PetaPixel

Why You Should Think About Hiring a Photojournalist to Document Your Wedding

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“Documentary wedding photography” is a style of photography which a small, but growing, number of couples are turning to for their wedding day. Of course, there have been photographers documenting life ever since there has been photography. In the last 10 years or so, more and more couples have decided against the traditional style of endless posed group photographs and portraits, and are commissioning photographers who do not direct or pose people during the day.

This style of wedding photography has attracted a fair number of news photographers and photojournalists, who have been doing exactly that in other areas of life. I’ve spent 16 years working as a photojournalist for The Times newspaper in London, and thought I’d post some pictures to illustrate how that experience has shaped how I now approach photographing a wedding.

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The image above is a health centre in a very remote part of DR Congo in 2010. I was there with a charity, Merlin, which funds and trains staff at these centres. This guy has diarrhea and had walked for 3 days to get treatment. He stumbled in while we were there talking to one of the doctors. They immediately gave him IV fluids. This is his first gulp of water for a couple of days. It’s a moment. Just like in a wedding, you have very little warning, it lasts a second or two, and if you miss it, it’s gone.

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This one is from Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003. I’d travelled there via Iran to cover the expected US invasion from the North. In the end that never happened: the Kurdish Peshmerga (freedom fighters) — with the help of some special forces — ended up driving Saddam’s army from the regional capital of Kirkuk.

I spent a couple of months with the Peshmerger and this is one of my favourite images from then. This guy spends his days digging up old land mines. He then disassembles them and sells the explosive to local fishermen who use it to stun fish in the rivers and lakes. Pretty dangerous work.

In this picture he’s trying to recover an unexploded device that had fallen into the river. The bridge behind has been blown to try and prevent Saddam’s tanks attacking Kurdish villages. I was trying to sum up a small part of a pretty complex story in a single image — essentially what I try to do with a wedding now.

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This picture from the same assignment shows a mural of a local Kurdish hero who had been tortured to death by Saddam. I’d spotted this and had this particular image in mind. I went back three times at sunset waiting for this to happen – it was a busy street, and there were a lot of armed men around, but it took a while for the image to come together like this. I could have set it up, but I didn’t. I get more pleasure in waiting for an image that works and is truthful, something else I try to do with a wedding as well.

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This is the Battle of Britain Lancaster taking off from RAF Coningsby before a Jubilee flypast in 2012. It’s very much planned – I knew what time it was due to take off. I drove around the airfield and found a great field of rapeseed right under the flight path, and knew I wanted this picture. I’d spoken to the tower, and knew which runway was in use, so set up and waited.

I usually shoot RAW files, but had to use JPEGS so there would be no buffering. I pre focused, set it to about f/11 and a fast enough shutter to avoid blur, and lay the camera on the ground with a 16mm lens. I was going to hold the shutter down as the Lancaster approached, hoping the rapid frame rate would catch it at the right point. It was all looking good until I called the tower 15 minutes before take off and was told the wind had changed direction and it would take off in the opposite direction!

I raced the 3 miles to the other end of the airfield and was able to find a similar spot just in time, but the plants were nowhere near as good here. Out of 15 frames, the Lancaster is in 3 of them, and only unobscured in this single frame. What do I take from this? Well, that Lancaster has been photographed hundreds of times before, but I wanted a different view point. Looking for new and different angles, being able to surprise a bride and groom with an image, I suppose.

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One of my favourite pictures from my work at The Times: 1999, a Royal Navy Sea Harrier lifts off from HMS Invincible in the Gulf as part of four aircraft taking part in Operation Southern Watch over Iraq. Again, a pre visualised image. I went to the captain and sketched this image on a piece of paper. He said it would be impossible as they can’t have aircraft nearby during takeoff. But one of the sea king pilots suggested it would be possible if he kept above 1000ft.

So we tried it.

I’m lying on the floor in a harness, someone is sitting on my legs, and I’m speaking to the pilot over the intercom. He’s trying to maintain a hover at 1000ft, tracking a ship at 25 knots with no frame of reference except me saying ‘forward a bit, left, no back again…’ It’s shot on a 70-200mm with 1600asa fuji film pushed to 3200.

I missed the first jet. The second and fourth weren’t directly over the ship. This is the third harrier, one frame – no motor drive. I didn’t know if the picture had worked. Three days later I got home at 10pm on a Sunday evening and was so excited to see if it had worked that I processed the film in the kitchen rather than wait until the morning. I ‘cooked’ it, dev temp too high and too much agitation! Thankfully I managed to rescue it in Photoshop.

This is similar to the Lancaster picture in that it is totally planned – I knew exactly what I wanted. Though I do less of that at weddings, what I take from this is the simple composition. Using the leading lines and separation of the Harrier against the dark sea, and keeping the image clean and uncluttered.

So here’s a handful of my wedding photos from the last year or so, where I’ve tried to use what I’ve learnt as an editorial photographer. I try to build context into my photography more and more, which is not something I have the luxury of with a newspaper where mostly only one image will be published. It’s usually printed at 5 or 6 inches, maximum, so wide, busy pictures with context just don’t work.

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I’ve had to re-train how I see to shoot wider at weddings. Curiously, it’s something that is starting to appear more and more in my editorial work now.


About the author: Paul Rogers is a photojournalist based out of Hertfordshire, England. He has worked as an editorial photographer for The Times newspaper since 1998, and is also applying his talents to documentary wedding photography. Visit his website here. This article originally appeared here.


 
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  • http://amando-filipe.com Amando Filipe

    rape seed and rapeseed are two very different things

  • Vlad Dusil

    Fine, fine work, both at as a PJ and a wedding shooter. Shows that the talent and experience in one field of photography translates well into another.

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    Thanks for pointing that out, Amando! :)

  • OtterMatt

    I think I’d agree that most wedding photogs seem to be into posing too much, trying to catch those “pintrest” shots with every gig they take. I love Rogers’ style. Even his planned shots look unique.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    I don’t know, I see the opposite, I thought this journalistic style was all the rage right now? posing being the old, traditional form of wedding photography.

  • Patricia Lawrence Mahoney

    Very nice pictures. I was wondering how you photograph the wedding party and family photos without some kind of direction?

  • http://www.rogerspictures.com Paul Rogers

    Thanks for re-publishing this Michael. When you work in a bubble that includes a lot of documentary wedding photographers, you assume everyone is familiar with the style, but, Adam, it’s still relatively few couples opting for this in the UK. Lots add ‘doc style’ to their websites, but picking off head shots on a 200mm and doing a quick b/w conversion isn’t documentary.
    I’m also a believer that there are no great wedding photographers, just great photographers who choose to shoot weddings. A photographer who understands light and composition should be able to apply that to many situations.

  • Kimberly C

    Great work First of all! But I can’t believe I am (maybe) old enough now to see another generation of wedding photographers calling wedding photojournalism New. It has never been a huge thing, but has been continuous for many years. many don’t see it in a positive way because of the onslaught of wedding blogs focusing on details details details. Hopefully your story here will wake everyone up. Its not about the mason jars. Its about the emotions and moments. And more focus will hopefully be placed there as opposed to driving clients to tears because their embroidered socks don’t match the ink color in the programs. Thank you!

  • http://www.rogerspictures.com Paul Rogers

    Patricia, most documentary wedding photographers will set aside 15-20 minutes for some family group pictures and portraits. They will do them quickly and efficiently, letting the couple get back to their guests as soon as possible. That satisfies the parents who want pictures for the mantelpiece as well as concentrating on capturing the guests more.

  • Burnin Biomass

    I have preferred the photojournalist style for weddings for awhile. Except for a few group shots after the ceremony, I like the idea that the photographer just documents what goes on and doesn’t direct actions or inserts themselves into the celebration.

    Some people prefer almost all shots being set up, its a question of what the people want.

  • http://www.winslowpicturecompany.com/ Graham Marley

    A lot of clients say they want photojournalism, and then three weeks before the wedding I get a pinterest board full of posed shots and details. You really have to strike a balance and kind of cover your ass by using a variety of approaches, no matter what the client asks for. I’ve always ended up including journalism, editorial and portrait shots in the final package, and I’ve only ever gotten complaints that there wasn’t enough of the last two, and too much journalism. That’s been a huge change for me in the last few seasons, as I used to just sort of let things happen, and now shot request lists are growing more and more demanding.

  • flightofbooks

    it was heading that way until pinterest happened. now it’s all posed shots again. too bad.

  • AreWeDreaming

    Roger, would you mind sharing what your go-to gear is for weddings? Thank you.

  • Les A Lancaster

    my Aunty Evelyn just
    got an awesome silver Infiniti QX50 SUV by work parttime using a lap-top…
    website here W­o­r­k­s­7­7­.­C­O­M­

  • http://www.rogerspictures.com Paul Rogers

    Sure, I use Canon 5d3′s with a 50mm and 24mm. I carry a 135mm but rarely use it, and a Fuji X100S which I also sometimes use (the last image above is from the Fuji)

  • Sean Walsh

    That’s been the same for me. I get the whole “we just want natural shots, nothing too posey”, and then I get the e-mail of everything they’ve been pinning, and it’s all the most perfect, dolled up Martha-Stewart-esque weddings. I appreciate that couples think I need to be inspired, or that I need ideas, but I’m pretty sure my portfolio said that already.

  • Kristofor Dahl

    Ive been shooting weddings for over 10 years, and its the same with me. As a well rounded wedding photog you need to master all three of these catagories……it wasnt just pinterest that made this so, but the blogs like SMP, Wedding Chicks etc….Weddings are now highly produced events, litteraly I now work with event producers who get hired by the couples, not to mention the coordinators and lighting people djs…..

  • moonbase2

    What’s wrong with having a bit of both? I find people prefer to have both styles. Why does it have to be one or the other?

  • flightofbooks

    Aside from the formal portraiture, the posed shots people generally go for are a list of cliches. They all look the same. And they’re guaranteed to look dated in a few years once the style changes yet again (and it will, that’s what styles do). I guarantee you, 50 years from now people will be confused as to why so many of their grandparents’ wedding parties were jumping in the air for no apparent reason. A pose that seems romantic or whimsical today is tomorrow’s old photo meme. It’s pretty funny to think about, actually.

    And as for doing, you’re forgetting that photographers are people and shooting a wedding is hard work. That’s the reason wedding photographers can charge thousands of dollars a pop: it’s hard, demanding labor that is both physically and mentally taxing. The documentary style is particularly demanding because it requires being everywhere all at once, always with impeccable timing, always without getting in the way. It’s a bit hard to switch gears and start arranging the wedding party to do the cutesy posed shots after hours of trying to be henri cartier-bresson in a tux. I’m sure there are wedding photographers who can do both well without compromising either. I’m sure they probably charge twice as much. And even then there’s still an opportunity cost, since while the photographer is posing you + your wedding party, they’re missing the chance to document the occasion (unless you pay for a second shooter).

    It’s such a tragedy, to pay a professional this huge sum of money to make pictures of this day that’s supposed to be one of the most important days of your life, and to waste that opportunity on a series of gag shots (which is what the posed shots always boil down to no matter how sweet or romantic or serious you try to make them). People want their wedding photographer to create these magical, romantic images out of thin air, yet also make them look just like the ones they saw on their friend’s pinterest board. It ends up being more about creating an image that meets their expectations of what a wedding photograph should look like, which are always based on what other people’s wedding photographs look like, and not on them and their experience of the moment. Ultimately, it’s about having the photographer create an image of a fantasy that has no basis in reality.

    No surprise then that so many marriages end in divorce.

  • roger clark

    I think many photographers are generally mixing different styles in their wedding work…..I spend approx 1-2 hours at weddings capturing more stylised set up shots but still manage to incorporate a photojournalistic approach to the rest of the day, which account for 70% of the total images taken. I see it as a big advantage being able to deliver both, although my clients never give me a shot list for the set up stuff….I think they might be too scared too !!

  • RandomDesign

    Everything old is new again. This was all the rage in wedding photography in the 90s and then seemed to die down to a niche. I always preferred this style myself and it’s great to see people still producing great quality work like this.