Documentary Wedding Photography – Explained!

You’ve probably seen the word ‘documentary wedding photography’ or ‘reportage wedding photography’ while searching for your photographer. But what does that mean and what are they photographing throughout a wedding day?

Here’s a full guide to documentary wedding photography & what I photograph on a wedding day. From the moment I arrive all the way through the ceremony, couple’s session, reception and dancing.


What is documentary wedding photography?



To me, documentary wedding photography is taking photographs of what things felt like and not just what they looked like.

Documentary photography is defined as the kind of photography that chronicles events that are significant. This term was used in a more ‘significant to history & news’ kinda way. But I like to think it suits describes wedding photography really well. Because, weddings are definitely significant!

Documentary wedding photography captures things as they happen, without intervention, or posing. There are no studios with lights and no asking you to do things over and over again.

You won’t find loads of assistants running around either. And there’s very little interruption to what is happening to ‘get the shot’. To be honest, it’s really more about telling the story as honestly and authentically as possible.

So for me, a documentary wedding photographer would be someone who intervenes as little as possible throughout the day. Capturing and documenting the day exactly as it happens, with very few staged shots and interruptions.



Is it the same as reportage wedding photography and wedding photojournalism?


Documentary and reportage photography are part of the same photographic style. If you’d like, you can think of ‘documentary’ as the umbrella term for all of these different types of photography.

Another way of thinking about reportage wedding photography is as “storytelling”. It’s the wedding photographer’s job to tell the complete story of everything happening.

So, for example – during the wedding ceremony some traditional photographers might grab a few staged photographs of the couple. But a documentary wedding photographer might notice a child acting silly in the aisle or a grandmother wiping away tears.

Most documentary photographers will start shooting a few hours before the ceremony, and probably stay late into the evening. This way, they can make sure that they’re telling the full story of the day.

If you’re curious to know what I photograph on the day – keep on reading!

A good photographer won’t just focus on what everyone else is looking at. They’ll look beyond that at everything else going on, and tell stories no one is even noticing.


And candid wedding photography?


Again, I think these are all just similar terms under the ‘documentary umbrella’. But, I think ‘candid wedding photography’ is a lovely way to describe all the photos of guests.

Candid photography really describes that split second moment where someone is acting natural and not directed at all by the photographer.

In wedding photography this is most often seen when guests cry, laugh out loud or react to speeches.

A good documentary photographer is trained to seek those moments out, and to spot people laughing, crying and having a great time. And your wedding album should be full of those!


What will my wedding photographs look like?


If you’ve hired a documentary wedding photographer your photographs should have plenty of documentary, natural and candid moments in them. They should  be like a mini movie with every moment, laugh, reaction captured.

You might also see a lot of movement in your images and split second moments. There might also be close ups of interesting details that help support the wider picture. For, example, a hand being held – or a child asleep under a table.

You can see my favourite documentary wedding photographs in my portfolio. 



Do documentary wedding photographers still take group pictures?



It’s quite difficult for a wedding day to be completely and utterly documentary. There will be moments where you would want some direction.

For example, coordinating large family groups definitely requires some intervention and direction from your photographer.

When you do your couple’s portraits on the day, it’s very likely that your photographer will give you some cues and direction to help you know what to do.

After all, most of us aren’t used to being in wedding photos or being photographed for multiple hours a day.


What do Documentary Wedding Photographers photograph all day?

A lot of wedding photographers are at weddings anywhere from 8-14 hours. So you might be wandering what they’re doing all day?

Well, keep reading to find out and to hear some examples from my 8 years of experience!


Wedding Photography Storytelling


If I’m there early enough, I’ll start telling your wedding story from set up and capture the decor you’ve chosen and lovingly put together before your guests start fiddling and moving things around.

Whilst one of you are getting ready, I’ll go hang out with whoever wants to get ready first and gently encourage them to get ready & keep to time while giggling at whatever shenanigans they’re up to!

You might be sitting in a chair somewhere finishing last minute bits of planning while people buzz around you getting you ready.

My first favourite moment of the day is when you get into your wedding outfit surrounded by your closest people. There’s this tiny moment where the magnitude of the day hits you and I love it. Some quick portraits and we’re off!


Unobtrusive Ceremony Wedding Photography


I’ll get there before you do and figure out where I’m going to stand so that I can be in two places at once when you walk towards your human.

Then I become invisible. Ok, not really, but I pretend I am as I tiptoe around you making sure I’m getting a full visual of your ceremony. Your face, their face, your guest’s faces, all the reactions and all the emotions.

And then, so quickly it’s suddenly all over!

Yay! You just got married! Queue confetti, music & cheering! Have you ever been hugged by 40 people in less than 10 minutes? (Get ready, cause that’s what happens…)

I’ll get the shots that no one realises I’m getting. For example, your best friend beaming, little kids running around while your uncle is trying to get a photograph for the family WhatsApp group. It’s all part of your day. 



Will There Be Any Posing During the Portrait Session?


After your ceremony, I’ll grab and wrangle everyone you’ve requested photos with, ticking off all the combinations making sure everyone’s eyes are open.

Family photos are actually my secret wedding day superpower and I smash these out in 10-20 minutes!

You’ll probably grab a nibble & some Prosecco and then we’ll spend 30 minutes to an hour together. This is the first time you guys really get to hang out on your own and take in the fact that you’re finally married!

So I like to let you revel in it, directing you as much or as little as you need to make sure you’re comfortable and enjoying your time together while I’m snapping photographs of your love – just as it is.

The more time we have, the more locations we can try, and the more shots we can get.

There’s never any awkward posing – rather some gentle direction making sure that you feel comfortable.


Reportage Photography at the Wedding Reception


Now, you get to walk into a room full of your favourite people!

We’ll normally go straight into speeches, toasts and reactions – I’ll covertly ninja around the room and capture everyone’s face when it’s beaming with joy, wiping away a tear or bursting into laughter.

I’m also basically your shadow for the night, I’ve always got you in my line of sight and ready to swoop in at a moment’s notice to capture you hugging & laughing with Great Aunt Sue.


Relaxed Wedding Photography


Whatever you’ve got planned – I’m prepared.

Throwing the bouquet? Watch me lunge to capture you throwing & your bestie catching.

Cutting the cake with a sword? I’m totally ready!

Choreographed a first dance? You’ve never seen someone swop lenses so many times in 86 seconds. Swaying together awkwardly? I love it.

And when the dance floor starts pumping, I’m all up in it – especially when Paul Simon comes on! Tricking your guests into thinking I’m dancing along, when really I’m getting pictures of them having the best time of their lives.

While everyone’s dancing around or drinking up, I’ll disappear for a bit, do a bit of scouting & set up a beautiful night time photograph for you to take a break from it all and soak in the gloriousness of your wedding day.





And that’s a pretty good idea of what I might get up to in a full day of documentary wedding photography.

You can see why I love doing what I do and why I wear comfy shoes to every single wedding.


Related Posts:

How to Choose a Wedding Photography Package
How to plan a Wedding Timeline


If you’re still a bit confused – let’s get on a call and I can talk you through it!

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