The documentary story of a day can be one of the most important parts of a wedding which will last for years to come. It is a huge responsibility and captures every part of the day, from the bridal party preparing in the morning, to the dancing; and from the wedding ceremony itself, to children playing and the families meeting.
My approach to documentary weddings can probably be summed up in some advice I wrote a while ago to a new photographer.
Always know what is happening next
Be ready for it in the right place at the right time with the right lens and settings. The best composed shots are when the subjects come to you and you are ready for them.
Know which photos to take
Time vanishes incredibly quickly at a wedding. You can take a photo of every single guest who hugs the bride and groom. You will then have 100 identical looking photos of the back of people’s heads and no pictures of the guests talking, the room they are in, the drinks or the decorations. Those first moments when people greet a newly wed couple can be priceless, but just get the best ones and then complete the story with some wide shots and details. Once the story has been told, look for another one.
Which brings us to…
Know who the important people are.
You can take the best picture in the world of the groom’s cousin’s boyfriend and the couple won’t care. But if there are no good pictures of the bride’s sister or mother you have missed some of the most important pictures of the day. Know who the people important to the bride and groom are. Talk to them about it and make a list. If you’re not sure who somebody is, ask a bridesmaid or the best man.
Try to make each picture count
Don’t just point at a subject and shoot continuously and aimlessly but think before taking each picture. Check the foreground. Check the background. We don’t usually notice these things when we are there, but in a photo they are always obvious. Take 300 excellent pictures instead of 3000 snapshots.
At a wedding the power of good documentary photography is rarely in an individual photo, it’s how they all fit together to make the whole day. Tell the whole story of the wedding day, and tell it well.