Commissioning Wedding Photography

What is Wedding Photography?

To many wedding clients, this might seem a strange question to pose, because after all, wedding photography must be, by definition, photography taken on your wedding day. Well yes it is, of course. But such a simple perspective glosses over how much wedding photography has changed in the last fifteen years; and indeed, even today why it means one thing to one wedding couple and a completely different thing to another.

Years ago, a wedding photographer was a technician who owned a mystical black box that very few other people would have been able to operate. Wedding couples were employing this person to produce a few nicely exposed, technically correct, record shots of the big day. And the photographer might have even attended up to six weddings in one day.

In 2009, virtually all wedding guests own a camera capable of producing well-exposed images at very little cost. So the digital revolution has meant the role of the professional wedding photographer has needed to change considerably. More importantly, technological advancements have given photographers the flexibility and empowerment to offer something radically different. This has attracted different type of people into the profession and resulted in the general standard of wedding photography improving significantly compared to previous generations. At their very best, wedding photographers offer stunning images that tell a narrative in a very artistic, flattering and evocative manner.

But at the same time, the economics of setting up as a wedding photographer via the internet now means that the range in quality and diversity of photography has also widened immeasurably. It is no longer right to say all wedding photography is same, and no longer right to assume all couples desire the same photography.

A Guide to Photographic Styles

A benefit of the internet is the ease in which you can examine the work of a large number of photographers. Surf through just a few photographers' websites, and not only will you come to terms with the range in calibre, but also the proliferation of photographic styles. Many of the terms used to describe these styles can also be confusing because they are used interchangeably and sometimes inconsistently.

Reportage photography  is also referred to as photojournalism or documentary photography; and is often used to describe an unobtrusive approach in which the photographer does not direct the wedding couple or guests at all. Instead the photography captures the flow of the day  - in a creative way as possible - as it would naturally happen.

Traditional wedding photography is probably the most confusing description, but many people use it to depict old fashioned line-ups of wedding guests and family. But it is also used to describe any photographic posing of the couple.

Contemporary wedding photography (sometimes confusingly used interchangeably with reportage photography because it is modern!) can refer, for example, to poses with modern, urban or colourful backgrounds. Or perhaps because the image has a strong camera tilt, an avant-garde feel, or simply just that it contains a new innovative fashion pose.

My advice is not to get hung up labels. First, the labels can be sometimes more confusing than helpful. Second, styles of photography often do not fit neatly into one category or another anyway. Third, it gives the impression that wedding photographers offer, or should offer just one style throughout the wedding (indeed I get bored listening to photographers' arguments about which style is superior).

My view is that weddings are rarely suited to just one style. Photographers will typically need to draw on many skill-sets during the day. Photographers cannot for example, start posing couples - or ask them to move to a better light - during the wedding ceremony. Equally, it is very rare for a couple not to expect some photographs within a formal framework which shows them in their best light. And even the most modern of weddings will still have a few traditional family shots.

Many photographers will of course excel in one type of skill over the other and indeed emphasise and market it. I often describe my own style as classical with a fashion edge, although I have to rely on a mix of genres - including reportage - during the day. I emphasise the importance of directed photography, because, within the very tight time scales of a wedding, I think that it is important to spend at least 30 minutes partially directing/posing the couple away from the attention of the guests. The key objective for me here is to give the couple flattering, fine art photographs that they will probably never have taken again.

Choosing Your Photographer

As a couple, the key starting point for choosing your photographer is your aspiration for the photography. Some couples see photography in much more traditional sense: they would like a professional, reliable record of the day; but they do not want to interrupt the flow of the day too greatly.

Other couples love photography in its own right, and having a creative and evocative set of photographs - particularly of themselves - is an important and integral part of the day. They might be aiming at high end photography.

Once you are clear on aspirations, examining photographers' galleries for quality and style is much more important than descriptive labels as we have seen. But galleries merely represent the photographer's best work, so it is important to also ask to see whole weddings to check for consistency and to see how the style translates itself into the different requirements of the day. Wedding couples and guests are not on a photo shoot, but there to celebrate the day and party, so it would be unrealistic to expect a whole set of images from a single wedding to look the same as the photographer's portfolio!

Photography awards are another guide to the quality of a photographer's work, and you would expect him or her to be a qualified member of a professional body such as the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) in the UK.

Equally importantly, as you will spend a fair amount of time on your wedding day with the photographer, you should ensure that you have a good rapport - and that you share the same photography goals. As well as photographic flair, you and your guests are likely to value a high level of experience, organisation and professionalism on the day. Finally you will need to consider the album ranges offered.

Budgeting For Photography

It is, of course, impossible to advise generally on the appropriate level of budget. But what should be given careful consideration is the allocation of your total wedding budget between the competing elements of your day.

Professional wedding photography will shape your memories of the day. You are entrusting a particular photographer to use their skill to represent your day through their eyes. Wedding planners often tell me about couples who regretted not allocating more of their budget on wedding photography. In fact, the wedding planners who I work with often advise clients to budget for a few high-end suppliers and, if necessary, cut back on guest numbers.

The price of wedding photography sometimes surprises prospective wedding clients. But is stands to reason that the scarcer the skill the higher the price that can be commanded by the best photographers. It should also be borne in mind that photographers need to plan the day, shoot the day itself, and then spend at least two further days on processing the images and designing the album. Ultimately you have to make a decision on the importance of high quality wedding photography and consider whether it is a price worth paying.

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