We’ve all flipped through well-worn wedding albums of parents, aunts and uncles, and even grandparents, chuckling at dated hairstyles, handlebar mustaches, peach taffeta bridesmaids dresses, and powder blue tuxes. Wedding photojournalists might contend that these photos wouldn’t seem so out of style (hideous wedding gowns and bad male perms aside) if more emphasis had been placed on the un-styled, un-planned moments of the wedding day, rather than the prescribed agenda of highly organized groups of people staring at the camera.
On the contrary, naysayers insist wedding photojournalism is merely a trendy, passing fad that disrespects the venerable traditions of the classic posed shot. They point out that tradition, and true photographic quality, is often sacrificed for grainy, natural-light candids that claim to be "art."
Others scoff at the idea that tears and laughter recorded forever will soon be going out of style. “When real life goes out of style, we’re all in trouble,” says WPJA award winner Peggy Bair. “When is that ever going to go out of style? Real moments – you can’t fake them.”
Bair argues that when people look back at their wedding photographs, they’d like to remember what they felt at the time, not just what they looked like, which is surely to be out of date 20 years later. What really matters, she says, is the actual experience the photographer is documenting.
“I think people want to experience real life as it happens. They want to remember their wedding day, without someone asking them constantly to move or stand a certain way,” she says. “They don’t want to remember the photographer making him dip her back like that. They want to remember the spontaneous moment — the real moment.
“Then they can say, ‘That’s what I look like when I’m really living my life. That’s who I really am,” she says.
Bair adds that there are trendy photos out there posing as wedding photojournalism.
Today’s “trendy” wedding photojournalism happens when a photographer takes photos that have become expected in the genre. “Someone decided that it was photojournalistic to take a photo of the dress hanging on a hanger. Now every photographer takes a photo of the dress, and it’s not [wedding] photojournalism anymore,” muses Bair.
Other, au currant photo poses to be wary of: dipping the bride; the jumping bridal party; tilted horizons (“tilting photos does not make you a photojournalist,” she says); and close-up detail shots. “Don’t just take a picture of the shoes, and then say, ‘OK, I got that.’”
“We can look back at the 70s and 80s and say, ‘Oh that’s so passé,’ but we’re doing it again, just with a different set of pictures,” Bair notes.
Brides and grooms need to understand the difference between real wedding photojournalism and the trends some photographers are buying into, according to our experts. If you are adamant about documenting your wedding in a photojournalistic style, make sure you communicate your wishes to your photographer, so he or she doesn’t feel pressured to get those canned shots, and can instead focus on the real moments, happening organically, without direction or interruption.
Wedding photographer Joe Milton says since none of the popular styles — traditional, portrait photography or wedding photojournalism — is going anywhere; that it’s more about understanding the differences so you don’t get caught up in the fads.
“Usually my clients have looked at several photographers, and they’ve looked at websites – and they’ve picked me, specifically saying they don’t want those posed shots that they’ve seen in everyone else’s album,” he says. “They don’t want those cliché photos — the groom dipping the bride in front of a mountain, the brides veil thrown over the groom’s head. They already know that they don’t want the experience of the photographer being in charge and directing the whole day; they want someone to record it.”
Advice to brides and grooms: do your research, and then ask yourself some questions — and be honest. Do you want your wedding photographer to have control of how you look? Do you want him or her to be directing you during the day? Or are you the type of people who would rather not worry about the photographer, but instead have someone who is there to document the day as it happens, free from interference? Are you confident enough to let the moments speak for themselves, or do you already know how you want the photographs to look, and you simply need a photographer to help you set them up and capture them?
Another WPJA award-winner, Marc Climie, maintains that there’s more to picking a photographer than simply picking a style; that each photographer brings characteristics to the job that will influence the photos. “The traditional photographer is more apt to mingle with the crowd, talk to people, and interact. It's his or her personality,” he charges. “The documentary photographer is more of an observer, watching people react and interact.”
It’s that observing eye that captures the reality of a wedding — the real moments that you’ll remember years later when flipping through your photos. Does he think that’s a trend? “I believe there is beauty and art in reality,” he says simply.
“It is a fad no more than a mother standing back in awe of her daughter's beauty is a fad, no more than a tearful father walking his daughter down the aisle is a fad, no more than life is a fad.”
— by Meghan McEwen for The Wedding Photojournalist Association