Musings on Wedding Photography Styles – Traditional, Photojournalism (Documentary, editorial, etc), Illustrative (fine art to fashion inspired)

It’s been a few years since I first wrote this so I thought I’d come back and give it an update since my own styles have changed a bit since then.


Wedding Photography Styles and the newly engaged couple

When couples start looking for wedding photographers (and to an extent all wedding vendors) they are overwhelmed by choices.   In the case of choosing a photographer one of the most important things to use in the narrowing down process is “photographic styles”.   The problem is most couples don’t have a really firm grasp on styles – and from spending a bit of time browsing photographer sites, I’m pretty darned sure there’s not shortage of clueless shutterbugs out there when it comes to styles as well.   It seems to my eye that a lot of “aspiring” – and a few established –  photographers think photographic styles is nothing other than another set of keywords to use for google searches.

Wedding Photography Styles versus Shooting Styles

One think to keep in mind is in my mind Wedding Photography Styles and Shooting Styles are two different things.   A wedding photography style is how I approach covering a wedding and presenting the results afterwards, whereas a shooting style is how I like to take pictures.

For example:

Shooting everything wide open at F1.2 to 2.8 is a shooting style – common to bokeh addicted photographers.

Available light photography is also a shooting style of someone who perfers not to (or more common these days – doesn’t know how to) take control of the light with artificial modifiers and flash units.

There is no RIGHT style

There is an important thing to remember, neither of these wedding photography styles are any better than the others.  There is no shortage of photographers who shoot each style nor clients who appreciate each style.   My personal bias might come out in my discussion of these style – but that doesn’t mean my bias should apply to everyone.

Overview of styles

I tend to break down current wedding photography styles into three areas.

  1. Traditional
  2. Photojournalstic
  3. Illustrative

Traditional Wedding Photography

One of the major elements of traditional wedding photography is the emphasis on posed and setup looking pictures taken from the photographer.   In this style the photographer becomes somewhat of a wedding official, directing the flow of the wedding.  These type of photographers tend to work from shot lists and make sure every element is captured in the same way they usually capture it.  I know one photographer who even has each couple go through their cake cutting in the exact same way, right down to the groom taking a dab of frosting and touching it to the brides nose.   Key elements of the ceremony will likely be restaged to get various closeup and alternative angles of the ring exchange and kiss for example.

There are benefits to this type of photography style since the photographer is following the same routine they have followed many times before.   They have taken that cake cutting picture so many times they can nail it perfectly each time – to them it’s like shooting in the studio and the bride and groom are the models.  This type of photography is great for the couple who are most interested in those perfectly taken key posed photos.   They want the full run of family formals, posed wedding party shots along with the somewhat more cliche ones (now all the bridesmaids and groomsman jump, look shocked as the bride and groom kiss, etc) and of course table shots at the reception and are willing to design their timeline around the time this takes.

Now of course the the downside to this style is it can be very time consuming and the bride and groom will typically have less time with their guests and more time posing in front of the camera.   While the end results will likely look good they can be predictable and tell more of the story of how the photographer sets up the shots as opposed to any spontaneity of the day.

While this style is most often practiced by photographers who have been doing this for some time there seems to be a lot of newer photographers who do use this style – even if they don’t realize it.  They my pooh at the notion of “traditional” wedding photography yet have a portfolio filled with nothing but obviously posed bride and grooms.

An example of a nationally known photographer who in my mind is that best of the Traditional Wedding style is David Ziser.

You’ll most likely note the fact that while I offer many links for the styles listed after this I really only have one for this – and well that’s simply because it isn’t my favorite of styles.   I don’t like to browse traditional photographer styled websites and blogs as much so I just don’t have a bunch of links ready for them.   It is what it is.

Photojournalistic or Wedding Photojournalism

Wedding Photojournalism came about in the 90’s and is largely credited to Denis Reggie.  The idea being the photographer is there to capture the nuance and emotion of the wedding as it organically happens – to document the wedding as it unfolds – instead of a proactive and director of the wedding and wedding photos.  The emphasis is on story telling and capturing the moments instead of telling people where to stand and where to look.

This is a style suited for couples who don’t want to spend a lot of the day posing but rather want to an accurate capturing of the day to remember the day they planned, as they planned it and as it occurred.  They just want to savor their day and have photography that will capture the feel of their unique wedding and story.

There is a downside to this style as well in that since the photographer is capturing the day as it occurs the resulting images can be unpredictable and can vary a lot from wedding to wedding.   Since there tends to be less flash photography used in wedding photojournalism the results can also be poor in the hands of an inexperienced photographer without the proper cameras and lenses to shoot under those conditions.   It’s easy to be an “available light” photographer in a slightly overcast but bright day outside but it’s a different story when dealing with a dark church.

When it comes time to choosing images for albums some clients might regret not opting for a more traditional photographer and a stronger emphasis on posed and staged pictures, their parents often being the first to complain about the lack of traditional posed shots.   Famed wedding photojournalist Joe Buissink once said something like, “There is no perfect picture, only a perfect moment”, but honestly not every couple (or their parents) see it that way.

Some amazing wedding photojournalists (besides myself of course)

Denis Reggie

Joe Buissink

Jeff Ascough (his black and whites are a huge inspiration to me)

New to the list:

Kevin Mullins – A documentary photographer in England who uses the Fuji X camera bodies (my favorite digital and the the only digital bodies I have left).
If you look at Kevin’s article, “Shooting Weddings with a Fuji” you’ll get a glimpse of what these amazing little cameras can do and why they are my only digitals now.

At the opposite end of this if Jonathon Kohn a film photographer who has recently switched to shooting weddings entirely in B&W film with Leica’s and a Rolleiflex.  I adore his dedication to his art and style – is it for every client – heck no, but for those who swoon at this thought he is amazing.

Illustrative or Fashion Inspired

Note: This style is also sometimes called Fine Art wedding photography – but I think “fine art” can be used to described wonderful pieces of photography from many different styles so I prefer the term Illustrative.

This style is the newest and growing in popularity due to no small fact that many wedding blogs love to showcase this style of work because it does look like a illustrative shoot from a fashion magazine in many aspects.

The illustrative photographer produces images that reflect design elements by placing subjects in settings and compositions with backgrounds – as well as lighting and post production work – to give it that fashion shoot type of feel.   The style is somewhat mixed between traditional and photojournalist in how the photographer acts with the clients, giving more direction and posing than the photojournalist yet encouraging a spontaneous feel in their posing rather than a formal look.   The resulting images bring out more of the photographers artistic creative and compositional skills rather than merely capturing the moment or setting up the perfect shot.

To an extent this may sound like the best of both worlds to many couples – and in some cases it is.  It’s not as posed nor as spontaneous as the other two styles.   But it does have it’s own disadvantages as well.   One of the problems with this style is since it revolves so much around the photographers “artistic” style – the resulting images could have an over photoshopped and dated look to them in just a few years.   Right now texture overlays and 70’s looking faded colors are all the rage – but will that style last forever and if not do you want your photos to feel dated on your 20th anniversary?   The other drawback when it comes to photographers who do a lot of post production work is that their style and image processing tends to evolve faster than the other two styles.   The post production you fell in love with in their portfolio might be something the photographer shot last year and the images from your wedding next year might not be done in the same way at all.

Photographer in this style as I see it:

Jose Villa – Since he shoots mostly film I really love his work even if it’s not entirely my style.

Jerry Ghionis


Sallee Photography – emphasis on their artistic post production (photoshop) work

Styles and Photographers

In my opinion many photographers these days are slight blending of all of the above but with a preference to one style over the others.

For example I view myself as about 90% photojournalist – 5% illustrative and about 5% traditional to round it out, the illustrative and traditional being mostly seen in my medium format portrait work. .   The vast majority of the day I’m working on my own capturing events organically as they unfold without my interference or direction.  Even for something like a shot of the dress – I’m going to work around the story of the day – I’m not looking to create an advertisement image for the dress designer.

That doesn’t mean I think all photographers can shoot, at least not well, any of the styles.   When I see a photographer state how they’ll approach your wedding day coverage any way you want then I get the feeling what  I’m looking at is one desperate for work photographer who thinks being all things to all clients is the way to go.   If a photographer is that desperate for work it’s usually because they aren’t that good.

Couples – look at some of those sites above and get a feel for the differences of the styles and then look at the portfolios of the photographers you’re thinking about and not just whatever they call themselves, remember not every photographer even knows what their own style is or is using whatever name they think is currently trending to gather more clients (there’s that desperate photographer again).  Finding the photographer whose style you most want to see in your wedding photos the years following your wedding is vital to making sure you’re happy with the investment in wedding photography you make.

Photographers – be honest about your style and present it as it is.   Don’t worry there’s a lot of clients looking for everything and you’ll do better in business focusing on finding the right clients instead of just any client.  Stop thinking of style as nothing more than a google keyword to get more page views and focus on finding those clients that just love your style as it is.

Colorado Wedding Photojournalists