What's the Difference?
While seeking out a wedding photographer, you may have found by now that there are a multitude of different wedding photography styles - and it can certainly be daunting.
"Can't we just find an affordable wedding photographer who does a good job? Why does it matter?"
Well, style matters to (most) wedding photographers, because we are artists who are following our dreams. (That's why we business owners start our own businesses in the first place - to do what what we enjoy most.) And so, as with all of your wedding vendors, you should try to find a wedding photographer who's vision matches yours. If you love candid moments of laughter and tears, for example, but you hire a classic, traditional wedding photographer, you may be unpleasantly surprised when you see your photographer not capturing any real moments on your wedding day and only picking up the camera after they've set up a shot perfectly. They aren't going to capture, for example, all of those hugs between you and your bridesmaids after you've come back down the aisle from the ceremony. That's just not going to happen.
Or, if you want your photographer to spend 15 minutes setting up that perfectly classic, fine art shot of your rings inside of your bouquet - but you hired a wedding photojournalist - you may be sorely disappointed when the shot of the rings shows them exactly however you had them sitting on the dresser, untouched by your photographer (and let's hope the boxes are actually open, because otherwise, forget it).
Point being, there is a wedding photography style for everyone, and they are not all the same. To get you started, The Knot, the Emily Post Institute, Here Comes the Guide, Junebug Weddings, Fix the Photo, WeddingWire, Lin & Jirsa, Hitcheed, and even Martha Stewart all have articles describing different wedding photography styles. It can be confusing at times, certainly, because some styles seem to blend together and overlap, like "artistic photojournalism" or "dramatic editorial," and any one of the styles could fall under "natural" depending on the scene. "Documentary" is simply another word for "photojournalistic," and, with so many "lifestyle" wedding photographers out there, why is that style left out of most lists entirely? Plus, so many wedding clients think wedding photography styles consist of "light and airy," "dark and moody" and "looks like film," etc - those are editing styles, not shooting styles, but still something to consider!
"I've never been married and have never worked with a wedding photographer before. I don't even know where to begin. How in the world can I choose between all of this?"
Well, to find out if we're the right fit, instead of using the word "style," one of the first questions I'll ask is, simply, "What are you looking for in a wedding photographer?"
If you say, "I want every photo to be perfectly set up. I don't need that many photos . . . I only want the most artistic, flawless photos for my album and gallery wall. I want my wedding photographer to use a shot list and only take the photos that are on that list," that means you're looking for a traditional, classic style. And within that classic style are the myriad of other forms - "editorial," "high fashion," "fine art," "dramatic," and "commercial," etc. I will say that if this is your answer, I'll point you in the direction of an associate of mine (I never ghost clients - if we aren't the right fit, I will help you find someone who is. Wedding planning is hard enough!).
But, if you say something like, "I want a photographer who will capture the day authentically, and not force us to pose or direct us all day. . . someone who will photograph everything as it unfolds in the most artistic, natural way possible, but not miss any real moments," that means you're looking for either "photojournalism" (a.k.a. "documentary"), or "lifestyle" (a.k.a. "candid"). And both of these styles are right down my alley.
With Lifestyle, yes, I'll put the rings in your bouquet if you want me to, but with Photojournalism, I won't - so let's talk about the differences now.
What is Wedding Photojournalism?
According to the Wedding Photojournalist Association, wedding photojournalists are "telling the story of a wedding, not directing it." Now, most wedding photographers will present themselves as people who want to "tell your story" - even traditional, classic wedding photographers! So, watch out for that. Also know that most wedding photographers are not wedding photojournalists. Other than during the formal portraits portion of your day, a wedding photojournalist is never going to direct you to pose, is not going to touch your things, is not going to tell you what to do or where to go or how to stand, and is going to be as invisible as possible. A wedding photojournalist will be capturing the scene exactly as it is without inserting themselves whatsoever, looking for the best angles for light, composition, and creativity to tell the true story of the moment in the most artistic way possible - with you hardly even knowing they are there. If that sounds a little freaky-stalker-ish, check out this myth-busting article by the WPJA here.
What is Lifestyle Wedding Photography?
60 weddings ago, I set out to be a wedding photojournalist, specifically. I just wanted to capture real, authentic moments. But, more often than not, my clients also wanted some direction. I almost always get asked, especially during the "getting ready" portion of the day, "What should I be doing right now?" In the beginning, as a wedding photojournalist, that would throw me off completely. I would stutter and say, "Uh, do whatever you would be doing if I weren't here," before slinking back into the corner as unnoticed as possible. Okay, now please forget I'm here so I can capture this moment authentically, I would think to myself.
Lol. As it turns out, that's just not the answer most people are looking for when they ask that question. So these days, I've gotten quite comfortable with and used to giving direction when asked. Now, I'll say something more like, "Let's have mom and your bridesmaids help you into your dress!"
And so this, I believe, is how "lifestyle" wedding photography was born. According to Wikipedia, "Lifestyle photography is 'posed' in a way that the photographer gives some direction and then documents the natural responses after. [...] Lifestyle photography is about telling a story through the lens." As a lifestyle photographer, I'll clean up your hotel room before shooting it, I'll hang up your wedding dress outside, I'll set up the rings inside your bouquet, I'll tell you where to stand and which direction to face, I'll stop you before your bridesmaid puts your shoe on so we can work out the angles, etc. I'll tell you what to do, then I'll capture you doing it (and I'll move your stuff around so it "looks" better for photos).
So, while I didn't set out to be a "lifestyle wedding photographer" - in fact, I had no idea that style even existed until I had all ready shot plenty of weddings that way - over time, most of the weddings I've shot have followed the "lifestyle" pattern, with me providing clients with gentle guidance when asked. I also now have (most) clients fill out a shot list of their most important / desired set-up photos ahead of time, and I do direct clients much of the day when needed, while still capturing all of the images that I want to capture - all of the heartfelt, emotional moments that make my world go round, make my dreams come true, and are the reason I became a wedding photographer in the first place. (After the death of my husband in 2016 - and my best friend also took her life in 2013 - suddenly, life became so much more precious, not just the lives of my own loved ones, but the lives of anyone I have the blessing of coming into contact with.) I still hold onto the dream of being a true wedding photojournalist for any client who comes along who really does want that style. If you appreciate real life as much as I do, I would love more than anything to be that photographer for you. :)