Wedding Photojournalism or Photojournalism? What’s The Difference?
This is an unposed, naturally caught moment at Rachael and Carl’s wedding at The Vineyard in Stockcross, Berkshire. It’s recently won a couple of awards from This is Reportage and the Wedding Photojournalist Association. It’s a striking image, and drew some criticism that it must be staged, or was not photojournalism. So I thought I’d explain why I believe this is wedding photojournalism, and how I came about taking this image.
The Vineyard is a 5 star hotel and wedding venue that prides itself on it’s AA Rosette restaurant and award winning 30,000 bottle wine cellar. There’s original artwork everywhere, and this amazing painting, The Judgement of Paris, by Gary Myatt features prominently. It shows the famous 1976 competitive tasting of French and Californian wines in Paris, and depicts the moment the French tasters discover they’d all chosen the Californian wines.
At every wedding, I always have a walk through the venue and identify interesting features or great light where I might look for compositions later in the day. Crucially, as a documentary wedding photographer, I don’t ever pose guests or couples or set pictures up at all (except for the portraits and group photos). It’s a strong belief of mine that this makes much stronger images, and gives a true depiction of what it was like to be at that wedding on that day.
I’d made a note of this painting, hoping I could blend some guests into the foreground later in the day.
Frame The Subject. And Wait
So during the drinks reception, I positioned myself square on to the painting, and watched and waited for the right moment. As a documentary wedding photographer I do this kind of thing a lot at weddings – sometimes the image happens almost instantly, and I can move on to the next shot. Other times, I might have to come back to it several times and wait a long time before the composition works. Often it never comes off, and I just move on.
At first, the Bride sat on the far left hand side of the painting. Almost perfect, except she was facing out of the frame, talking to someone out of shot.
Shoot Through The Moment
Then the Brides Mother (in the pink hat) sat opposite her, and I photographed her for a while from behind the Bride before returning to the square position, just as the Grooms Mother sat in the other chair. I adjusted my framing just in time as the Groom’s Mother reacted to the conversation and I got this image. I stuck with it a little longer, but knew that this was what I’d been waiting for.
I’d waited 8 minutes from photographing the Bride at the far left through to moving on to the next image. I’d taken 139 images.
The Difference Between Wedding Photographers and News Photographers
This is not photojournalism. It’s not impartial. My clients are the Bride and Groom, and I have a commercial business to run, so I need my clients to love their pictures, and love how they and their guests look in them. It’s still wedding photography, in a photojournalistic style – ie unposed and with synergy.
In contrast, in my mind photojournalists report events without comment. They give an unbiased representation of what happened. Documentary photographers start to blur this area. You could argue that all artists have an agenda, and even news photojournalists have a paying client to keep happy – newspapers and magazines have editors who have political beliefs and that’s often reflected in the content. And an uncommissioned documentary photographer at a wedding will have their own agenda, their own message that their work is trying to give.
So wedding photojournalism and documentary wedding photography takes the honesty and authenticity of their news gathering counterparts, and produces a record of the day that the Bride and Groom will love.
I spent 20 years as a news photographer at The Times in London learning how to tell an impartial story in photos. I now love using those skills to beautifully record couple’s wedding days, through my eyes, with my opinion. That’s what I term wedding photojournalism.
So, as I explained in the article, this venue has a very strong association with wine. It’s a 5 star hotel and has a lot of original art everywhere.
My background is 20 years as a news photographer at The Times in London, and I use that experience to work in a documentary way for my clients. So I look to build relevance and context from my individual clients into their photography. As well as producing a super set of pictures that they’ll love, I also want to produce a photo-essay of their day that is tailored to their choices and guests.
Part of that is using architecture, weather, other suppliers etc to add context, and this is what I’d identified Gary Matt’s painting as something I’d like to use in a composition. In a photo essay, I need a variety of shot types to keep the pace going – establishing shot, relationship, portraits, details, action etc. I apply those to every aspect of the day, that I like to think of as chapters – prep, the ceremony, guests, family, food and drink etc.
This is exactly how documentary photographers work, no mater what the subject, or time reference – I’d use this method for a 2hr breaking news assignment as well as a 6 month long ongoing assignment for a magazine. I’ve used this method with over 300 clients and taught it successfully to dozens of wedding photographers.
I often look to blend wedding elements into the fabric of the day, here’s a couple of examples:
So I knew what I had in mind when I say this painting. It was only during the drinks reception that the opportunity was there, and I spent around 10 minutes watching people and waiting for the right moment. I do like the result, but in my mind I knew that a better picture was possible, I just did; t have more time to wait it out – the guests were about to go to dinner and I needed to shoot some room details!
I never look at other photographers work before shooting at a new venue, but after this wedding I did check to see if this shot had been done before. Have a look – google “wedding photos The Vineyard Stockcross”. It’s never been attempted in many weddings that have been photographed there. And that’s either because no one considered it, or it was just too hard – it’s a dark area of the venue, there’s only really one spot to shoot this with a 35mm lens, and crucially, it takes time, patience, luck and a great moment.
Happy to engage about why this is documentary wedding photography, or answer any questions :-)
About the Author
Paul Rogers is a documentary wedding photographer based in London, UK. For more of his work, make sure to check out his website and Facebook page, and give him a follow on Instagram and Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.