I’ve always struggled to answer this question in a way that doesn’t sound pretentious or overly “artsy”, so I’ve put together a quick (or not so quick, I got may have gotten a little carried away) guide to my style.
It used to be incredibly easy to fit photographers into stylistic “boxes” but these days it’s much more difficult. The incredible advances in photographic technology, combined with the easy accessibility of high performance gear has meant that the photographic community is now much larger, much more diverse, and broadly speaking, the quality of the work that is being produced is better and more varied than ever. This has turned the wedding photography community into a melting pot of ideas and styles that has only benefited the industry, but has made it very difficult to answer the question of what my style is – but I’m going to give it a shot regardless!
But wait, what are the styles of wedding photography anyway?
First and foremost, here’s a brief overview of the generally accepted “styles” of wedding photography along with some examples from my own portfolio. You’ll be able to see the distinction between styles, and how they are dependent on the subject and manner in which someone shoots a wedding day, and that “styles” that are primarily achieved in post production. This is by no means an exhaustive list; there are dozens of subsets and less common styles. This is just an overview so you’ll hopefully be familiar with many of the more popular terms when you’re searching for a photographer.
To get a better idea of this style, think of your parents wedding album. This style is quite posed and there’s very little movement in the photos with an emphasis on group photos and photos with you and your partner looking directly into the camera. Traditional photographers tend to shy away from candid moments and instead strive to manufacture a “perfect” image with perfect lighting and positioning in the environment.
Pros: Perfectly executed family portraits and details with a focus on creating stunning images without so much as a hair out of place.
Cons: Heavily posed and can often look very stiff and formal.
This one is exactly what it says on the tin. Film photographers may incorporate a number of different styles, but what really sets them apart is their use of film instead of digital. This style goes hand in hand with the fine art style.
Pros: Film just has a special quality to it. From incredible highlight retention to unbelievably forgiving skin tones, film just creates an image that digital can’t replicate. You can get 95% of the way there but it’s just not the same. For the same reason that music started to incorporate the skips and scratches of analog mediums into digital recordings, film (especially when photographing weddings) is phenomenal at capturing the imperfect moment.
Cons: No matter how you swing it, film is expensive. As of January 2022 a roll of professional medium format film will cost in excess of $45 to ship, develop and scan. That’s roughly $3 per photo. There’s a reason that photographers who shoot mainly film charge what they do. It’s just a requirement. That said, hybrid shooters like myself shoot film primarily as a color matching tool in order to get our digital files as close as possible to the scanned film negative.
The documentary style of wedding photography is the polar opposite of the traditional style. Focusing on unplanned moments in any lighting or environmental situation this style is all about raw emotion, candid imagery and unplanned moments. A photographer who shoots primarily in this style has learned to anticipate actions before they happen and be ready to capture it. This style above all others I believe requires complete mastery of both the camera and the editing process because there is no guarantee that the moments you want to capture are going to happen in a pristine environment with perfect light – more often than not it, will be in a dark reception hall or in mixed lighting (natural and artificial) which can create headaches in editing if they are not completely on the money with their camera settings.
Pros: Captures the raw emotions of the day with tons of candid imagery. Shows the “real” side of the wedding day.
Cons: The hands off approach of a Documentary photographer often means that images may not be lit well or in the “perfect” location. The documentary photographer cares about the moment more than the environment that the moment takes place in.
This one is more or less exactly what it says on the tin. A natural light photographer will only use available light to create images on the wedding day. This style relies heavily on good weather and ideal shooting locations.
Pros: Lots of soft tones during golden hour with a very warm, natural feel.
Cons: Unfortunately it’s not possible to pick the weather on your wedding day and not every space has enough natural light to be visually appealing in this style. Receptions are also notoriously dark, so a natural light photographer may be unable to shoot at all in that environment.
This style is all about drama. This is more of an editing style than a shooting style, so a Dark and Moody photographer may combine multiple styles while shooting. This style is mostly achieved through editing – someone may like VSCO to create a look with lots of heavy blacks and underexposed mid-tones. I don’t shoot this way often, so the photos below lack the editing style, but the lighting is very moody!
Pros: This style is quite popular these days with adventure and elopement photographers so if you’re looking to shoot on top of a mountain in Iceland, this might be the one for you.
Cons: It’s possible that this editing style might not age as well as you might hope. In much the same way as the “Vintage” trend from a few years ago after 10-15 years have passed and styles change your photos may not appear as timeless as you anticipated. That’s not this style isn’t a good choice, just something to keep in mind.
This is HUGE right now, especially in Charleston.
For this style, flat lays arranged from elegant details both stand alone as gorgeous works of art, but also fit cohesively into a larger gallery of work. In your gallery expect pastel tones, perfectly captured details, and maybe even a bit of film photography. On your wedding day expect a step up in direction from the Documentary style, but with room for candid and more “imperfect” moments. Keep in mind, though, that the popularity of the “Fine Art Style” has meant that almost any photographer who either shoots film or has a bright and airy feel to their work gets lumped into the Fine Art category – pay attention to their work and make sure the elements that are important to you are present.
Pros: If you have a lot of details at your wedding they will be captured perfectly by a fine art photographer. You’ll be proud to show off any one of these photos on your wall or in an album.
Cons: Can possibly be more expensive than other photographers if you’re looking for someone who shoots on film. Film and processing prices have skyrocketed in the past few years – some photographers report spending as much as $2000 per wedding on film. It’s completely possible to shoot entirely digital and still create this look; it all boils down to careful shooting and a polished editing style.
Expect fun, candid shots with a bit of direction and styling. A Lifestyle photographer will generally find the perfect spot for something to happen in, but then let that event run it’s course without much (or at least minimal) interference. Photographers that shoot in this style incorporate a lot of movement and fun into their work while still keeping an eye out for the perfect location and lighting.
Pros: Warm and inviting photos with a lot of natural smiles
Cons: Honestly? I’m struggling to think of any.
This is the wild card in the bunch. An “Artistic” photographer can range from simply using a lot of off camera flash for portraits, all the way to crazy edits and overlays on your photos. It’s a fairly catch-all category that can describe almost any photographer, but it’s used primarily to describe photographers that break out of the mold of what people generally consider the “wedding photography look”.
Pros: You’re going to receive some very unique photos that will be definitely stand out from your friends and relatives.
Cons: The photos may not be up to everyone’s taste. Make sure to view an entire wedding to see if the full gallery maintains a cohesive look or if they’re banking on just 1-2 portraits to sell their work. When I first started I was very much guilty of this. With a bit of luck anyone can take enough “cool” portraits to build a portfolio, but solid, cohesive full galleries are much more difficult to produce.
That’s a lot of information! Do you have any tips?
So then, why don’t you answer the questions Nick?
Fair point. Let’s go through them.
What percentage roughly do you shoot candid vs. posed?
In terms of delivered photos, I would say that roughly 90% of what we shoot on the wedding day is candid. We will often make sure that moments are going to happen in ideal locations, especially during the getting ready process when there might be clutter or bad lighting in certain areas of the room, but we try to avoid manufacturing moments. Instead we prefer to help set things up and then capture things as they play out.
How hands on are you on the wedding day?
We try to be as hands off as possible. You don’t want to feel like you’re being pulled in a million directions at a time, it’s your wedding day, you want to enjoy the process, so we’re minimally invasive while still being able to capture as much as we can in as ideal circumstances. For instance, we’ll make sure your dress is perfect in the more posed photos and we might ask that you put your dress on somewhere where the photos will have perfect light – but we aren’t demanding on the wedding day (or any other time for that matter) – we want you to feel as comfortable and stress free as possible while still getting beautiful photos!
Can you walk me through how you like to pose people during portraits?
Most of us don’t have much (if any) experience being in front of the camera, so my job is to make you feel as comfortable as possible so the images capture the love and fun of the day. To that end, I prefer to give you and your partner an idea of what I’m trying to accomplish and then let you work into that pose in a way that is comfortable for you – for instance, I might get you in position and then say “Pull her in really close and whisper something in her ear so that I can’t hear you.” I have no idea what some people say, but it’s always a big laugh or a huge smile and it results in a very natural image with just a little bit of set up.
Do you bring your own lighting in the event the available light isn’t ideal?
The weather in Charleston can change on a dime so we’re always prepared for any eventuality. From on camera flashes for the reception to the beautiful soft light of our Profoto strobes we’ve got you covered, even when mother nature doesn’t cooperate.
How much do you focus on the details of the wedding day?
You spend a lot of time and energy (and let’s be honest – money) making sure that your wedding day looks as good as possible and we would be failing to tell the story of the day if we ignored all of the little details and touches that make your wedding day uniquely you.
That’s great Nick, but this blog post is supposed to answer the question “What’s Your Style”. So… What’s Your Style?
I know that this isn’t quite as cut and dry as you might like, but my style is a combination of many of the current styles of photography. I pull elements like crisp, perfectly posed family photos from the Traditional style and immaculately styled flat lay’s and attention to the detail from the Fine Art style. My photos are bright, jewel toned and soft like a natural light photographer but we have the skill set and equipment to use artificial light to mimic those when the light inside and outside doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and do some pretty awesome photos in the rain to boot. We’re experts at capturing the moment and work extremely hard to capture real emotions and real love on your wedding day, but keep a hand in the process to make sure that we photograph the big moments in ideal conditions. Our editing is polished and clean which creates a very classic look that will look just as relevant on your 50th anniversary as on your 1st.