Wedding photojournalism seems to be a buzz term these days. I see photographers all over the Internet using the phrase to describe their work, sometimes accurately, many times not. So what does wedding photojournalism actually mean and is this something you want in a photographer?
“Illuminating the human condition,” my professor once told me back when I first started studying photojournalism in college. At that point, admittedly I had little idea of what he was talking about. I’ve since built an understanding of what he meant and how I identify as a wedding photojournalist.
“Photojournalism requires documenting people in action during genuine moments of their lives”
Put simply, photojournalism means documenting people in action during genuine moments of their lives –the key words being people and genuine. The main subject of a photojournalistic story is almost always a human being (as opposed to an object or an animal). The photos must also be honest, meaning the photographer does not
overtly manipulate the situation or alter the photo beyond basic editing (i.e. it would be considered unethical to photoshop out an individual or an object). The image must represent the scene as it happened.
The goal of photojournalism is to enable the viewer to have an inside look at the life of an individual in a given circumstance.
Photojournalism at its purest consists of no direction and with minimal influence on the situation – the photographer is only present to document what happens. Some wedding photojournalists won’t even move the wedding dress while the bride gets ready and will only photograph it where it hangs.
“Photojournalism allows you to act naturally throughout your wedding day”
Why Consider a Wedding Photojournalist?
Photojournalism allows you to act naturally throughout your wedding day as opposed to constantly posing. Weddings can sometimes be hectic. It’s nice to have someone there who lays low and is not always telling you what to do.
By staying low-key, a photojournalist is more inclined to capture sincere reactions. This is approach is more likely to result in touching photos that elicit emotion (for example your mother sheds tears from her eyes minutes before you head to the aisle).
As a guest myself at weddings, often times I see the photographer lower the camera or turn away when a special moment initiates. A photojournalist on the other hand will keep shooting, not missing an opportunity to capture a beautiful expression on the face of a loved one or a fun exchange between guests.
What if I want portraits in addition to candid shots?
Being a photojournalist does not mean shooting candid photos exclusively. Almost all wedding photographers, even photojournalists, shoot portraits. I’ve photographed weddings with some of Colorado’s most talented photojournalists, like Kent Meireis and John Hudetz, and even they pose their brides and wedding parties for at least some of the shots.
Portraits are important because we all want them. Perhaps it’s because we’ve grown up learning how to say “cheese” at family gatherings that we enjoy posing for group shots. As bride and groom it’s normal and completely expected to want formal photos with your wedding scene as a backdrop (after all, that’s one of the reasons you chose a beautiful setting).
Low-key is great but it is nice to receive direction every now and again. Your wedding is a once-in-a-life-time moment. It can go by quickly. At times you may not even be sure what to do or what you want. It’s nice to have someone there with wedding experience to occasionally give a little guidance.
How do you know if a photographer is a photojournalist?
A good sign of wedding photojournalism starts when you look at the portfolio and see candid laughter or intense emotion. You also want to feel as if you are a part of the moment that was photographed.
“You want to feel as if you are a part of the moment that was photographed.”
Wedding photojournalists often use natural light. This isn’t to say that flashes are forbidden in photojournalism (they certainly have a place). However photojournalistic style does require the ability to adapt to changing light without relying on flash. When viewing portfolios, look to see if there is variation in sources of light. You should see well-exposed photos whether indoors, during the twilight hour, or if the sun is high in the sky backlighting the couple.
A photojournalist will look for different vantage points to create unique photos. For example, I often find myself getting low to the ground when photographing tight groups of people huddling together. Or, when there’s a crowd of people dancing I’ll step right into the middle of the fun. The point is to show what it’s like being a part of the action.
If most of the photos in a photographer’s portfolio look similar (for example, numerous bright images with a soft focus and blurry background) then chances are, that photographer is not a photojournalist.
The same goes if you see many photos of people looking directly into the lens or the portfolio consist of mostly detail shots (for example, of the wedding cake or flowers).
Wedding photojournalists are photographic storytellers. Telling the story of your wedding day means capturing and presenting photos –without repetition— of all the important moments of the day, from getting ready, to the kiss, to the first dance and on through the reception.
One thing is for sure, not all wedding photographers are photojournalists. If photojournalism is something you want, don’t just assume a Google search will bring you accurate results. Take time to browse through several portfolios and look for photos that give you a sense of the moment.
Kevin’s background is in photojournalism and is passionate about telling the stories of others through photography. You can view his photo stories at KJMphotojournalism.com. When asked why he loves wedding photojournalism, Kevin responds:
What energizes me about wedding photojournalism is that each wedding generates new opportunities for unique and intriguing photos.