True Wedding Photojournalism
SO MUCH MORE THAN A BUZZ WORD
Photojournalistic & Documentary are probably the most overused “buzz words” in the wedding photography industry. Especially in the Philadelphia area. At some point, everyone thought they needed to be a photojournalistic/documentary/candid photographer to book weddings. When in reality, most couples DON’T want a truly photojournalistic wedding photographer and most photographers AREN’T truly a wedding photojournalist. It such a weird phenomenon to have clients looking for this style who don’t really want it. And booking photographers who don’t actually photograph that way. I decided to create this article to help simplify this for the couples out there looking for real storytelling and true photojournalism in their wedding photography.
Everything you read in this article does not account for what my couples want to do in regards to posed portraits, family formals, and wedding party photographs. I DO capture those photos for my clients. I will help you two allot the appropriate amount of time during your day for these posed photos to make sure you get everything you want! The article below is in reference to what happens during the other 7-11 hours of your day! Check out this article for information on optimizing timing for portraits – “Perfect Wedding Day Timeline”
WHAT IS WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALISM
Remember when I said that most couples don’t actually want a truly photojournalistic wedding photographer. That’s because you could consider this style, the anti-Pinterest wedding style. The focus isn’t perfectly posed glamour portraits. It isn’t spending 1-2 hours on inanimate detail photographs. It definitely is not directing you to the perfect spot for every supposedly “candid” photo all day long.
What true wedding photojournalism is all about, is telling your actual wedding story! No direction, no posing, no staging, just the real story of your wedding day in photos. The reason I say that I’m one of the last pure wedding photojournalist in the world is because even the photographers who practice this in theory, still prompt you where to stand and interrupt moments to move you to better lighting or compositions. I don’t believe in this. I believe, that if you’re hiring a wedding photojournalist, you’re hiring someone to document the real moments, however they are happening, because that is what makes them real! BUT, and a huge BUT, if you’re reading this, you probably value wedding photography and are willing to invest in someone who can make those real and genuine moments look better than if they were posed or stage! The best of both worlds!!!
Every single photo you see on the Salt and Sonder Studio website, that isn’t a portrait (we will do those to! If you want to), is 100% unposed, unstaged, and undirected! All the emotions, moments, tears, and laughs are truly genuine. I had nothing to do with it besides being present to click the shutter. The people in these photos had no idea I even took the picture until they saw it after the wedding.
MORE THAN JUST THE COUPLE
Most wedding photography tends to focus exclusively on the couple. You can scroll through a full wedding gallery of photos and 90% of the photographs have the couple in them. Nothing wrong with this at all! However, I’ve found most of the couples who really love wedding photojournalism appreciate how my galleries aren’t just about the two of them. It’s also about the people who are there to celebrate this momentous occasion with them. This is because these people, and sometimes animals, are such a big part of your real wedding story and your lives! We will get into the pre-wedding process in a minute. But during that process, almost all of my couples tell me so many amazing stories about the people coming to their wedding. For me, these stories have to be documented to properly tell your story.
THE “SONDER EXPERIENCE” & SAMPLE PHOTOS
As you can imagine, documenting a wedding day in a true photojournalistic fashion is not easy. I can’t just plop you in front of perfect window light and tell you to look over your left shoulder as someone laces up your dress. Or tell you to stand in front of a window, staring GQ/Vogue style out at Philadelphia while you adjust your bowtie or play with your ring. That would not be telling YOUR story. That would be telling MY interpretation of what a wedding should look like. Or creating you a Pinterest board.
To be able to tell your unique story, I really need to know what is important to the two of you. That is where my process is so important leading up to the day. You’ll get so many questionnaires from vendors and every photographer will send you a questionnaire, but the ones you get from me are a bit different and of the utmost importance! These will give me a glimpse into your lives and what will be the most important events, people, and emotions, on your wedding day. From there, we will have what is probably the most extensive phone call of any wedding calls you need to do by far. But this is what gives me all the little and amazing moments to be on the lookout for when we get to your actual wedding day. Creating amazing photojournalistic photography takes time. So the more time I spend on moments, and people, that really matter to the two of you, the better the end result.
I could write pages about this subject and why it’s so important to truly know who you two are. But no one would read that. So these are a few photo examples that show how amazing the results of this process can be.
This photo may be my favorite photograph I’ve ever taken. It’s far from a “perfect” photograph. But that is so irrelevant when you understand the photograph itself. During one of our calls, it came up that this was the church Drew’s parents had got married in. It’s also the church they went to as a family growing up. Sadly, her mother had passed away before the wedding. But she mentioned to me how her and her father both felt like her mom was always looking down on them when they were in this church.
Fast forward to the wedding day, I knew how important this moment was to Drew and her father so I stayed in the back of the church to document him walking her in. While the 2nd photographer was in the front of the church photographing the processional. As they opened the door to the church and walked in. The sunlight from the doorway lit up the stained glass figure. I saw it out of the corner of my eye and quickly shuffled back to include the stain glass window in the composition. This moment lasted no more than a second or two. By the time I had moved back to include the stained glass figure, I was able to take one photo. This photo. They then walked down the aisle and she got married.
These are the moments that make me tear up to this very day and are the moments why I absolutely LOVE to photograph weddings the way I do.
On a lighter note. Sometimes, one person in the couple isn’t quite as talkative as the other. So I don’t have as much information about what matters to them as I do for the other person. In those situations, I make sure to NEVER miss anything that I have listed for the quieter half. While talking to John, I noticed an underlying theme in what was important to him, besides his now wife of course. He kept coming back to his lifelong friends, since 1st grade, and the groomsmen. How much they meant to him. How they all loved drinking whiskey together. And how they will be friends for life.
When this photo was taken the dance floor was at full swing. In the beginning of my career, I’d be on the dance floor photographing whoever was the center of attention. Now, I know better than to assume that is important. Instead, I had been keeping an eye on John’s group of friends and when they headed to the bar to order shots of whiskey, I knew I just had to be patient and wait for them to grab John. Because of the process leading up to the day, I knew with 100% certainty they wouldn’t enjoy this moment without him.
This a great example of why you should hire a professional wedding photojournalist if that is what is important to you two! This is pre-ceremony, during the downtime that I can’t recommend enough HERE. Typically this is break time for photographers. But this is where I feel like I capture some of my favorite photos. Jennifer & Brittany were in the waiting area at the American Swedish Museum in Philadelphia with just their families. Leading up to the day Jennifer told me how much she loves the way Brittany looks at her. Brittany, at another point, told me how much she loves to just take Jennifer in. Listening back to our call the morning of the wedding (something I always do), I knew I HAD to capture this look or I wasn’t doing my job!
As always I never direct. So everyone came into this room and got settled. From there I found the composition I liked and realized this was the perfect time to capture “the look”. I also knew I wanted to add Brittany’s parents to the composition because it enhanced the story. The problem with wanting a moment that specific, with 4 people in the frame, is you need everyone to be doing something flattering when that specific moment happens. When I teach I always talk about patience. Know what matters and have patience! I took around 100 frames total over about 20 minutes. I casually stood there with my camera at my hip, composition and focus locked in, and casually fired off a handful of frames every time I saw Brittany give Jennifer “that look” out of the corner of my eye. Since my cameras are silent. Brittany and Jennifer literally thought I was just standing in the room waiting around with them. They had no idea I was capturing a photo that represented them as a couple so perfectly!
Grandparents. Sometimes they are extremely important. Other times, they aren’t as important as the couple doesn’t really know them that well. It’s always different but it’s always something we discuss before the wedding day. This Grandfather was super important to the couple though. Something I pride myself on is never losing track of a “VIP”. In this scenario, the couple was hosting a receiving line in the back of the church when I realized he wasn’t present. I knew from the process leading up to the day that he had a difficult time getting around so I immediately checked the church pews. That lead me to this moment, which was a finalist for a “life moments” article by National Geographic! The only wedding photo in the group.
I’ve had comments on this photo that it’s sad. To me, he seemed very content and happy that he had just witnessed his grandchild get married. It was almost a serene moment for him. Something he was just beyond grateful for.
First looks with your significant other and first looks with parents scream “staged for wedding photos”. I’m working on breaking that trend though! We talked about how important Stephanie’s father was to her leading up to the day. How he meant the world to her. During that discussion she mentioned that she really wanted to have a first look/reveal for him. His own moment on the wedding day. With Stephanie wanting a purely photojournalistic approach, I recommended to just do it like you never hired a photographer. As if it was happening for just you and your father, not for a pretty picture. Mind blowing isn’t it!?
In typical wedding photography, even typical wedding photojournalism, this would be staged. Stephanie would have been told where to stand and her dad would have been given instructions on what to do when he entered the room. This would most likely mean that she is placed in the window to my left. And her father is instructed to walk over to her and turn a certain way before taking the moment in. I can’t imagine making you think about your “marks” before taking in a moment like this! Is Stephanie in perfect lighting, no. She is actually in pretty bad light. By just letting this unfold, her father is in perfect lighting and Stephanie’s goddaughter, his grandchild, decided to peek in through the door.
This photo took home a prestigious gold award, 4 out of 4 votes, by the Wedding Photojournalist Association.
With true wedding photojournalism, it’s not always about epic emotions. Sometimes it’s about including extra information into the composition which take it from a nice photo, to a nice photo that is truly meaningful. When talking with Meredith before the wedding it came up about how her veil was the same veil her mom wore on her wedding day. I love diving into details like this because it’s another way to show generational significance in a photograph. Even better, to get her mom holding the veil in a photograph with her! Of course there are the photos of her mom putting the veil in. But every photographer worth the weight of their camera would take that photo. Couples hire me to take it to the next level.
Having all of this fresh in my mind from listening back to their call the morning of the wedding, the second I saw her mom fiddling with the veil in the corner of my eye, I knew I needed to step back and include her in the composition. It isn’t much. But it’s enough to make a big difference in the finished product that I’m able to deliver to my couples.
First, if you’re looking for a wedding venue in the Philadelphia area and haven’t checked out the Inn at Fernbrook Farms, you should! It’s one of my favorite wedding venues in NJ.
With that said, this moment made me so happy! Henry was another one of my quieter grooms and didn’t have much to share leading up to the day. The one thing he did share, multiple times, was how important his family, and specifically his mother, are to him. It was a big part of the day to have her there as she was flying in from the Philippines. Unfortunately, she got sick traveling to Philadelphia and was under the weather the day of the wedding. She ended up not making it to the first look or family formals and didn’t arrive until minutes before the ceremony. When this photo was taken, I had the coordinator telling me I needed to go to the ceremony space so they could start. Well they can’t start without Henry, and there is absolutely zero chance I’m missing this photograph knowing how much it means to Henry. This moment lasted maybe one minute. It ended up being the only one on one time mother and son shared the entire day. This is why I love what I do!
Alone time. This may be one of the most important topics we discuss leading up to the wedding day. I think that any time the couple can steal for themselves on a wedding day are some of the most precious moments of their lives. Which probably makes for some of the best photographs for them to cherish for years. However, it can be a very private moment that I don’t want to just assume I can be there for. So we talk in great detail about how and if they want these moments captured.
Tim & Elena decided they wanted just that, some alone time! As I mentioned, I never lose track of VIP’s. And who is more of a VIP on a wedding day than the couple!? When I saw them both get up from their head table and head to the door I slowly made my way out behind them, making sure to give them plenty of space and privacy. It ended up that they were heading to the riverfront to take in the sunset. I stopped short by about 50 feet and captured a few frames. This being my favorite and theirs.
I got really excited when Nick & Caitlin told me they had been curating a collection of fine whiskey’s since the day they met, specifically for their wedding. In my head I had all these amazing documentary photos I was going to capture that tied this whiskey bar into their story. Then we got to the wedding day. The bar was only open for cocktail hour and we were rapidly approaching the end of it. I had yet to get a photo of either Nick or Caitlin at this bar. The bar they had spent years creating!!! As is common on wedding days, time can get away from couples as everyone wants to say “hi”. Meanwhile, I was panicking a little! Were they every going to get a whiskey??? Of course I won’t stage it, that’s not me. Instead I just waited until finally, with the coordinator ushering him in to the reception, Nick made his way over to the bar instead and I was able to capture this photo for him.
This is why the process we got through before the wedding day is SO important. If this had been a normal vendor call, it wouldn’t have even scratched the surface let alone got the point of understanding why this particular whiskey bar mattered. They literally started planning for this when they first met!!! Toasts started the second Nick got his drink. He was holding everything up and everyone was annoyed that I wasn’t where I needed to be for the start of the toasts. But they aren’t going to do toasts without Nick. And I’m not going to miss this photo because I know what the story is!
What is Photojournalistic Wedding Photography?
True Wedding Photojournalism may or may not be for you. And there is nothing wrong with that! But hopefully this helps to clarify what true photojournalistic wedding photography looks like and what it is all about. It is so much more than just a “Buzz Word” to throw on a website. I could go on and on with photos like the samples above. But I have some more articles to write and as I sit here, waiting for this 2020 pandemic to come to an end, I know that I will also have so many more of these types of photographs to create in the years to come! Which I’ll update this article with in the future!