Why we love documentary wedding photography (and what it’s all about)
As a newly engaged couple, one of the earliest things you book is likely to be a wedding photographer. You’re about to discover a whole world of different styles and ‘approaches’ to wedding photography – so I’d like to introduce you to one of my favourites.
It’s February 2023 now, and most wedding photographers are taking bookings for 2024 and 2025 already. Couples are still having weddings that were originally cancelled in the pandemic, and demand for suppliers is super high! But this doesn’t mean you should rush into booking a photographer. Always choose carefully, explore your options and enjoy learning what you love when it comes to wedding images!
Since 2009, I’ve been featuring documentary wedding photography on English Wedding. In my heart it feels like the long term option – a style that won’t date, and that captures the heart and soul of your guests. You’ll always love looking back on your photos. Documentary (also known as reportage, and increasingly ‘natural’) wedding photography means your photographer(s) will take photos of the day as it unfolds – a narrative in pictures, where you won’t be taken away from your guests, or posed. You’ll hardly be aware of the photographer’s presence as they gather shots of you and your guests, and the interactions between you. (Those human connections we all missed so much in 2020? They’re at the heart of good documentary wedding photography.)
One of our favourite documentary wedding photographers is York Place Studios. They’re a member of English Wedding, and are based in London but capture weddings throughout the UK and worldwide. They’re the photographers other photographers choose to capture their weddings – and known for their unique take on, and talent with, authentic wedding photography.
“Whether you choose to celebrate your marriage in a mountaintop chateau or your own living room we approach every wedding with the same heart & curiosity and the same intrigue about the people around us and the relationships you share. Whatever the background we will utilise it as a character of the day but ultimately our photographs aim to tell stories of people, not places.” ~ York Place Studios
I’ve included a small selection of images from a London wedding in Lewisham, which so beautifully illustrates the art of documentary photography, and layering. Because it’s not just about snapping away at natural moments, but framing them artistically. I read on York Place’s website that they create images their clients can slowly look through, from left to right, seeing multiple stories in every frame. This, to me, is the magic of reportage wedding photography – that every image can be delved into like a book, with love and joy and often a sense of humour captured all together.
“That homely feel, that relaxed familiarity with their environment, filled with their loved ones and closest friends made this background anything but ordinary and everything that we love to photograph: family dynamics, laughs, interactions, relaxed personalities fully on show.” ~ York Place Studios
Other wedding photography styles include Fine Art (which has a light, airy vibe – see Wedding Sparrow). Then there’s the more editorial stye of photography – often to be found on Rock My Wedding or Love My Dress. Traditional wedding photography tends to feature more in local print wedding media – a traditional wedding photographer will capture posed moments and natural ones, with a subtle / minimal editing style. Often all of these wedding photographer styles will have an element of ‘documentary’ in their portfolio, meaning that they include natural shots as your guests are mingling.
“Documentary wedding photography, in its simplest form is the capturing of authentic wedding imagery without the photographer posing or directly controlling the scene in front of them. …there’s rather more to it than that. Documentary photography is a highly skilled and conceptual artform; great documentary images are not just reactive shots of something happening, they are as carefully composed and considered as any crafted portrait.”
Dom and Liam are the sister & brother duo behind York Place Studios. They’re both award-winning wedding photographers whose focus has been on documentary images for years. And they’ve honed their craft to master the art form. As a wedding blogger I see thousands of wedding images every month – many are ‘documentary’ but few rival York Place for being considered, artistic and emotive. You might not think your favourite wedding image would be the one of sixteen of your guests chatting about random stuff… but when you look closely and realise it captures who you are, surrounded by love, perhaps this is the one you’ll hang in pride of place on your wall.
“The moments that truly matter are rarely ‘perfect’. They don’t happen on a mountain top surrounded by rainbows, they don’t occur on schedule and they rarely go in any way to plan. The moments that matter are the real moments, the spontaneous moments, the moments of people just being people and revealing something of themselves, of your true relationship to one another. ” ~ York Place Studios
Most of the images you’ll see on wedding blogs and magazines are of fashion and styling. Dresses, decor, florals… the list goes on. And there’s happiness in all of those things as you plan your wedding.
But after the day, you’ll want to remember the people. You’ll smile at the memories of things done and said, of hugs and catchups and stories your favourite people shared about their lives. Not so much the streamers or the bouquets (as lovely as they will be).
Documentary wedding photography works everywhere. You can celebrate your marriage in a grand stately home, an urban warehouse space, a barn or your own back garden – and the authentic images will be amazing because they’re all about the people. English Wedding doesn’t focus as much as other blogs on the styling details, perhaps because we’ve been around for over a decade or perhaps because we learned some things from covid. There’s so much joy in focusing on moments and laughter and rapport and humour in weddings – as well as the artistry of our favourite wedding creatives – don’t you think?
I will leave you with one last thought from York Place Studios, which sums up the art of documentary photography in a perfect little nutshell.
“The job of a documentary wedding photographer is to move our own feet, not yours to create interesting compositions… to let events unfold without our interference so that your wedding photographs show the real you. To create imagery that showcases the real personalities of your family and friends on the biggest day of your lives.”
London documentary wedding photographers York Place Studios and York Place Films are members of English Wedding