Documentary-Style Wedding Photography: Everything You Need to Know

When you think about your future wedding day, what comes to mind?

Think about the details. The weather outside. The excitement you feel as you get ready in the morning. The look on your loved ones’ faces when you finally walk out dressed and ready. The emotion in the eyes of your love as you walk down the aisle. The laughter during the maid of honor and best man speeches. Your guests having fun on the dance floor all night long.

Now imagine you and your love sitting together a few weeks after it all happens, looking through an album that documents the day exactly as it was. The moments are captured so vividly that you feel like you can relive them every time you look at the photos.

That’s what documentary-style wedding photography does.

More and more couples are choosing documentary-style wedding photographers to capture their day more authentically. In this article we’ll go through the ins and outs of this style so you can decide if it’s right for you—plus why you won’t have to worry about missing out on family portraits!

Quick Takeaways: 

  • Documentary-style wedding photography captures candid, authentic moments exactly as they happen.
  • It’s originally rooted in photojournalism, which shares news and history with the public through photos.
  • Documentary-style photography is best for people who want photos that capture natural and unposed memories—even the moments that don’t go exactly as planned.
  • Documentary-style photographers are still pros at taking those important portrait shots of your close family, friends, and bridal party.

What is documentary-style photography?

Documentary-style photography focuses on capturing candid and unposed moments in a way that tells the story of an event. Rather than staging posed photos, documentary-style photographers observe and record subjects exactly as they are in the moment. They seek to capture genuine emotions, interactions, and details in every shot.

Example of documentary-style wedding photography, showing two couples laughing together as they cut their cake.

It’s rooted in photojournalism, which originally emerged to document news and tell the stories of historic events to the public. Today, it’s evolved into one of the most popular ways to capture important real-life events. Important elements of documentary-style photography include:

  • Authenticity — The focus is on capturing real moments and people as they naturally exist without intervening or altering the scene.
  • Storytelling — Photographs are often arranged in a series or sequence, or intentionally taken to convey a narrative of the day or event.
  • Objectivity — The intent is to present a real representation of the subject as they are and/pr the event as it happened, avoiding manipulation or intentional posing.
  • Observation — Photographers keenly observe their surroundings, always at the ready to anticipate significant moments and catch small details others may not notice. 
  • Contextualization — Documentary-style photographers often capture photos in ways that provide context. In other words, someone can look at a photo and understand why the subject was feeling a certain emotion at the time.

For couples, choosing documentary-style wedding photography means they can be present the entire day—and this matters on one of the best days of your life! They won’t have to look back on their day and wish they didn’t spend that extra hour (or several) posing for photos they don’t even love, or wish the day wasn’t so fleeting because they had to be away from the action.

When you hire a documentary-style photographer, you can trust them to capture the moments and emotions that matter. All you have to do is be you and let them take care of the rest.

How do you know whether documentary-style wedding photography is right for you?

There’s one question to ask yourself: What kind of memories do you want to take with you in your photos?

This isn’t a trick question, either. There are other styles of photography that are also popular for weddings and can deliver amazing photos of a couple’s wedding day.

Some couples prefer staged photos. Maybe they have a list of specific poses and locations they want to be photographed on their day. Perhaps editorial style—an edgier form of posed photography—is what they are looking for from their wedding photographer.

But if your ideal wedding photos are natural, emotional, real, authentic—a true representation of the day, even moments that didn’t go perfectly as planned—then documentary-style wedding photography is probably what’s right for you.

Two bridges run through the rain in their wedding gowns.

But what about family portraits?

Not to worry! Your documentary-style wedding photographer will still be a pro at getting your family, bridal party, and other important people in your life together for portrait photos. After all, weddings are a special opportunity for families and friends to be together. Those large group photos are important keepsakes!

But documentary-style photography will also deliver you photos of you and your loved ones that capture the real connection and emotion you felt with them on that day. The group photos are lovely and often what families treasure for generations to come. But the candids are what will make you remember how you felt in those amazing moments.

Documentary-style wedding photography captures a bride embracing her maid of honor with tears in her eyes.

At Perennial, we take several important steps to be sure we don’t miss a single portrait you have planned. That way, we can get through them efficiently, be confident we got them all, and you can get back to your wedding! Here’s how we do it:

  • Months in advance, we send you a questionnaire to help us learn about your family, friends, and wedding party. We call them your VIPs.
  • We develop a portrait list far in advance and let clients double check that it’s complete.
  • We aim to build the majority of your photography timeline around the natural events of the day. We’re always prepared to catch the important moments, and we spend ample time talking with clients before the wedding so we know what’s most important to them.

The takeaway: You can trust your documentary-style photographer to get the most important portraits and poses, but still know that you’ll spend almost all of your day being present in the moment.

Let Perennial Capture Your Wedding Day Story

Choosing the right wedding photographer is such an important decision. You want to find one who photographs in your preferred style. But even more importantly, you want to go with someone you feel a genuine connection with. Someone you can be your truest self around, and who you trust to document a day you’ll always treasure.

At Perennial, it’s our mission to capture your day authentically—the way it really happens. We want to tell your unique love story through photos.
If documentary-style wedding photography feels right for you, we’d love to talk more with you about your upcoming wedding day. Get in touch with us today to schedule a call!

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