots. But even expert wedding photojournalists take a lot of exposures throughout the day, often times several thousand. As you progress as a wedding photographer who shoots in a photojournalistic style, you get more efficient but you also shoot knowing that it’s better to get the shot and have to sift through many images to get the keepers than it is to not get the shot at all.

What Wedding Photojournalism is Not

Now that we’ve defined wedding photojournalism, let’s explore the limitations of it. Because a scene must be captured organically and naturally, without any interference from the photographer, creating visually stunning images can be a challenge.

When the traditional photographer is arranging the subjects, and the light, and the background arrangement, distractions can be eliminated from the composition, lighting flaws can be seen and fixed, poses that are unflattering or awkward can be adjusted. Due to this control, good images can be easier (though still not easy) to create as the photographer.

A photojournalistic image is one created by foresight and proper planning, as well as visualization.

If you know your bride will be getting her dress on soon, and you sit in the corner waiting for her to come grab it, so that you are ready for the image, you will have captured an amazing moment, and an amazing photograph. If, however, you ask her to go pick up her dress, so you can get a photo, you are no longer letting the day unfold.

There’s honestly nothing wrong with that, and it’s possible to get photos where the viewer would have no idea as to whether the scene was directed or not. The point is that just letting things happen and photographing it is more likely to result in less contrived, more organic-looking results.

A traditional wedding photographer is more likely to creates images, whereas a wedding photojournalist just captures them.

How Wedding Photojournalism Tells the Story of the Day

A wedding photographer is a story teller. Telling the story of what happened that day can be accomplished in many different ways and each photographer has a different approach.

Because of the sheer number of things going on at any one time during a wedding day, it can be difficult to zone in on what’s worth photographing. But the end results are worth the wait and the search, as candid images are often the most emotional and impactful images.

People in modern cultures are often raised to hide their emotions in public. Often people prefer to suppress their feelings in a crowd. So when a person sees a camera, that learned instinct to compose themselves will kick in, causing them to act unnaturally. A good candid photographer can insert themselves into a scene without having a huge impact or presence, thus allowing them to capture moments when people are showing their true emotions.

A bride cries in front of the mirror because her mother has passed and cannot be there to see her daughter in her wedding gown. A groom and his father share a few intimate words that brings them to tears, moments before the ceremony. These are examples of powerful moments that would not happen if the photographer had been a notable presence during that moment.

These are great examples of some photos that people don’t think they’ll want in the moment, but later often express to be their favorite images. We’re afraid of what we’ll look like when we are most vulnerable but a good photojournalist isn’t afraid to capture these moments because it’s often the images that scare us a little that have the most impact.

A good wedding photojournalist, just like a good wildlife photographer, can be present, without having a presence. By that I mean this: it is the job of the wedding photojournalist to blend in; to be polite and to create comfort, but not be overbearing.

There’s a delicate balance in regards to distance to subject in wedding photojournalism; get too close, and people feel imposed upon. But be too far away and it becomes logistically more difficult to get the shots you want, not to mention far away shots, even shots with long lenses can have a detached, non-intimate feel to them.

Some of these skills only come with time but these are the factors that allow the photographer to tell the story of the day. Not just to tell a story but the story. The story of love between two people which brought everyone together for this special celebration.

Picture of a bride and groom looking at each other outside in the sun after their ceremony as their reception is about to start and being reflected in a window
Photo by Paul Friedman of Maine Mountain Media

How Wedding Photojournalism has Become Popularized and Even Expected

In recent years, the photojournalistic style has become the preferred style of wedding photography. It’s seen by many as a welcome departure from the cheesy posed wedding photographs of the past. It has become so popularized in fact that many clients have come to assume that all modern day wedding photographers shoot in this way.

And in fact, most traditional photographers incorporate at least some form of photojournalistic photography into their business model, regardless of whether they advertise as such.

Likewise, wedding photographers who shoot photojournalistically usually have some crossover into traditional photography as well. As photographers, we have to do what our clients want (within reason and staying true to who we are individually)—and in many cases that means shooting candid photographs throughout the majority of the wedding day and taking some formal portraits here and there.

And even for the rare clients who insist on you just shooting in the photojournalism style, they might not realize it before the wedding but they usually greatly appreciate having various family portraits included in their album when all is said and done.

What Makes Wedding Photojournalism so Popular

Photojournalistic wedding photography is gaining popularity, both in terms of consumer preference and the number of photographers offering the style to meet the demand.

The idea of posed photography seems fake to many people and I think this is why so many people lean towards the  photojournalistic style for wedding photography.

Candid photos are often not perfect, but when captured just right, most subjects appreciate a candid photo of themselves over a posed one because they like to know they look good even when they aren’t trying. When we find a candid photo of ourselves that is flattering, it can be a huge confidence boost. A good candid photo of ourselves makes us feel like we now know how others see us, and in this case, others see us looking good!

Experienced wedding photographers know how to capture photos of people from good angles and in good light that show them at their best.

But here’s the thing in wedding photography:

No matter how many amazing candid photos you get from a wedding day, for some reason, it’s usually the standard posed photos that get framed and hung on the wall. So why is photojournalistic photography becoming so popular? It might have to do with the idea that the wedding can unfold as it should, without any interference.

A wedding day is about emotion and love. The ceremony is about commitment and the reception is about celebrating that commitment. A wedding is about experiences. The photos from that day are supposed to serve as a reminder of the amazing experiences and interactions that unfolded that day, so to pose photos seems to break down the entire purpose of the day and of the photographer.

As a good photojournalistic photographer, you should be able to find those moments with parents and grandparents. If you work hard and are good at what you do, you should be able to create beautiful portraits and stunning group shots in a way that simply captures what is already happening.

When the bride gives her father a hug, she is essentially posing with her dad and with enough foresight and anticipation, a good photographer should be able to get a photo of those two people without having to ask them to pose or look at the camera. Those moments, if captured properly, will mean so much more than posed photographs. So, there it is, photojournalism is popular because it is about capturing photographs that mean something; photos that represent something. Truly meaningful moments, captured and saved forever.

Photo of best man giving a speech from the angle of the bride and groom
Photo by Paul Friedman of Maine Mountain Media

The contradictory nature of Photojournalism

Since we started this article talking about what journalism is, we’ve explored several concepts along the way, but now let’s discuss the elephant in the room. The elephant of course, is the man or woman standing in the corner with a camera, and it’s hard to ignore.

If the goal of a photojournalist is to capture moments whilst leaving the moment or scene unencumbered, then doesn’t the mere presence of the photographer go contradictory to that?

In order to capture a scene without interference, one would have to somehow take photographs without ever having been in the room with one’s clients. Photojournalism is a bit of a logical fallacy in that respect.

Having no impact on your subject, while still capturing photos of your subject is simply impossible.

Unless you could somehow become invisible, you’ll have an obvious impact on the subjects of your images.

With these considerations in mind, I think photojournalistic wedding photography is more about finding balance. It is about telling the story of the event in the most genuine way possible.

Closing Thoughts

The different styles of wedding photography are ever-evolving, and each style has its place in the world. It is our job as photographers to both find a style that works for us, while still adapting our styles to match each client’s needs.

Photojournalistic wedding photography, like all photojournalism is difficult to define and even more difficult to properly accomplish. Luckily for wedding photographers, we are awarded more creative freedoms than a news photojournalist and can more readily cross the journalistic line to direct/influence scenes when the circumstances call for it.

What do you think? Should wedding photographers shoot more in a wedding photojournalistic or traditional style? Keep the conversation going in the comments below.

Paul was born in New Hampshire, is based in Maine and has been doing photography for 10 years, and 12 years since he’s been doing Photoshop. He’s been a self-employed, full-time photographer for four years, and is just as happy photographing weddings as he is photographing real estate, products, his dog, or anything else for that matter. He’s no loyalist, loves all cameras and is always looking for something new to play with, but is usually carrying a Canon camera. 85mm lenses are his favorite and everything he owns has gaffer’s tape stuck to it somewhere. You can see his work at mainemountainmedia.com.

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