With its emphasis on narrative and unscripted moments, the photojournalistic style of wedding photography has become highly sought after by modern couples seeking to preserve their special memories in a timeless, honest and heartfelt manner.
If you’re looking for a photojournalistic wedding photographer in the Bay Area, it’s important to find a photographer that captures the raw real moments of the day.
In this blog post, we will explore what wedding photojournalism is and why it has become so popular in the last twenty years or so. Get ready to discover a fresh and ever-evolving approach to wedding documentary.
Let’s take a deep dive into what makes photojournalist-style wedding photography unique and whether it’s the right style for your wedding.
If you’re seeking a San Francisco Bay Area photojournalistic wedding photographer, look no further than the Zoe Larkin Photography team! More info about my work is below.
What is photojournalistic wedding photography?
Wedding photojournalism captures authentic, unposed moments throughout the wedding day. It often focuses on capturing emotion and invites people in front of the lens to be truly themselves, without pretense.
This approach allows the photographer to capture the raw emotions, genuine expressions, and interactions between the couple and their guests. By remaining unobtrusive and discreet, a wedding photojournalist tells the story of the day with a genuine and unfiltered perspective.
This style often results in authentic and memorable images, giving you a glimpse of the true atmosphere and emotions experienced during your special day. Candid wedding photographers have a keen eye for candid moments, blending into the background to catch people off guard while preserving the essence of the occasion.
With unobtrusive techniques and a deep understanding of visual narratives, these professionals tell an honest, compelling story of a couple’s unique union.
How do wedding photojournalists get these kinds of shots?
As each wedding unfolds, a photojournalist’s skills allow them to adapt and blend in seamlessly, preserving memories that will be cherished for a lifetime.
I have a separate article about what you can do when you’re working with a candid wedding photographer, to ensure the best possible results, linked below!
Photojournalists are also known as documentary photographers (and we’ll get to some definitions in just a bit). Just like documentary filmmakers, their job is to capture events as they unfold. A true wedding photojournalist is not there to direct the day or make you feel like your wedding is a photo shoot.
Like journalists, a photojournalist must tell the story of your day, except with images instead of words. This involves keen skills of observation and anticipation as well as an excellent command of their equipment.
Photojournalists seem magically to be in the right place at the right time, but it isn’t magic. It’s because of the skills they have mastered and their experience shooting hundreds of weddings over the years.
The result is that your photojournalistic wedding photos will constitute an unposed visual story of your day. There are moments you won’t know were happening.
That’s a wonderful feeling when weeks later you receive your gallery and it reveals not just the moments you remember but many others that your guests shared experienced, too.
Part of what wedding photojournalists do is to document the chemistry between you and your partner, bring out your true personalities, and capture the interactions between the two of you and your guests as well as the micro-moments. The moments that, without a keen, trained eye, would simply not have been noticed.
What’s the difference between photojournalism, candid wedding photography, documentary wedding photography and reportage?
These terms are often used interchangeably. Though on a purist level there may be some key differences. For example, pure photojournalism believes that nothing may be staged or posed. Using artificial light, adjusting objects’ positioning, or interacting with subjects is seen as disruptive.
Pure photojournalism has a strong story-telling element and is not concerned with the aesthetics of the presentation.
This is because photojournalism came out of news photography that proliferated in the 80s and 90s. Photojournalists were sent to faraway places to cover a story without imposing their own narrative or interfering with the scene. It was a means of bringing a story to light in an objective way. Photos were printed without cropping or retouching to preserve the truth and immediacy of the image.
Many of those early photojournalists then later turned their hand to weddings, changing the industry forever.
When applied to weddings, there are many changes that have to be made. Couples expect a level of guidance and direction to get the best out of the experience – though we still make sure to capture the truth of the moment and ensure that not every shot is posed.
And of course, there is a high regard for aesthetics. When done well, wedding photojournalism creates beautiful images, not merely faithful images.
Going back to the terms used, some photographers might make a slight distinction between photojournalism and candid photography, though this is not always the case.
Candid photos might put less emphasis on telling a story and may lean more towards capturing individual, unposed moments as they occur naturally.
So, to reiterate, all of the terms used here and, by and large, used interchangeably outside certain very niche segments of the photography world.
The terms are used in contrast with other styles of wedding photography which include:
- Fine art wedding photography – this is highly stylized and artistic, often using film photography and muted color palettes. Almost looks like a painting and has an exclusively bright and airy feel.
- Editorial wedding photography – also stylized, but think cover of Vogue or a fashion shoot. These images have a luxury, high-end feel. A controlled, stylized environment is key.
- Traditional wedding photography – Basic, looking-at-the-camera type shots. Also could be seen as very classic.
- Dark and moody wedding photography – This look is created not only during the editing process but also using natural and artificial light in a dramatic way. It’s a cinematic style of photography that is achieved by a very specific way of working day-of.
Is every part of the day captured photo-journalistically?
There are misconceptions about this topic, as well as different photographers approaching weddings differently.
I actually fall into the camp that a great wedding photographer is a chameleon. There are parts of the day that naturally necessitate a hands-on, directive approach. These include:
- Styling the ‘details’ (if this is important to you): This is where we become product photographers. We style items such as invitations, rings, flowers and shoes to make them look as beautiful as possible. However, many of my couples have little to no attachment to the ‘stuff’, and would rather use all their wedding-day time to capture people rather than having the photographer disappear to hang their dress in a tree.
- Romantic portraits: It would be super awkward to stand in front of your photographer and they just say ‘OK guys, be yourselves and pretend I’m not here’. Instead, I give a variety of both prompts and set poses in order to ensure everyone looks their best and feels comfortable. People do not know what looks good on camera. Given how important these photos are, a little coaching and encouragement go a long way. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be stiff and boring. I incorporate lots of movement, prompts to have fun, and ways to connect with each other. It’s sometimes a little silly, but not contrived.
- Family formals – this is an important part of the day, but not one that we want to spend long amounts of time doing. With the assistance of the couple’s photo helpers, I efficiently rally folks who are going to be in each photo and get them where they need to be. I give them prompts and get them looking their best and then move on to the next group quickly so everyone can get back to enjoying the celebration.
However, each photographer works differently. Some prefer to stick to a more traditional approach throughout, and others don’t stage anything – even the couple.
With wedding photojournalism, a good rule of thumb is that about 30% of your wedding photos should be staged and the other 70% are more candid in nature.
But this varies a lot depending on the kind of wedding and length of coverage.
For example, I shoot a lot at San Francisco City Hall, and my packages for coverage there begin at only 2 hours. For such a short session, almost all of our time I’m directing and guiding you through the process, almost acting as a coordinator as well as a photographer. I want to ensure you’re getting the most out of the limited time you have with me, so I keep things moving!
How does a photojournalist wedding photographer work at a wedding?
The spirit of photojournalism is to be unobtrusive and allow people to be themselves. However, the truth is that wedding documentarians do whatever they have to do to get these types of images.
Frequently we encounter couples who are nervous about having their photo taken, or guests that stop what they’re doing and force a cheesy smile every time they see the camera.
During those times, we put down the camera and take a moment to engage with them and make them feel comfortable. This might mean chatting to a guest about their interests in order to bring those walls down. After that, they are always less freaked out by the camera!
At the end of the day, we’re humans trying to connect with other humans. We’ll do whatever it takes to bring out people’s best sides.
Working with a couple directly for their romantics, there is some posing involved. Expect lots of positive encouragement, movement and fun!
You may be asked to do silly things that will elicit real laughter. Expect to focus on your partner rather than an abundance of staring-into-the-camera-with-dead-eyes type shots. Allow the photographer to take the lead – there’s really nothing to worry about.
For the most part, however, documentary wedding photographers stay in the background, stealthily taking photos while not interrupting the events of your day unfolding naturally. This is more so for events post-ceremony (cocktail hour, reception, speeches, dances, cake-cutting etc).
One way of thinking it is that typically the earlier events of the day are specifically photography-centered. For example, the first look, romantics, wedding party and family formals. Then, once the ceremony gets underway, everything from that point on is less directive.
If there is a need to repeat something that would make for a beautiful photo, I am not shy about asking folks if they can do that again!
This might sound contrary to what I’m trying to convey, but when you look back on the photos you’re not going to remember that you were asked to do one small thing a second time. Constant interruption and posing for the sake of the ‘perfect photo’ is what we’re trying to avoid.
What makes the photojournalistic style different?
There are a few specific aspects that it’s worth looking over and that set the photojournalistic style of photography apart. This also may help you to determine if this approach is for your wedding day.
It’s real, raw and authentic
This is one of the most important components of the reportage approach – serving up images that you feel in your gut are authentic and real. Undoubtedly, this takes a lot of skill to observe such nuanced, fast-paced moments happening in front of you and then freeze them.
Some photographs may not be as technically perfect, but they capture the spirit and truth of the moment.
With an organic, personal approach, it’s possible to capture real moments. This might include a flower girl giggling before walking down the aisle. The tear on the mother-of-the-bride’s face during the vows. Your reserved cousin coming alive on the dancefloor when his favorite song plays.
When you look back at your wedding photographs in the years ahead, you want to relive the memory of celebrating your love, not being forced into poses that fit your photographer’s playbook of how a wedding ‘should’ look.
It’s emotional and heartfelt
Now, everyone’s different in how they process and show emotion, but my hope for every wedding is that I can capture raw, heartfelt emotion. It’s true, some people want to avoid being photographed tearing up or looking less than 100% poised and perfect.
My #1 tip for great photojournalistic images is to embrace your emotions and let them be.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable even though your wedding photographer is essentially a stranger to you. They are a skilled professional that is there to capture your story without artifice.
Rather than abruptly pulling away from what you feel when you notice the photographer is taking pictures, embrace the fact that you’re feeling what you feel in that moment.
So, now we’ve established how important it is to let your feelings flow, how does this help the way the images look? Well, on a wedding day, emotion is what I’m drawn to like a moth to a flame.
Without emotion, it’s just a conference.
Real feeling is what gives images depth, what makes them compelling and beautiful. When you look at my images, I hope you see the emotions the subjects felt in that moment – the bittersweet pride of father, the giddy excitement of the bride, the joy-filled smiles of guests.
Looking back at your wedding photos, tapping into those emotions is what will help you relive the experience long after the cake has been eaten and the flowers have wilted.
It tells your unique story
The moments that matter, from beginning to end. With this style, you can relive the entire story of your wedding day.
It includes the moments you missed and all the major and minor interactions. Nothing is too small to be included.
Whether it’s the fun you had getting ready with the girls, greeting your favorite people during cocktail hour, guests’ reactions to the speeches… you’ll have it all.
A wedding photojournalist will be ready to capture all these little moments. They arrive at your wedding day with a fresh, open mind and a clean slate ready to write your story on.
It takes much more of our creative energy to allow the unique events of your day to shape our narrative, rather than rock up at the wedding and pull out the same bag of tricks every time. Honestly, that’s the easiest thing in the word – to run each wedding exactly the same.
But we don’t want to do that. We want to tap into who you are, and do justice to the beautiful stories that are unfolding at your unique event. It’s a story worth telling, after all.
It focuses on people, not things
Those that are drawn to the documentary style of photography are more interested in the people than the various trappings associated with traditional weddings.
For example, a photojournalistic wedding photographer would rather capture your mom reminiscing with stories from your childhood while helping you pick out your earrings rather than leaving the room for an hour to go photograph flatlays of the invitations.
That doesn’t mean we won’t capture the beautiful tablescape and delicate floral arch, but it won’t be at the expense of capturing real, human interactions.
You don’t need to have a ‘lavish’ wedding with the fanciest flowers and decor to be truly photo-worthy. In fact, some of my favorite weddings take place in community centers, local parks and of course, City Hall.
It captures the details
While the details are never the most important thing about a wedding, wedding photojournalists are skilled at capturing the smallest details.
A professional photographer is highly aware of the special touches that you may have brought into this day, including the dress, rings, decorations, signage and florals.
But we especially love sentimental items with a story behind them such as a grandparent’s handkerchief or your father’s watch. With many of the ‘details’, the best place to photograph them is while you’re wearing them. Think less: a dress hanging and more: you in the dress!
Though wedding details are never prioritized over people, neither are they neglected. These are important items that you have poured time and money into selecting.
Especially if you’re working with a planner, it’s important to capture the beautiful designs they’ve worked so hard to bring to life.
Working quickly, wedding photojournalists are used to zipping over to the ceremony at the end of getting ready, and checking in on the reception setup at the tail end of cocktail hour to ensure it’s captured looking its best.
Being a documentary photographer, nothing is overlooked. No interaction, detail or moment is too small. We want to tell the story of your day – the details are undoubtedly a part of that story.
It’s not just about the couple
Sometimes photographers can be a little too focused on the couple getting married. This is perhaps because they’re the ones hiring us, the photographer just ends up following two people around.
Indeed, in the most traditional wedding photography, the couple is at the center of the photographer’s attention, not the guests. If you think of your parents’ or grandparents’ wedding photos, probably all you have are photos of the bride and groom.
But the photojournalistic style gives great significance to the other people in your life too. If you’re intentionally decided to have a wedding rather than an elopement, that day is nothing without the people you’ve chosen to be there by your side to love and support you.
I’ve received countless requests over the years before the wedding day, ‘please make sure you capture photos of our guests enjoying themselves, not just us!’. These clients were absolutely correct to ensure that the focus is not exclusively on the couple.
It’s amazing how many photographers omit to include adequate coverage of the guests, as they are laser-focused on the couple.
So what’s the benefit of capturing so many shots of the guests? Well, it’s so important to have photos to commemorate those who have played a part in your story. They are all so excited to be there with you, sharing in your joy.
The photos of those who have left an impact on your life and relationship will keep the memories alive for years to come. Especially as we lose family members over time, these photos take on an added poignancy. I particularly love to capture the older generation and I actively encourage a little more time spent intentionally with them,
There’s nothing wrong with a strong focus on the couple, as the day is all about the culmination of your relationship! But people with strong family bonds enjoy seeing loved ones celebrating their love, too.
It’s discreet and unobtrusive
We’ve established that photojournalist-style wedding photographers have a knack at staying in the background, yet being everywhere all at once!
This is a benefit to you because it means you will be free to enjoy your day without being concerned about the photos. Your photographer will come away with magnificent yet unstaged moments without being obtrusive or altering the scene.
Many couples are nervous about hiring a wedding photographer because they think the photographer will take over and constantly manufacture each scene, as if your wedding was a movie and he was the director.
Perhaps they’ve seen this at other weddings.
After all, the photographer is paid to deliver great photos. Aren’t they under a lot of pressure to get the best shots, whatever it takes?
Well, that’s the difference with the photodocumentary style. You won’t pose for endless cheesy couples pictures that you don’t even want and which take you away from the party for hours on end.
As photojournalists are used to working quickly, the posed parts of the day will be efficient and easy.
I’m often told afterward that the couple ‘didn’t even know I was there’ for most of the event, yet they were thrilled that the moments captured are so vivid and real.
It captures moments that are easily missed
It’s almost a cliche to say this these days, but your wedding day will go by in a blur. Even if you try all the techniques in the world to stay fully present and savor each moment, there’s simply too much going on for our brains to process.
There are intimate human vignettes unfolding at every moment on your wedding day. It’s simply not possible for you to experience them all in real time.
With the photojournalistic style, your photographer is always ‘on’, constantly for scanning for the next laugh. When other photographers are taking a break because ‘nothing’s happening’, the photojournalist is pushing themselves to stay in the moment and be creative.
Everyone’s eating dinner (not the most photogenic time for most)?
That could be a great time to capture a wide shot of the venue lit up with a warm glow, or the guys smoking outside, or kids playing and hiding under the table, or a slow-shutter image that captures the ambiance of the room!
It’s adaptable to any situation
Reportage-style wedding photography is truly versatile. It can be applied to any situation, any wedding. It can even be combined with other approaches (like a more editorial approach to some of the romantics), without diluting its essence.
In contrast, other styles of wedding photography are only possible under very specific conditions. For example, the fine art style of photography (often executed only on film, which is a very slow process), depends on a certain kind of ‘painterly’ light. This is typically only possible around sunset time when the light is behind the subject and casts a dreamy glow.
In harsh sun, dimly-lit reception spaces, or indoors at all, the images will fail to have that ‘fine art’ look. Also, this style of photography is actually quite elitist, and requires only the finest spaces and skinny, model-like people to grace its compositions.
Wedding photojournalism, on the other hand, works well in any environment. If it’s dark, I’ll use flash while preserving the ambiance in the images. If the lighting is harsh, perhaps I step in to change the direction without totally disrupting the moment.
I love that the documentary style is inclusive, adaptable and makes everyone the star!
It’s creative and beautiful
Documentary wedding photography elevates your event from something very literal to something that can be impressionistic, vivid, compelling and moving.
Though this photography style is concerned with the real and raw, it’s also incredibly moving to see split-second moments transformed into works of art that you can enjoy forever.
There is a lot of creativity involved with turning real life (that doesn’t stand still) into still images.
Creating beautiful images is the central assignment in wedding photography, whatever the style employed by your photographer. Our hope is that you see the beauty in that realness that’s being portrayed.
Ultimately, photojournalistic images stand the test of time. They’re less contrived – your photographer will not pose you in the style of the latest TikTok trend.
Though fashions depicted will age over time, the photos themselves will seem classic and timeless. The photographer is reacting to real moments that contain a truth to them rather than contriving a narrative.
Hand in hand with photojournalism is the commitment to true-to-life editing. Post-processing will easily date an image. What’s trendy today is old news tomorrow, and you can tell exactly when that style was popular.
Many other wedding photography styles feature heavily edited images to ensure the photos have ‘the photographer’s unique stamp’ on them.
Wedding photojournalists are less concerned with their own ego and more about producing faithful representations of real moments. The images are edited to make them look how the moment felt.
Editing is light and naturalistic so will not easily date. When you look back at your wedding photos, you should see what really happened. You should barely think about your photographer or see their hand in the final images.
Simple expressions of real love, deep family bonds, the support of your community, people being themselves, having so much fun you can’t contain your joy… will never go out of style.
What to look for in a photojournalistic wedding photographer
If you’ve spent any time looking for a wedding photographer, you’ll know one thing – there are so many! As a non-photographer, it can be hard to know what you’re seeing and what exactly is being communicated.
I have a few tips about what to look for once you begin your search.
Make sure your photographer gets to know you before the big day
When looking for a photojournalist-style wedding photographer, it’s important to pick someone that will take the time to get to know you both.
However, even if time is limited or there isn’t an opportunity to truly bond and connect extensively beforehand, know that this isn’t their first rodeo! Wedding photographers are used to blending right in to your wedding unobtrusively and quickly finding their footing.
The time we spend with you on the wedding day, observing you and reading the situations as they occur, is arguably more useful than running through timelines or meeting for drinks.
However, getting to know each other can be instrumental in making you feel comfortable so the photographer isn’t a stranger day-of.
If you’d like to meet your photographer before the wedding day, just ask! We can hop on a Google Meet or even get dinner together if you like.
A portfolio that shows the work you want to see
Every photographer has a portfolio on their website. Instagram is also a great place to check out – most photographers are very active there.
When scrolling through these images, pay attention to the type of imagery you see. Is it photojournalistic? Or is it full of highly posed photos? A wedding photojournalist will likely show some posed photos (as this showcases their versatility), but not exclusively so.
Also pay attention to the wording they use on their website when describing their style. If you see words like ‘fine art’, ‘luxury’, ‘editorial’, these can be antithetical to the photoreportage approach.
Their willingness to be flexible
While browsing photographers’ websites, it can be hard to tell how they work on the wedding day, including what happens if things don’t go according to plan.
This is a frequent occurrence, as weddings are living, breathing events with an unpredictable element.
You could ask them to recall a time that they had to be flexible and see if that’s a situation they relished, or that stressed them out.
If they’re used to doing things the same exact way each time, that’s a sign they might not be prepared to be flexible and understanding.
The methods they use at a wedding
It’s OK to put your potential photographer on the spot a little! Ask them how they get the moments you see. Make sure they talk about being able to predict moments before they happen and they give an answer that’s commensurate with the photojournalistic style.
You should also ask them how they work and what their interaction with wedding guests looks like.
Perhaps you could pick a couple of your favorite images in their portfolio and ask them to explain the story behind them and how they were captured.
Photojournalistic wedding photography is a creative and immersive approach to capturing the essence of a couple’s special day. Through candid and authentic shots, the photojournalist captures the raw emotions, moments of joy, and intricate details that make a wedding truly memorable.
This approach goes beyond traditional posed photographs, allowing the photographer to document the story of the wedding as it unfolds. It’s fun, modern yet timeless, adaptable to any situation and creates beautiful images. Moreover, it has the benefit of allowing the couple to savor every moment with one other and their guests.
By focusing on genuine expressions and interactions, photojournalistic wedding photography provides a natural and fresh collection of images that truly represents the couple’s love and happiness.
To book Zoe Larkin Photography as your photojournalist wedding photographer, please check out pricing and info below:
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