The different wedding photography styles – short version!
As photographers we talk about different styles of wedding photography using photography terms and industry jargon, but overall you just need to find a photographer whose photos you love for whatever reason, then speak to them to find out if the way they plan to work on your day sounds like something you want. You don’t actually need to know what their wedding photography style is called – if it makes you feel something then reach out to that photographer for more of a chat.
If you want more info about the different styles and photographer jargon, carry on reading.
Wedding Photography Styles – Look and Feel
You’ll see words splashed across photographers websites like ‘documentary’, ‘fine art’ and ‘adventurous’ but first I want to talk about look and feel as this is what you’ll probably have in mind right now when you’re thinking about the style of wedding photography you want – how does it look, and what does it feel like? Over the years I’ve seen a lot of wedding photographers work as a trainer, mentor, community leader and awards judge, so here’s the way I think about wedding photography in terms of look and feel and I think you will want to decide between these ‘look and feel’ wedding photography styles:
Light and Airy Wedding Photography Look and Feel
Sometimes you’ll see this called ‘fine art’ style. Usually the colours are more pastel tones, and the photos are generally lighter, brighter and more ethereal, and often the photographer will favour natural light as opposed to using flash or other artificial lighting. Something to bear in mind with this style is the time of year you’re getting married and how much of your wedding is taking place indoors – if you fall in love with the light and airy style, then have a good chat with your wedding photographer and ask to see a good range of photos from them – make sure they’re not just showing you photos taken in perfect light, for example at sunset.
Dark and Moody Wedding Photography Look and Feel
There are a lot of wedding photographers around who shoot in a dark and moody wedding photography style. They like to play with the light to create something which often doesn’t look like things might have looked to the eye at the time. You might also see this described as ‘cinematic’ wedding photography. There is quite a bit of this moodier photography in my portfolio but I like to provide a lot of variety whereas some photographers will edit all their photos with a dark and moody feel. Maybe you like this style but you don’t want all your photos to be dark and moody – a good start is to ask your wedding photographer to see a full gallery and have a conversation with the photographer you’re thinking of booking for your wedding.
Neutral or Natural Wedding Photography Look and Feel
This is the vast majority of wedding photography – the photos are a natural and accurate representation of how things looked on the day. Even photographers who favour light and airy or dark and moody wedding photography styles will have a large proportion of their full galleries in a more natural style, with variations in editing technique which I’ll talk about more below.
My Wedding Photography Style as ARJ Photography®
I like rich vibrant colours, and I have more dark and moody style photos in my portfolio than I do light and airy ones. But the vast majority of my wedding photos are of a natural style, with my own signature look applied when I’m editing or post-processing the photos so they don’t look or feel run of the mill.
I can’t decide which look and feel I like best! Help!
Many photographers will actually show a combination of styles in their full galleries, while showing more of a certain style in their portfolio or on their blog posts. Don’t say no to a photographer because they show a couple of darker, moodier photos or vice versa. What I will say is shooting in a dark or moody style, or a light and airy style is how that photographer sees the world, so it’s not a case of simply asking them not to do that! If you’re worried, look for something less artistic and more neutral.
Top tip: there will be a photographer out there with the perfect blend of styles for you – you might just have to spend longer looking! Have a look through their portfolio, then take a look through some wedding blog posts, then drop them a line and have a chat!
Wedding Photography Styles – Photographer’s Approach
Ok what I’ve broken down above is what I see as the three main styles of look and feel and that’s largely what you’ll be using to assess whether you like someone’s photos or not.
The next thing you really need to think about is the wedding photographer’s approach to making photos, and the impact that may or may not have on your day.
Whether you want group photos or couple portraits or whether you want a totally hands-off photographer who will show up, take photos, leave you to it and go home…
Documentary Wedding Photographers
You’ll see this on A LOT of wedding photographer websites. So what does it actually mean? Documentary wedding photography (you might also see terms like ‘candid’ or ‘reportage’ or ‘photojournalistic’) is when a photographer captures the reality of your wedding day without interfering. There are some photographers who will blend documentary wedding photography with the other styles mentioned below, and some who take a more purist approach and will not try to have any involvement or influence on the day itself.
Traditional Wedding Photographers
This is a less and less common approach these days, but traditional wedding photographers will often shoot more formulaically, wanting to capture similar moments (often staged) and details (for example shoes and flowers delicately posed). They will often spend a good amount of time capturing formal group photos for you, and a formal or traditional set of couple portraits. Often, traditional wedding photographers won’t refer to themselves as such, but you’ll sense from their portfolio that there’s a more formal and formulaic approach.
Creative or Artistic Wedding Photographers
Creative or artistic wedding photography is where the photographer will apply their own vision to the way your wedding is captured, often using the light more creatively or looking for more interesting compositions. This will also often be the category that the dark and moody photographers put themselves into. This style is often blended with a documentary approach and referred to as ‘creative documentary wedding photography’ and is how I would describe my own approach. These photographers will often want you to make some time in your day to make couple portraits and will be happy to also do some group photos, although many will help you keep the group photo list small so it doesn’t impact heavily on the natural flow of your wedding day.
Now I’m confused! How do I know which style of approach is right for me?
- Want a lot of group photos or staged photos and want to have a good idea of what you’re going to get before the wedding? Look for a traditional photographer.
- Don’t want traditional but want some group photos and couple portraits? Look for someone who blends creative/artistic photography and documentary photography. Often called ‘creative documentary’ wedding photography.
- Not keen on doing any group photos and don’t want to be taken away for any portraits either – look for a pure documentary wedding photographer.
Top tip: forget what you think wedding photography is ‘supposed to be’ and think hard about what kind of wedding photos you actually want to remember the day with forever. Times have changed, and wedding photography has changed, there’s no such thing as ‘normal’ wedding photography any more, and as this is going to be how you remember your wedding day for the rest of your life, pick the style that suits your personalities and how you plan to enjoy your photos for years to come.
Wedding Photography Styles – Editing/Post Processing
Photographers will hate me for saying this, but think of this as the ‘filters’ which are applied to your photos back in the photographer’s studio. Every experienced wedding photographer will have their own style of photo editing and here are some things to be aware of on your search:
Natural Colour Editing
Some photographers won’t play with the colours or tones too much at all and you’ll get a pretty accurate representation of the colours as they were in real life. This goes hand in hand with the Natural/Neutral look and feel style I described above.
Custom Colour Editing
Many creative/artistic wedding photographers will apply their own colour palette to their photos and this is often what gives the slight variations you’ll see and feel between different photographers work. If you favour the creative/artistic style you’ll have to spend a bit of time looking at how the photographer uses colour and whether you like it – pay particular attention to skin tones (after all, wedding photography is people photography) and things like trees, grass and flowers as there’s been a trend in recent years to almost entirely remove greens and yellows so trees and grass look more muted and in some cases, almost grey.
I have a custom colour editing style because I like clean, warm skin tones and rich, vibrant colours.
Black and White Editing
Not many wedding photographers will edit all their photos into black and white, but some do I’m sure. The majority of wedding photographers will edit a proportion of your wedding photos into black and white, usually for a good reason. If you really love black and white photography, then look for a photographer with a higher proportion of black and white in their portfolio, or bring it up when you chat to them and ask if they’d be willing to edit more of your photos into black and white.
Remember: ask to see a full gallery
Editing style, and colouring can be a cause of complaint so make sure you like a photographer’s editing style before you book. The colouring and editing used is often a deep part of the wedding photographer’s vision and isn’t something which can easily be tweaked afterwards, so be sure you love the editing on their portfolio, blog posts and a full gallery before booking if you’re not sure simply from the blog post or portfolio.
Wedding Photography Styles – Summary
- Look and feel: do you prefer light and airy, dark and moody or a more natural feel?
- Style of approach: do you want traditional, documentary or creative (or creative documentary) – think about what you want and not what you think wedding photography is ‘supposed to be’.
- Editing style: pay attention to the skin tones as well as grass, trees and flowers, and make sure you see a full gallery especially if the photographer has a very distinctive editing style, so you can see how it looks across a full day.
I hope that’s helped you understand the wedding photography styles on offer!