In 2019, there’s no need to stand still and say ‘cheese’. Have you ever wondered why the registrar will invite your guests up to take a pic of you “signing the register”, or why cutting the cake is such a big deal at weddings? It’s all about the photography, and dates back a generation to the times when wedding photographers had to very carefully capture 12 or 36 images on a film. You could almost count the ‘key moments’ to fit the photos on a roll of old school negatives! Documentary wedding photographer Martin Beddall explains how wedding photography has changed since our parents’ days, and how those traditional moments have become something really quite special in the age of documentary wedding photography.
Weddings have their traditions. Some are even actually old, like the wedding ring or the bouquet. Wedding photography has its traditions too. Or it used to…
In 2019 it really doesn’t need them!
The ‘traditions’ attached to wedding photography date back to an era when the camera technology meant that pictures needed to be ‘set up’ and flashed. “1..2..3, look this way…and smile!”
There used to be 12 or 36 images to a film. The camera was often on a tripod because it had to be still so it could focus. Set points of the wedding day would be covered. Wedding photography was about recording the basics but not the emotions, the moments or the interplay of characters. Not the real story. Happily, camera technology has moved on and so has wedding photography.
Set moments like the portrait in the garden with mum and dad, the portrait stood outside the church, the bride and her father. The posed signing of the register. The posed shot of the bride sat in the wedding car. The fake wedding cake cutting shot, for the photographer. These were – and still are – just some of the traditional wedding photography setup shots. But reportage wedding photography lets these moments happen, without artificially setting them up. This leads to images that can be more evocative of the day, the people and the moments. Here are a few examples.
Let’s start with ‘the portrait in the garden’ and ‘posing outside the church’. Instead of trooping out into the garden for a formal portrait, a reportage wedding photographer will capture the moment the bride and her mother naturally embrace. He or she will capture the reactions when the father first sees his daughter in her dress. And when they share a joke, both of them nervous about what happens next: father and daughter, about to walk down that aisle in front of all those people.
Then there is the classic photo moment, which still happens to this day. The posed up ‘signing of the register’ shot – or if we’re honest, the ‘sitting at a small table, bewildered, told to hold a pen above a blank book’ shot!”. This is still a moment of contention: can it be photographed?
As a rough rule, once outside London, the more likely it is that no photos are allowed during the signing.
But at a wedding powerhouse, like Islington Town Hall, they actively encourage it – it keeps it natural and flowing. This flies in the face of the solemn registrars and clergy, who inform everyone that it is illegal to photograph the signing. But really, as a reportage wedding photographer, it is not so much the actual pen on paper shot that I want. It’s all that happens around this period, which a blanket ban on photography prevents me from getting.
After the ceremony, when everyone’s back outside, another ‘traditional’ moment for wedding photography is with the wedding car. You’re sitting in the back seat, looking at the camera, perhaps with a glass of champagne. Or you’re standing beside the wedding car, beaming at the camera. But it doesn’t have to be such a ‘straight’ shot – the emotion at this stage of the day is riding high! By stepping back and observing the interactions between the happy couple, a great reportage wedding photographer can capture real moments!
So, the last example is the cutting of the wedding cake. Some years ago, this would often be a staged shot for the wedding photographer, with the newlyweds pretending to cut the cake. Your images will be far better if the cake cutting moment just happens – the real expressions are far better. Surrounded by friends and family, this is a time for joy and often plenty of laughter, which beats any posed shot by a mile!
So this is the idea of reportage wedding photography: capturing moments as they actually happen. It’s not about old-fashioned traditional shots or even pretend fashion shots but storytelling. The traditional moments will still happen, but capturing them is a new and more exciting challenge. The top documentary wedding photographers have become brilliant at shooting moments with real emotion, as well as anticipating other moments during a wedding day where laughter and love come to the fore to make your wedding photographs shine with joy.
Please do contact Martin if this documentary approach to wedding photography appeals to you.