Your Ultimate Guide to Documentary Style Wedding Photography

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As you are starting your journey of finding a wedding photographer, you’ve probably come across terms like editorial style, cinematic, candid, documentary style wedding photography, and more. But what do all of these mean? 

Well each style is a different way of telling your story through photos, whether that is more posed and set up or relaxed and casual. As a documentary style wedding photographer, I find that this is one of the best ways to capture your wedding day.

So, let’s break down what exactly documentary style wedding photography is and why it may be right for you and your partner on this special day! 

What is documentary wedding photography? 

A laughing bride and a smiling groom seated at a wedding reception, enjoying the moment, surrounded by guests and candlelight ambiance

At its most basic, documentary photography tells the full story as it is. It doesn’t rely heavily on things like posing or setting up shots, and you’re not focused on making sure every single detail is pixel-perfect. 

Instead, it captures the genuine moments that happen throughout the day, big and small. You can think of it just like a documentary movie. As you sit down and watch it, the story unfolds. 

You get to see where they started, everything that happened throughout, and what the outcome of the day was in a raw and unfiltered way. 

Documentary-style wedding photography does just that. It is the story of your day. You will be able to sit down and look at your album and see each individual part. From getting ready with the people closest to you to your first look to walking down the aisle to your final exit, everything is captured. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, doesn’t all wedding photography capture that?” And in a way, you are right. 

Most wedding photographers are going to show the different pieces of your day; however, it is how they are captured that makes the biggest difference. Documentary style focuses on catching the moments as they happen, not trying to recreate them or pose them after the fact. With documentary style photographers, you won’t find yourself feeling like you are going back and redoing things over and over or standing like a statue so you can get the perfect getting ready photo of your parent helping you get dressed. 

Instead, these moments will be naturally captured in a way that feels authentic to you – all while barely noticing that someone is there documenting it! 

Why choose it over another style? 

A playful moment with a bride getting her hair styled, laughing as hairspray is applied, setting a joyful mood before the wedding

When it comes to what style to pick for your wedding, it really comes down to how you want to look back at your photos 10, 20, 50 years down the road. 

Are you looking to have those cinematic moments that make you feel like you’re in a movie, or do you want to look back at those moments and remember exactly how you were feeling and what you and your wedding party were joking about that made you laugh so hard? 

When it comes to photography style, there is no right or wrong answer. It truly is a personal preference. However, if you are trying to decide whether or not you want to get documentary style wedding photos, here are some of the best things about them: 

  • You’ll feel more natural throughout the day – instead of feeling like you are always being posed or you need to look perfect 24/7, you can just relax and be yourself. 
  • It can help you enjoy your day more – sometimes you can forget that you are actually supposed to enjoy this day and everything that is happening. If you are constantly being pulled left, right, and sideways for different photos, it can sometimes be hard to just take a breath and really soak everything in. 
  • Your photos will feel true to life – while cinematic and editorial photos can be stunning and are amazing in their own right, you may just want photos that feel more like you. You will be able to look at these photos and really feel like they show who you and your partner are authentically. 

Who is documentary style photography for? 

A joyful bride shares a laugh with an older woman, both expressing genuine happiness and excitement on the wedding day

This style of photography is really for any couple who wants their story to be told in an authentic way that is also timeless. One of the best things about this style is that it doesn’t rely on any trends that may be going on at the moment. 

This means that when you look back on the photos in 50 years, you’ll be able to remember the day exactly as it unfolded (instead of wondering why you thought that trend was ever good in the first place)! 

This is also a great style to choose if you want to be more present and in the moment at your wedding. Because it is focused so much on documenting the day as is, you may find that you get to spend more time doing the things you want to do (like actually making it to your cocktail hour) rather than chasing down that perfect photo. 

Will I still get posed portraits? 

A romantic evening scene with a bride and groom under an umbrella, sharing a kiss as snowflakes fall gently around them

Now, we’ve talked a lot about how documentary style photography means not being posed at every moment but posed photos definitely still have their time and place in your wedding album. 

Just because the majority of your photos will be more natural and candid doesn’t mean you still can’t get those beautifully posed portraits of you and your partner. These are oftentimes some of the only moments that you two get to spend alone on your wedding day and are still such an important piece of your story. 

The difference is these moments will not take up the majority of your day. The posed portraits will most likely just be one set time (like during your first look or after your ceremony as guests enjoy your cocktail hour), so you will still be able to enjoy your day as you are without having to worry about posing perfectly around every turn. 

How do I get the best documentary style photos at my wedding? 

A bride in a flowing dress stands by a window, her veil being adjusted by bridesmaids, in a vintage sepia-toned room

As a wedding photographer myself, I have a couple of tips that can help you feel more comfortable and get the best photos possible for your wedding. 

First and foremost is choosing a photographer that you are truly comfortable with. Especially with documentary style wedding photography, they are going to be with you the entire day. This means that they are going to be part of all of the small moments you share with your closest friends and family, and nothing is worse than feeling like there is a stranger watching you from around the corner (and trust me, it will show up in the photos if you are uncomfortable). 

So, be sure that as you are picking your wedding photographer, you really take the time to make sure they are the right person for you. Ask questions, see what they are like on wedding days, how they can support you, or how they try to blend it and make it seem like they are not even there. 

Second, don’t think about the fact that pictures are being taken. I know that this is definitely harder than it sounds, but try to be present and in the moment. You are going to look absolutely amazing on your wedding day, so instead of worrying about looking perfect, spend this time enjoying the people around you who have gathered to celebrate your love. 

Finally, be yourself! Relax, remember that this day is about you and that you don’t have to fit any certain look or idea that anyone else has. No one is a professional model and your wedding photos aren’t meant to be on the cover of Vogue. 

These photos are for you and your partner to cherish and look back on for years to come to remember what this amazing time in your life was like. So, don’t feel like you have to be anyone but yourself throughout the day and in your photos! 

So, is documentary style wedding photography for you?

A heartwarming moment of a groom getting assistance with his bow tie from an older gentleman, sharing a quiet moment before the wedding

Hopefully this helped you gain a better understanding of what documentary style wedding photography is and why it may just be the style for you. Like I said earlier, though, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your wedding photos. 

It really comes down to you and your partner and how you want your story to be told. Whatever style you choose, though, you’ll have unforgettable memories that you will be able to share with generations to come. 

Now, if you think that this style may be right for you and just need the perfect photographer to match it, I’d love to chat! You can click here to learn more about my wedding photographer services, or you can head over here to get in touch

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