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THE EVOLUTION OF WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

Five generations of Americans have revisited special moments in their lives by looking through photographs, most especially of their wedding day. But early to mid-20th-century brides and grooms have only memories of their weddings because their photographers simply weren't there.

Early cameras were large and bulky and portable lighting equipment non-existent, tethering photographers -- and bridal portraits -- to studios. All that changed by World War II when the 35mm camera, roll film and on-camera flash hit the scene, transforming first war photography, then photojournalism and eventually wedding photography. After the war, military-trained photographers and amateurs trolled wedding parties snapping candid photos they'd sell to delighted bridal couples. That flushed wedding photographers out of the studio and onto the wedding day scene. But still, wedding pictures were posed and moments like cake slicing carefully staged.

Leafing through glossy magazines in 1940s and '50s, young couples and photographers began to see something new: candid, intimate photographs of celebrity and royal weddings taken by photojournalists. Sure, there were formal poses, but many photos captured the moment, for better or worse. Like the 1943 Life magazine photograph of 54-year-old, serious-faced Charlie Chaplin fumbling with the wedding ring as he tried to place it on the finger of his 18-year-old fourth wife, Oona O'Neill -- an endearing moment frozen in time.

Photograph by george martell

Photo by George Martell

In 1956 Americans were treated to photographs of a happy-yet-tentative Marilyn Monroe laughing while feeding cake to her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, on their wedding day. Also that year magazines worldwide gave the royal treatment to the grand wedding of actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco, devoting full-page spreads to candid moments, such as a pensive Princess Grace gazing over a balcony before the ceremony and the couple exchanging rings.

It was bound to happen. Invite photojournalists to a wedding and they'll do what they do best: get the story through the most candid, often humorous, touching photo record imaginable. Artful images of unfettered moments have universal appeal, and these early photographs helped spark a new genre of wedding photography. Decades later this documentary approach has evolved to what it is now: a popular option in wedding photography that captures the story behind the ceremony. Today it's available to everyone, not just celebrities, and photographers don't have to be journalists to capture the look.

Photograph by huy nguyen of wedding dancing

Photo by Huy Nguyen

Mindy Myers, a Des Moines, Iowa, USA, photographer and member of the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA), has earned a degree in journalism, but primarily photographs weddings and family portraits. She got into wedding photography when she went to friends' weddings armed with a bridesmaid dress and camera. "I could see that the photographers weren't getting the real moments of the day," she explains. "One of the first pictures I ever took was when a couple was at the altar and sitting in the pew behind them was a frail, old grandfather watching," she says. She turned her camera away from the couple and photographed him because in his face was the look of familial happiness, an important part of the story.

For those wedding photographers who are photojournalists, their journalism background often informs choices they make when shooting weddings. WPJA member George Martell of Boston, MA, USA says working as a staff photographer for the Boston Herald for 17 years (he now shoots weddings full time), taught him how to sense when something is about to happen. "Years of experience help me know when a moment is coming. I never go for clichés, only the moments in between."

Capturing ordinary moments on one of the most transforming days in people's lives is what wedding photography is about for wedding photographer Huy Nguyen of Dallas, TX, USA, a former staff photographer with The Dallas Morning News. His photojournalism background taught him to create images that transcend the specific to become universal, so that anyone looking at his powerful wedding pictures will be moved.

While traditional wedding photography tends to impose order and structure to the day, a photojournalistic style takes advantage of unscripted moments in order to better tell the story. That's what attracted photojournalist and WPJA member Karin von Voigtlander of Rochester, N.Y., USA, to the field. "I was a couple of months out of college and looking for a job," she says. Wedding photography was not an option -- too staid for her taste. But then she saw online WPJA founder David Roberts' wedding photography and realized she could marry her training as a photojournalist to wedding photography. Now she balances her photojournalism work at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle with wedding photography.

Photograph by josef isayo, california of bride and groom walking on long stairway

Photo by Josef Isayo

Three years ago, the photojournalistic style caught the eye of Josef Isayo, a Los Angeles, CA, USA-based wedding photographer. Isayo was working as a photojournalist for The Seattle Times and Denver Post, among other publications, when he discovered the photojournalism style in wedding photography and it changed his mind about weddings. Now, he approaches weddings as he did editorial assignments. "I don't have an inventory of things to shoot. I shoot with my emotions."

And he credits brides and grooms for furthering the evolution of wedding photojournalism. "Weddings are more exciting to shoot today because people are more visual now," he says, and that carries over to location, fashion, and details, like flowers. "People want art photos. They want something better than their parent's wedding pictures."

— by Lorna Gentry for The Wedding Photojournalist Association