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Why Is Wedding Photojournalism So Popular?

Today's post is an ex
cerpt from the book Wedding Photographer's Handbook, by Bill Hurter. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

One of the reasons wedding photojournalism has taken off in popularity is that it emulates the style of photography seen in the bridal magazines, like Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, Modern Bride, and Town & Country. Before brides even interview photographers, they have become familiar with this type of storytelling editorial imagery.

Even if a shot is scripted, its execution will be much less formal than in past years. This image by Brian Shindle captures a spontaneity that is quite appealing.

A big reason for the backlash against traditional wedding photography i
s the “sameness” of it. When this type of scripted coverage is employed, similar if not identical shots will show up in many different albums done by like-minded photographers.

Another reason for the similarity is the types
and numbers of formal group portraits. Even with the most elegant posing and lighting, shots can look similar if they are arranged similarly (e.g., bride and groom in the middle, bridesmaids and groomsmen staggered boy-girl to either side). In contrast, when a wedding photojournalist makes group portraits, he or she might make them from the top of a stairwell, or put all the subjects in profile marching down a beach, or have them do something otherwise unpredictable and different. This results in more personalized images and greater variety. Today’s bride doesn’t want “cookie-cutter” wedding photographs. She wants unique, heartfelt images that tell the story of her important day.

Another potential drawback of the traditional typ
e of wedding coverage is that all those carefully posed pictures take lots of time. In fact, the bigger the wedding, the bigger the bridal party and the bigger the list of “required” shots to make. As a result, the bride and groom can be missing for a good part of their wedding day while they are working with the photographer. The less formal approach leaves couples free to enjoy more of their day.

In this aspect, the photojournalistic system has mutual benefits. While the bride has more time to enjoy her day, the photographer also has more time to observe the subtleties of the wedding day and do his or her best work. I have heard many photographers say that brides and family have told them, “We don’t even want to know you’re there,” which is just fine for most wedding photojournalists.

So much of what is included in today’s wedding photographer’s skill set comes from the world of editorial and fashion. This shot by Becky Burgin is a classic fashion image treated with split-toning by printing master Robert Cavalli.

Because the traditional photographer intrudes on the naturalness of the scene, the coverage is structured and in the view of many, fictional. When the photojournalist covers the same event, he or she does so without interference and intrusion, allowing the scene to unravel with all of the spontaneity and surprises that will occur at such wonderful events. As a result, the photographer tends to be quietly invisible, choosing to fade into the background so the subjects are not aware of his presence. The event itself then takes precedence over the directions and the resulting pictures are more spontaneous. Many wedding photojournalists even photograph groups with this non-intrusive approach, preferring to wait until things “happen.”

Despite the advantages of wedding photojournalism, photographers who still provide traditional coverage argue that the photojournalist’s coverage produces below-average photographs. Indeed, one must acknowledge that some of the most elegant features of traditional portraiture are being thrown out in
this creative new approach. After all, the photojournalists can’t possibly be as in tune with posing and lighting principles as the masters of the traditional style. Even in many masterful bridal portraits taken by skilled photojournalists, the trained eye may observe poorly posed hands, a confused head-and-shoulders axis, unflattering overhead lighting, and so on. As a result, formal and casual techniques are intermixing more than ever, allowing both photographers and brides to benefit from the best of both styles.

This mixing is particularly evident in group portraiture. The near elimination of formal group portraiture in photojournalistic wedding coverage is now swinging back the other way. All types of wedding photographers are making more group portraits. The main reason for this is that groups sell, and sales mean increased profits. Also, failing to offer such coverage limits the photographer in his or her professional approach. As a result, photographers are offering brides more options, including posed formals. Because the choice is theirs, brides (and their parents) seem to be ordering them.

The difference between this shot and a traditionalist’s version of the same subject is that the photojournalist prefers to capture the unscripted action as it occurs, much like the stop-action coverage of a sports photographer. Photograph by Michael Schuhmann.

Marcus Bell can make himself disappear into the woodwork. Here an exhausted bride and groom take five without a hint that Bell is recording the scene.

The nature of formal photos is changing, as well, adapting more informal posing and lighting techniques in an effort to preserve the same carefree, relaxed attitude found in the rest of the album. You will also see group portraits made with much more style and elegance than the traditional, straight on-camera flash you saw in wedding groups only twenty years ago. Again, brides are demanding ever more sophistication in their photographs.

Yes, the classic poses are fading in consideration of a
more natural style. However, greater attention to posing fundamentals seems to be evident, as well. After all, these techniques represent time-honored ways of gracefully rendering the human form and revealing character. In the words of Monte Zucker, well known around the world for his traditional wedding portraits, “Photographers are well aware of this [divergence], so they’ve combined a little of both. My particular style of wedding photography still comes from the fact that I’m more interested in faces and feelings than I am in backgrounds and trends.”

The nature of formals is changing, incorporating elements of traditional styles with a more casual look. Here, an unusual pose and composition along with pristine lighting and exposure make this Drake Busath image an award winner.

This combined approach opens up the best of both worlds for the bride and groom. With an adherence to formal posing principles comes a type of classic elegance that is timeless, with the finely tuned skills of anticipation and observation, on the other hand, the photojournalistic coverage unearths more of the wedding day’s wonderful moments. By pairing both approaches, wedding photography is expanding its horizons, and the quality and character of wedding coverage is better today than at any time in the past.


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