These days, documentary-style wedding photography is the norm. The genre is also known as candid wedding photography, photojournalism, reportage, and a whole host of terms.

Though there are some subtle differences between the terms (for the photo nerds & purists out there) I’ll use them interchangeably.

Interested to know what the other wedding photography styles are? Check out this article.

As this guide is intended for couples who are preparing for their wedding day, I’ll go easy on the technical terms and instead focus on what YOU can do to get the most out of your wedding photography. Looking for tips on how to get non-awkward wedding photos? I’ve a special guide on that, linked below.

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But to give a simple overview, I’m talking about those photographers that will stay somewhat in the background for most of the day, working unobtrusively. They’ll capture those shots of moments unfolding organically, with minimal set-up of each shot.

That leaves you to enjoy your wedding day without it feeling like an 8-hour long photoshoot. Want more day-of tips for how to maximize your wedding experience, savor the moment and avoid drama? Check out my day-of wedding tips, linked below.

READ MORE  25 day-of tips for a drama-free wedding & amazing photos
What brides need to know about candid wedding photography

There was no setting up or staging of this shot – just being in the right place, ready for a fun moment! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

What is candid wedding photography?

Candid wedding photography, or wedding photojournalism is something of a norm these days. However, each photographer approaches the wedding day differently.

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How did this come about? Well, with the proliferation of digital photography and visual culture, couples began to expect more than the cheesy, forced smiling-into-the-camera shots.

Combined with the phenomenon of actual press photojournalists being out of work after the economic downturn, and turning their hand to weddings, and you’ve got the perfect storm!

Couples expect more than the small handful of finished photos that used to be the norm in times past. So couples want more photos and more moments captured – but still the freedom to enjoy the wedding day without the photography taking center stage. And rightly so!

Candid wedding photography bridges that gap between the desire for stunning photographs, and couples’ desire to fully live in the moment on their wedding day.

How to prepare for candid wedding photos

Guests having fun is one of the most common requests I receive from my wedding couples | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

What are the benefits of candid wedding photography?

Candid photos have the ability to bring you back to the moment more vividly than anything staged, in my opinion.

You as the subject are utterly unself-conscious. You may never have seen yourself that way before.

Wedding photojournalism tends to yield a lot more photos compared to say the ‘fine art’ style or modern-day film photography. The organic, real moments are captured as they occur.

It’s also a lot more fun! You just get to forget there’s a strange person with a camera pointing at you, and instead enjoy the fun with your new spouse, family and friends.

example photos of photojournalism at weddings

Speech reaction photos are one of my favorite parts of the wedding day – people are truly focused on the speaker and forget about the photographer | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

How do wedding photographers take candid photos?

Candid wedding photography is really an art, one that encompasses so much.

On the surface, it may seem incredibly straightforward. You simply set up in a corner of the room and wait for stuff to happen.

In reality, it’s always challenging work.

A lot of the work is about preempting what’s going to happen next without any kind of script. Sure, there’s the wedding day timeline but candid photos are so focused on the in-between moments in addition to the scripted shots.

Photographers who work in the candid style are constantly ‘on’ and hustling to get the shot. There is a lot of moving around the space to get the best perspective. Sometimes that requires staying far away from our subject and sniping with a long lens.

Other times we get in very close for more intimate captures that can take you right back to the moment. This takes a lot of skill, and develops only with experience.

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candid wedding photo of guest admiring a groom's ring

A guest admiring this groom’s ring. This image was taken with a wide-angle lens – it makes you feel like you’re right there! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

What are the challenges of candid wedding photography?

However, the biggest challenge of wedding photojournalism has nothing to do with cameras, lenses or logistics.

It’s being granted access into the private world of the couple I’m photographing.

For a bride, groom or wedding guest to let a stranger into the most personal, emotionally-charged day of their lives takes vulnerability.

I know it takes vulnerability to be photographed. You’re asking someone to be there for many private, intimate moments involving those closest to you.

As a wedding photographer I do not take that lightly! I am absolutely with you to cheer you on, never wanting to detract from what’s truly important.

As you can imagine, this is based largely on relationship. Without that relationship of trust, some couples will find it difficult or impossible to let their guard down – and who can blame them?

And this photographer-subject relationship is what this article is really about. I have another article linked below that goes into 17 things you can do to be the BEST wedding photography client.

READ MORE  17 ways to be an absolutely AWESOME wedding photography client

Your photographer will love you forever.

candid wedding photography showing bride nervously drinking champagne before wedding

This bride’s nerves and excitement show through as she sips champagne before her wedding ceremony – no pretending for the camera | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

How to ensure great candids on your wedding day

1. Build a relationship of trust with your photographer

This is the one that’s so important and takes some investment for sure. Even for outgoing extroverts, there is an extra vulnerability involved with the intimate nature of wedding photos.

It takes time to warm up to having a photographer present, but you can hit the ground running by already feeling super comfortable with that person.

A relationship is built with time and shared experience. I try to meet all of my couples before they even onboard with me. We’ll have a casual chat and get to know each other.

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After the meeting, the next step is to do an engagement shoot if it’s in your budget.

The engagement shoot is a trial run. The idea is you’ll know how it feels to be photographed. You’ll trust that your photographer did in fact capture images that you loved!

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After the engagement shoot, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to connect with your photographer. You’ll be emailing, speaking on the phone, following along on IG, doing a venue visit and a timeline run-through.

examples of wedding reportage or photojournalism for a fun cake-smearing photo

There is something messy and fun about candid photos – they are less perfect and more real | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

2. Be as camera unaware as possible, and smile!

This is probably the most difficult one! It’s incredibly easy to say ‘just forget there’s a camera there’ but the reality is very different.

We are all conditioned to stop what we’re doing and force a smile for the camera. We can’t help but be aware when one is pointed at us. That might bring out nerves, awkwardness, your ‘pose-y’ face, the fake smile, or even the rabbit-in-the-headlights effect.

As hard as it is in practice, I would advise couples to try to forget they’re being photographed. Let the photographer melt into the background and just ignore them. It’ll be tricky at first, but gets easier as the day progresses. It gets even easier as the booze starts to flow!

If we need to ask you to do something or move into the light, we will. If we’re not saying anything, trust that you’re doing an awesome job and we would rather not disturb the moment.

Ultimately what’s going to make for great candid photos is lots of smiles, laughs and even tears. Emotion is good! The biggest challenge I face as a candid wedding photographer is couples (and their guests) who remain poker-faced, and do not show emotion on their face.

Even if you’re not the most demonstrative person in your day-to-day life, try to truly savor and enjoy the little things. Give in to those smiles and laughs!

wedding guests laughing on the dancefloor

This moment of guests laughing at their friends of the dancefloor lasted only a fraction of a second but was captured forever | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

3. Live in the moment!

Savoring your wedding day is so important. Couples are often surprised how fast it all goes by in a flurry of emotion and fleeting moments.

If you’re focused on anything other than the moment you’re in, that shows in the finished pictures. (That’s one reason I suggest to pretty much all couples to get a wedding planner. Even more so for small weddings.)

READ MORE  11 reasons why even a small wedding needs a wedding planner

I always say that planning is the key to living in the moment. Know that with all the timelines in the world, things will still go off the rails to whatever degree. The trick is to roll with it and make sure you’re as prepared as you can be.

The last thing you want is to be putting out fires, so delegate and relax.

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4. Have a relaxed, unrushed timeline

Rushed timelines are the enemy of wedding photojournalism. Sure, it sounds as if the candid approach is extremely fast-paced, jumping from one scene to another at breathless pace. And it is in many ways.

But when there is little time, there are limited opportunities for people to just be themselves and interact with one another without being rushed into the next activity.

Sometimes we lie in wait for a shot we can see in our minds to materialize in reality. The scene is set, the subject awaits. This takes a little time. It also takes time for guests to warm up to us and get used to having a stranger around.

The best candids just happen in the shuffle – while everyone’s sitting around in the getting ready room, while folks are walking from the ceremony to cocktail hour, chilling and chatting, during speeches or while playing games. If you are preparing your own plans for your wedding day, my indispensable guide linked below can help!

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Tips for wedding photojournalism as a bride

Capturing the fun, chaos and excitement of the getting ready portion of the day before everyone’s in their wedding finery! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

5. Tell guests (or at least those closest to you) that your photographer will be working candidly

For many folks, your wedding day will be the first time in a long time that they’re the subjects of a professional photographer. Especially for older folks it can be hard to figure out what to do.

They expect that a photographer must only want photos of people looking straight at the camera and smiling. So I try to get a shot of your grandma looking proudly at you, sweeping the hair from your face, but she sees me, stops what she’s doing, stands next to you and tells you to look at the camera and smile. The moment’s gone.

A little advance preparation from you to them may really help to keep everyone truly in the moment, forgetting there’s a photographer. You could even show them some example images if they are unsure about the approach.

I normally do a mixture of posed smiling-into-the-camera shots (also called grip n’ grins!) and some candid images of folks that are truly in the moment. I’ll take the posed one, then ask them to “why not carry on what they were doing before, it’s going to make a lovely candid photo”.

If you have any say in the matter, encourage those speaking at your wedding (speeches, toasts, even readings) to memorize their words. Learning your vows if at all possible is definitely a good thing! If this is tough, or you want to have your words in front of you in case of a mind blank, have the words written down on paper or printed out. Avoid using a phone!

Why? Well, in the photos it just looks like someone looking down at their phone. Eyes up at who you are addressing. Avoid the temptation of simply reading.

wedding party candid wedding photos by bay area wedding photographer

After the ceremony, the wedding party congratulated the couple who were standing behind me, and you can see how excited they are! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

6. Give your photographer a heads up about any surprise events

Candid photography is all about the surprise moments and chance occurrences, for sure! But giving us a hint as to what surprises you have planned (for your guests or for each other) is encouraged!

It gives us a fighting chance to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.

Those gone-too-quick moments are more likely to be captured to perfection if we can be prepared and anticipating them. Of course, you can let us know directly by private email/ call if you want to make sure the surprise isn’t ruined!

7. If the unexpected happens… roll with it!

I know, it’s true. I’m all about the planning. But you should keep in mind that weddings rarely go exactly according to plan.

Part of the whole ‘being in the moment’ thing entails awareness that a wedding will take on a life of its own.

The moments that may seem irritating or frustrating on the day, framed differently could mean spontaneous, wild and memorable. So if something happens that you weren’t expecting, try to embrace it.

Your photographer will be there not only to capture the perfectly curated moments but the weird and unexpected ones, too. What is it they say? Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.

couple on city hall steps in the middle of a press conference by Zoe Larkin Photography

They could’ve gotten annoyed about the press conference in this iconic location… but they had fun & were interviewed by a press reporter! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Combining different photography styles for one cohesive gallery

Most photographers will talk up their candid style because that’s what we’re most passionate about.

However, what may not be obvious is that a wedding day is a blend of many different photography types. While I can’t speak for everyone, this is an example of the combination of styles I utilize for any wedding day.

Getting ready / details – product photography
Ceremony / reception space – architectural photography
Family formals – traditional portraiture
Couples’ session – posed portraiture
Reception – event photography

Wondering what else wedding photographers actually do (when they’re not shooting weddings?) Check out my detailed article, linked below!

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The importance of planning, whatever your photography style

Though the idea of the wedding photojournalism approach sounds very loosey-goosey, go-with-the-flow, I work with each couple to create a detailed custom timeline.

Whether or not you have a planner, I’ll need to provide my input on the photography. This is so I have the time I need to capture the various parts of the day, and to allow time for what you personally value.

For example, if you wanted a long list of family portraits or extended time to take a breather that’d be reflected on the timeline.

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I also love photographing the little details – jewelry, florals, display tables, anything that made your day special! Most candid wedding photographers will provide a range of imagery as part of your wedding gallery.

In reality, wedding photojournalism is always a blend of posed pictures where you are looking at the camera and given direction; and those in which the photographer is taking photos candidly. Ultimately we do not want to intrude on the day – but will provide all the help you need with many of the must-take shots.

wedding guests smiling and having fun in a candid wedding photo by Zoe Larkin Photography

Candid photos often involve creating an environment in which the subjects’ true personalities shine, whether they’re aware of the camera or not | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

To conclude

Candid wedding photography is a great way to go from both the client’s and the photographer’s perspective.

It’s so much fun reliving the day later. You see all the moments that were gone in a flash. There are also so many moments you didn’t know were happening!

The key point is to prepare yourself by building a great relationship with your photographer so that you trust them and feel relaxed around them. And also preparation is key!

On the day, be in the moment and forget the photographer is there. Just focus on having a great time with your tribe and your spouse. That’s where the great moments come from!

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You can learn more about my services at the links here: Bay Area wedding photographer – Homepage | Bay Area Wedding photographer – Info, pricing, about & portfolio

guest eating chick fil a at a bay area wedding - candid photo examples

People being themselves – silly, funny, hamming it up – is what I want to capture through a predominantly candid style of wedding photography | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

If you found this article helpful in any way, leave a comment below! And pin this graphic to your wedding planning Pinterest board so you can come back any time during the planning process!

What is candid wedding photography and how can you get the most out of your wedding day experience? Candid photos are the photographer's job but there are 7 actionable steps you can take to ensure the very best candid wedding photos on your wedding day. The key is to live in the moment and forget the photographer is even there. I know it's easier said than done, but building relationship of trust leads to the best photos! #candidweddingphotography #weddingphotography | Zoe Larkin Photography

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  1. Viggo Crowe says:

    It’s really interesting that you touched on being granted access to the more private sides of the couple’s wedding. My sister is trying to get married this year and she still has a lot of planning to do. She needs to find a photographer and get all the food planned out for the reception.

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