Documentary style Wedding Photography-The Art of Storytelling

Documentary style Wedding Photography: The Art of Storytelling.

As a wedding photographer, my job is to capture the essence of the day—the love, the laughter, the tears—without intervening or staging. It’s a delicate balance between documenting what I see and telling a compelling story through my lens.

For a long time, the idea of purely documenting without directing seemed absurd to me. I was all about perfection—staging scenes, and perfecting every image. But that all changed after attending a webinar by Two Man U Studios, renowned for their documentary-style approach. They pride themselves on capturing the story as it unfolds, without any intervention.

Their approach challenged me to rethink my own style. I started staging less and focusing more on capturing authentic moments. Over time, I realized that by observing and anticipating, I could capture the essence of a moment in its purest form.

After Two Man U Studios opened up this door of storytelling, I fell in love with delving deeper into the story behind the image. Instead of capturing a traditional beauty shot, my focus shifted to the tender embrace of the mother’s hand on the bride’s shoulder. These instances reveal a much richer story about their relationship than a simple beauty shot of the bride.

However, what makes this type of photography quite challenging is when the story is a sad one or involves characters facing difficult circumstances. My personality tends to lean towards positivity, happiness, and joy. However, life isn’t always that straightforward. People endure trauma, heartache, and horrifying experiences that shape who they are.

Sometimes, I struggle to document these raw, intimate moments between loved ones.

As a wedding photographer, I become part of a couple’s journey and life. When I agree to document a couple’s wedding, I aim to learn as much as possible about them to understand their dynamic better. This includes both the good and the bad, placing me in a challenging position when it comes to capturing moments that may evoke painful emotions.

During the early phases of my career, I grappled with the challenge of authentically capturing people’s emotions in the moment. I often felt hesitant to intrude on someone’s emotions by pointing my camera at their tear-stained face. I thought they needed space to process their feelings. However, as I gained confidence, I realized that my primary role is to document the story, including the emotions and tears.

When brides, bridesmaids, or mothers of the brides start crying, I seize the opportunity to capture those moments. Not because I want them to have a printed image of themselves crying on display, but because I want them to see, feel, and remember how deeply the emotions of the day affected them. That’s true storytelling.

Understanding the narrative behind each moment allows me to tell the story more effectively.

Your story is the most important aspect of you and your partner. As a photographer, it’s crucial to tell an honest story through a combination of aesthetic photos (which I refer to as beauty shots) and documentary-style shots (un-styled, raw).

Let’s consider an example I often share with brides or bridesmaids. When I try to capture a shot of a messy bridal room as they’re getting dressed, it may not be the image you choose to print and frame for your wall. However, it provides a true reflection of the mood, setting, and atmosphere as the morning unfolds.

As seen in the image below of Bride Apitchaya, I chose to document the moment when the Mother of the Bride was sitting alone, watching her daughter get her makeup done on one side of the room. The story behind this image is poignant—the mother didn’t understand a word of English. I found this image powerful in capturing their story, illustrating her happiness and contentment as she observed. 

Moreover, as the bridal portrait was being captured, I couldn’t help but notice the amusing contrast: while in front of the camera, the bride posed gracefully, behind me, the Maid of Honor, Jodie, struggled to tie her shoe, with one leg propped up on the table.

Including personal items: 

The images below further illustrate how storytelling with each couple’s unique story provides ample context and renders the images distinctive to each couple, rather than just being aesthetically pleasing photographs.

Chantal and Marius prepared for the wedding at her parents’ house. I thought it would be fitting to incorporate her parents’ wedding images, which were displayed next to their bed, while she was getting dressed, to capture the intricate details of the rings. I couldn’t resist capturing Mackaela’s adorable expression as she subtly indicated her boredom with a muffled sound.

Lookout for the kids:

Documentary photography means capturing all the moments, which is my favorite aspect of this style. It allows me to uncover the cutest hidden moments mostly the kids, often missed when focusing solely on the main events.

During Jade & Matt’s wedding ceremony, I noticed a couple of adorable kids playing on the carpet and colouring. Despite the formal and solemn church service, it was evident that the kids were bored, and their mother tried her best to keep them occupied without disrupting the ceremony. I couldn’t resist capturing the playful nature of these friendly faces in the church.

Capture the chaos:

While shooting documentary-style, it may seem daunting to document the chaos, but as exemplified through the images from Parvez & Nea’s wedding below, it adds depth and tells the whole story. Parvez prepared for the wedding at his mother’s house, which also served as the location for all the food preparation. With over 100 guests, it was a massive undertaking. I relished capturing the moments of all the individuals who spent hours preparing and cooking for the couple’s wedding.

The sight of the massive pots showcased the sheer volume of food prepared. The house buzzed with laughter, excitement, flavors, and genuine emotions as Parvez got ready. The wedding revolved around the delectable food and the guests who traveled from near and far to celebrate the couple’s union. These vibrant images help to tell the whole story and not just the perfectly staged pictures. 

Embrace the moment:

Sometimes, taking a photo can be daunting because it might not seem ethical, or it could be too controversial, revealing, or potentially unflattering for the subjects involved. It may even make them uncomfortable. However, I’m here to encourage you: “Take the shot.” More often than not, I’ve regretted not capturing a moment than regretted capturing it. Documenting the raw and authentic unfolding of a story, rather than staging images that don’t truly reflect the events, is far more rewarding.

This might mean witnessing some candid moments, including glimpses of bare skin or underpants, but it all contributes to the honesty and integrity of the narrative.

As illustrated from Lee & FC’s wedding below when I got into the shower with the men (P.S. they had undies on) to capture this fun cheers photo. 

In conclusion, I highly recommend photographers to begin capturing the authentic narrative they witness at weddings, incorporating all the elements mentioned above.

When you compile and present the edited images as a collection to the bridal couple, it’s immensely rewarding to witness the art of storytelling unfold within their own story.