How To Choose a Wedding Photographer: Part II

{Lillian & Leonard Photography, London, UK}

Last time we talked about How To Choose a Wedding Photographer (Part I), we covered the basics of portfolio gazing: lighting, composition, storytelling. In short, we covered what to look for when you reach a wedding photographer’s website. But sometimes portfolio gazing can be the easy part. If you’re like me, the hardest part of finding a wedding photographer is figuring out what the heck you want to begin with.

Part of the reason that I offered to write this series for APW is because I have a unique position in this industry (at least the awesome and more alternative part of it). I was a bride not too long ago (though jeez, it keeps moving further away), I photograph weddings for a living, and I spend the rest of my time editing reader weddings on this site. In short, I spend a lot of time working at, looking at, and thinking about weddings and marriage. But since I experience weddings in this triangular kind of way, I simultaneously care about and know a lot about wedding photography, while also understanding that it’s just a small piece of the puzzle to getting married.

I also have a healthy understanding of the shortcomings of my particular industry. I don’t think that you need photography for your wedding (professional or otherwise), or that a certain kind of photography is better than another. But I do think that if you do care about photography and want professional photos as part of your wedding, the wedding photography industry can make it difficult to find someone you gel with. Sometimes photographers will use the same words to describe different styles of photography, while others will have similar styles and call themselves something totally different (we use the word “modern” like the WIC uses the word “vintage”).

{Lillian & Leonard Photography, London, UK}

So I thought that for Part Two of How To Choose a Wedding Photographer, it might be helpful to talk about the different styles of wedding photography, what keywords you can use to find and/or identify certain kinds of photographers, and what might be some of the benefits and drawbacks of each kind of photography. I’ve used work from APW photography sponsors to give examples that I think exemplify each style (though keep in mind the photographer’s overall portfolio might not be in that style, or in one style exclusively). Simply put, these are things I wish I’d known when I was planning my own wedding.

Photojournalism: Just about any photographer who shoots candid moments unobtrusively will at one point or another call themselves a photojournalist. (Guilty as charged, myself.) But photojournalism is one of those words that’s been thrown around so much it’s lost a bit of its meaning. In short true wedding photojournalism evolved as a style when photojournalists (photographers working on assignment for news outlets) weren’t making enough money in the field, or didn’t want to work in the field any longer, and took up wedding photography professionally. Naturally, they were shooting from a completely different perspective than the traditional wedding photographers that preceded them (who focused more on perfectly lit posed portraits) and the result was a kind of wedding coverage that looked like it could have been shot on assignment for The New York Times.

{Studio Mathewes, Johnson City, TN}

The Benefits: A photographer who approaches your wedding as a photojournalist will give you pure documentary coverage of your wedding. If you aren’t the kind of person who likes posing, this is your jam. Since the focus is on documentary, a wedding photojournalist will spend most of their time hanging back and capturing the action as it happens.

The Drawbacks: While most wedding photojournalists will do portraits, a true photojournalist will place minimal emphasis on posed portraits, arranged details, or other staged elements of the wedding. So if you’re looking for extensive or creative portraits, someone who identifies as a pure photojournalist may not be the best fit.

Keywords You Might See On Their Website: Unobtrusive, candid, natural light

{Beck Diefenbach, San Francisco, CA}

Fine Art: Fine art wedding photography, to me, is sort of like that Potter Stewart quote about porn. It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it. But that doesn’t really help you does it? Fine art wedding photography is another one of those terms that, like photojournalism, gets thrown around a lot in the wedding industry. Much of the time, it’s a way for photographers to tell you that they want to make photos that push beyond documentary and into art. But I think fine art wedding photography is more about the photographer than the photograph itself. Many fine art wedding photographers have a background in either art or photography, with a majority having some classical training or experience in a darkroom. And while formal training certainly isn’t a prerequisite for fine art wedding photography, it definitely shows in the end result. The best signifier of fine art wedding photography, in my opinion, is that it can be both a wedding photo and a standalone piece of art (the kind that makes you briefly consider whether or not it would be weird to hang someone else’s wedding photo in your house).

{, Atlanta, GA}

The Benefits: Fine art wedding photography is BEAUTIFUL. And chances are, if you choose a fine art wedding photographer, your photos will not look like anyone else’s. Also, many (though definitely not all) fine art wedding photographers shoot with film, which has a different look and feel than digital.

The Drawbacks: Fine art wedding photographers shoot documentary style, but they are often looking for a different way to tell a story (such as shooting you getting ready through a window) so if the occasional abstract or creative composition isn’t your style, fine art photography might not be either.

Keywords You Might See On Their Website: Artistic, creative, medium format, natural light

{Jonas Seaman, Seattle, WA}

Epic Wedding Photography: Okay, so I might have made this term up. But I definitely didn’t invent the style. Epic wedding photography is exactly what it sounds like. Epic. Wedding. Photographs. The hallmarks of this style are usually dramatic backdrops with impeccable lighting, and images that have a level of intensity not usually seen in other wedding photography styles. Epic wedding photography is just as much about the location as it is the couple, so epic wedding photographers are usually well skilled in lighting techniques that make the most out of these locations. The end product is dramatic and editorial.

{Patrick Pike, Yosemite, CA}

The Benefits: If you are getting married in a location that features dramatic landscapes, or intense architecture, epic wedding photographers are usually very skilled at producing editorial images that capture the essence of these locations.

The Drawbacks: In order to get such technically perfect images, there is a certain level of setup involved in epic wedding photography. And while I don’t think we’re talking hours here, if you aren’t someone who enjoys getting your photo taken, then you may end up feeling like you’re over the epic photo before it even starts.

Keywords You Might See On Their Website: Editorial, modern, dramatic, composite

{Patrick Pike, Yosemite, CA}

Modern Traditional Photography: Fine, I might have made this term up too. I actually think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find true traditional photographers these days (except maybe in smaller towns where the industry hasn’t caught up to the trends yet). However, I do think that there is a new style of photography emerging that’s somewhere between traditional and twenty-first century. The emphasis in this style of photography is on the portraits. That said, these photographers also pay close attentions to the details of the day, often photographing with the intent of putting together a printed album afterwards. The best part of modern traditional photography is that you get the classic style of traditional photos (read: nothing wacky or too artistic) without the intrusive posing of old school traditional photography.

{Emilia Jane Photography, Chicago, IL}

The Benefits: These photos are the most likely to look like your parents photos, just updated. If you like classic, clean imagery, these photographers are going to be the ones to deliver it to you. Also, if you have spent a lot of effort on the details of your wedding, modern traditional photographers put an emphasis on capturing them and making those details part of your wedding’s visual story.

The Drawbacks: One of the great aspects of modern traditional photography is that it promises consistency, but sometimes consistency can mean that your portraits will look very similar to other clients (though that’s certainly not always the case). This can either be a benefit or a drawback, depending on what you’re looking for in your wedding photography.

Keywords You Might See On Their Website: Modern, classic, editorial, details

{Elissa R. Photography, Austin, TX}

Now, if this post does nothing except make you worried that one of these styles won’t be right for you, don’t worry. Most photographers are a hybrid of one or two or three and some don’t even fit these categories at all. Predominantly, I think the majority of wedding photographers (at least the ones you’ll see on this site) approach the day as photojournalists, but really throw their personal style into the portraits. So an epic photographer is not going to stop you on the dance floor and position you better for the lighting. And a fine art wedding photographer isn’t going to deny you family portraits because they aren’t interesting enough. But when things slow down and it’s just you and your partner and the photographer, that’s where you’ll see their point of view the most.

And, of course, at the end of the day, if you’re hiring a professional photographer, the APW photography rules we suggested in the last post are still true. Do you like the photos and do they make you happy? Do you like the photographer and do they make you happy? Done and done. You can forget about the rest. (Pro tip: The first rule is actually optional if you want photography, but aren’t a super visual person.) But hopefully, at the very least, this information will help a little bit as you attempt to slay the almighty Google beast and find a photographer who is a good fit for you.

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  • Leila

    Thank you for this! This series has arrived a tiny bit to late for me (already put down photographer deposit), but it is helping me to attach words to the “feelings” I get when I look at the different styles of photography. Weirdly enough for me, internally my biggest photography battle has been engagement photos (which btw were thrown in w/ the photography bundle as part of a special….I so shouldn’t be justifying this ;)). I really like the idea of us having nice non wedding photos, seeing that most of our photos are generally 60% me/ 20% him/ 20% us. But engagement sessions have been getting more and more over the top lately and it feels in a way so superficial that I want this. But I guess going with the awesome “Pressure to be practical” post that it is okay to sometimes embrace something that you understand may be unnecessary, but want anyways.

    • Maddie

      The funny thing is, I think engagement photos are one of those things that the industry has both photographers and clients fooled on. Like, when I first started shooting weddings, I assumed that all my clients wanted really elaborate engagement sessions with lots of props, and a full editorial setup, because that’s what I kept seeing on blogs. And of course I think couples assume that they have to do something “really interesting” or else their photographer won’t want to shoot it. And in reality, neither party (for the most part at least) has any idea why they think this is necessary.

      Engagement sessions can be awesome, if you want them, for the pure fact that you get great photos of you and your partner in non-wedding clothes (and it gets you comfortable with your photographer! Which is actually really helpful if you’re camera shy).

      So anyway, I say embrace that sh*t. It’s not as crazy to want them as the industry makes it seem.

      • I totally just did an FAQ post on my blog today about why I think engagement sessions are important for couples to do with their wedding photographer… but I’m not sure it is okay to post that here? Anyway – I think they are a fabulous thing to do with your photog! What better way to know you’ll rock the photos on the wedding day than getting a practice run?!

        • Diane

          Christy, loved your blog post. The blog made me want to hang out with you — I also love Wisconsin fall, apple orchards and pumpkin patches, was raised a die hard Packer fan, and went to med and grad school in Madison. We pretty much ruled out a fall wedding due to concerns about football schedules. So seeing this recommendation from you was particularly meaningful, thanks for that! Now if only Texas could manage Wisconsin fall…

          • Diane!! We’re kindred spirits! Love it! :) So I’m sure you were screaming at the TV on Monday as well then? :) Also, you’ll have to come back north to enjoy some of the gorgeous fall we’re having!

          • Diane

            OMG don’t even get me started on Monday night. I can handle losing fair and square but that? Grrrr… My mom says that the weather has been spectacular lately. Texas is finally cooling off to typical Milwaukee summer weather but no real fall in sight.

      • meg

        I personally think they are MOSTLY about getting to know your photographer and getting comfortable in front of the camera. We skipped them officially (Emily of Emily Takes Photos did some unoffically, though I need to, cough, do something with them probably right about now…) But I’d be happy LIVING in front of a camera, so I didn’t need that practice. Most people do need that practice, and I think that’s the real reason for them (plus, pretty pictures!)

        • Yeah – that is totally what I said in my post today! :) For people who are nervous in front of cameras it is a great way to build confidence/comfort, and an awesome way to get to know your photographer even better! :)

    • Emily

      Totally agree with Maddie. Before getting our engagement pictures, Hubby and I had seen so many elaborate, beautiful, and intricately planned engagement sessions, we thought we had to do this. We were even considering doing one engagement shoot where we took pretty pictures, and a second where we did a “story,” similar to the zombie engagement session that that was floating around the internet earlier this year (which was totally awesome, BTW). But as we are lazy and ran out of time to do more than plan cute outfits, we just showed up, looked good, and had a regular day with our photographer. We don’t normally go for picnics in the middle of a magical clearing in the woods, surrounded by vintage furniture and fanciful props. So instead we snuggled on his parents’ beautiful riverfront property, had coffee, and read books in the library. Our photographer just followed us around doing normal things, and we totally love our pictures! (It also helped that we totally loved our photographer, and that she was a close friend of my MOH whom we had become acquainted with on non-wedding-related terms long before hiring her for this gig). It set us up for an awesome wedding day, and the photographer felt more like part of the wedding party than anything!

    • As a wedding photographer, I’m torn with this. When couples ask me “what are engagement photos for?” I’m normally at a bit of a loss. People either want them or don’t – I”m hard-pressed to come up with a good reason why they should do them.

      In my own work, I’m always trying to get rid of the artifice. I normally ask my couples to choose a meaningful location for them – something that is going to resonate with their ten-years-older selves. I end up shooting in peoples’ neighborhoods or where they met, etc. I think that adds another layer that can decrease the narcissism of it.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We did engagement photos because we knew we were having an engagement announcement published in the papers and wanted a photo to go with it. None of our friends and family felt comfortable taking one. We do not have a bridal brigade full of talents with direct wedding-planning application.

      We set them up for People’s Park and Moe’s Books in Berkeley. We didn’t want anything elaborate, but if we were going to have un-posed, or seemingly un-posed photos, it had to involve books, and I knew a manager at Moe’s. Besides the photo for the paper, I’m glad we did the engagement session for two reasons: 1) My future husband really liked how I looked fully made up and after 2 weeks concentrating on my skin care. He’s never seen me like that otherwise. This was useful for planning my look for the wedding. 2) His family has been super-excited about the small books of the photos we’ve given them (obtained from deals on Shutterfly).

  • Marcela

    What a great post. Thank you!
    And that pictures with the fairies flying in the night (what?! they are not fairies?!) left me day dreaming…so pretty!

  • Amelia

    I’m pretty sure I could look at Lillian and Leonard’s photographs all day long. So beautiful!

  • This and the last post are so very helpful!

  • Oh my gosh.

    I am a “modern traditional” photographer (maybe with a sprinkling of “photojournalist” on there), having grown up LOVING my grandmother’s wedding album and pretty much excitedly replicating it in some way for each of my clients. To me, each photo is unique because off all the different faces in it.

    But I felt bad, honestly, that I wasn’t “whacky” enough – I live in NYC, after all! I think now I’m going to embrace my deep love of posterity-thrilling posed portraits, editorial eye for small details, and let the people who see that as a positive hire me.

    You putting what I do into words just made me happy and excited.

    p.s. there’s a few shots for every photo shoot I do where I can SEE people 50 years in the future cherishing it, and then I get goosebumps.

    • meg

      You know, in the last post, tons of commenters complained that they couldn’t fine ENOUGH modern traditional photographers (at least on APW). Brand that shit up, lady. People really want it, and it’s rare! (Or rare to find the good stuff, if you ask me. There are still some Very Not Modern Traditional Photographers out there, which is a whole other ball of wax.)

      • deva by definition

        I am also a modern traditional photographer with a slight emphasis on photojournalism. I want to capture your moments, but I also want to capture the small details, the posed pictures of the whole family together, and the details you worked hard on for your wedding. I am still working on building my Empire, for what it’s worth (as in, still building my portfoilio and website), but I want the pictures you get at the end of your wedding to tell your story without being over the top.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      As one of those people most loudly commenting for more traditional wedding photography, I Exactly! Meg.

    • KE

      You keep doing you! My photography priorities were (a) I want family photos me where you can clearly see faces and (b) I don’t want to be asked to pose in anyway that feels unnatural. Photographers who do that well don’t grow on trees, as I found out. Your “updated grandmother’s wedding album” approach sounds awesome.

  • Megan2 – We used Kateryn Silva, who I found through AWP. We had some Modern Traditional & some Photojournalism.

    One drawback(?) to Photojournalism, that didn’t hit us until the day, was that me know had to “ignore” our photographer. Katch was so lovely & sweet, & we’d see her & then quick look away. It felt the opposite of the attention we were giving to all the other guests.

    • meg

      You do sort of need to ignore your photographer most of the time, no matter what style they are shooting in, if you want ceremony and reception photos documenting the day as it happend. (Hint: your photographer should make this easy by being unobtrusive. I’ve been to weddings where the photographer was yelling at/ directing the couple through things like the cake cutting and even the ceremony… and there is just nothing ok about that, in any style of photography if you ask me… AND it’s awful for guests.)

      But! If you think this might be tricky for you, and they’ve thrown in a free engagement shoot, ask to practice then. As a theatre person, I found it sort of second nature to have a camera trailing me (though it did feel a bit like paparazzi), but for 90% of the population, this is going to feel less normal, so you just might want to practice a little bit. (Also, you can get used to it during getting ready photos, if you’re doing those.)

      Though, final note, you shouldn’t feel like you have to ignore your photographer every second (they are not taking photos every second). I had many chats with our photographers over the course of the day, tried to feed them, asked them if they needed anything, etc. Totally fine. You just don’t want to chat them up the second after they just composed a shot.

      Brillant point.

    • Erica

      Our photographer was another amazing APW find – Christina Richards – and she was so unobtrusive that after the ceremony I actually thought to myself, “She knew we wanted pix of that, right?” The answer is, of course she did, she captured it beautifully, and I am so grateful for our gorgeous wedding album full of her work b/c I can find it hard to recall the magic of that day, but the pictures do it for me perfectly: Which, really, is exactly what I wanted.

      NB: My very traditional and conservative (and cheap) dad also *loved* her work and thought she didn’t charge nearly enough. High praise.

      • meg

        Right? You literally don’t know Christina is around (or if she took any pictures) when she’s shooting you… and then they are the best photos you’ve ever seen. She’s spooky as hell like that. Crazy, crazy talented.

      • Christina’s photos are very, very good. This is the best of documentary style work – honest and in the moment.

        • Rayan

          A professional photographer understands that the subjects matter. So ensure that your
          subjects know how to create poses and show emotion on a photo. That is the only
          way that you can be confident that your photos will be great. Great

  • Julia

    I think one other thing to think about is how the photographers’ style matches not just your taste overall but also the specific way that you’re envisioning your wedding to look and feel, and the type of atmosphere you want the shots to capture. I have quite arty tastes so when I was first looking for a photographer for our wedding I found so much work I loved in black and white, with dramatic lighting or strong geometric shapes, BUT the adjectives I had in mind for our wedding were things like ‘fun’, ‘colourful’, ‘relaxed’ – basically the exact opposite of the vibe that style was giving off. Luckily we happened to stumble upon our (amazing amazing amazing) photographer by chance and something about her pictures just instantly resonated – everything seemed bathed in light and so joyful, playful even. I suppose it matched our internal image of what we wanted our own wedding to look like. And quite honestly she captured the day PERFECTLY – looking at our pictures is like immersing myself straight into this clear, shining memory of the day. I’m sure the other style would have been beautiful too but I’m not sure it would match the images in our head from the actual wedding day we had.

    • meg

      Yes. Photographers are not magicians, and I’ve heard stories of clients complaining “What happened? I hired you for your bright cheery photos!” and the photographers saying “Uh, you got married in a dark Gothic Cathedral, with a late night, low light, reception and your bridesmaids wore black?” AKA, your photographers can (and will, if they are good) make your wedding look even prettier than it was, but they can’t make it look like something it WASN’T.

      So consider your wedding when you’re hiring people. We mentioned this last time, but it’s good to mention again. If you’re having a low-light late night reception, you probably don’t want to hire someone who’s specialty is working with natural light (hint: there won’t be any). You need to hire someone who knows their way around low light situations, and creating lighting as needed. That doesn’t make the photographer any more or less talented, it just means that you’re hiring for the skills you need (you won’t hire a French Chef to cook a Mexican banquet, probably).

  • Hi! As a “Modern Traditional”(love this branding PS) photographer I’d just like to quickly weigh in on the idea of looking like your parents photos updated. Maybe it’s just my parents, but their generation’s wedding photography seems VERY stiff and posed–not what I want to create. Instead of just updating this, I strive for my work to stand the test of time, and be images that your children and grandchildren will treasure for generations to come. Hypothetical babies of course :-)

    • meg

      True. And an excellent post.

      Though my parents have a photo that you’d probably LOVE, so you never know. (Hilariously, it was always their least favorite photo, because they thought it was ‘weird.’)

      • You know I love it! My parents have nothing like that…and I wish they did. Which is a big part of why I create the kind of images I do for my couples!!

  • Jo

    Thank you for these posts! SO helpful! I really hope to someday be able to use this advice in some way!

    My partner and I are eloping, so we won’t be having a photographer. I wish there was a way to get great photos without a photographer, but ce la vie, we just aren’t going to have one (not in the budget, messes with the whole sponteneity of the thing, kinda intrudes upon the intimacy that is the reason we’re eloping…). My biggest apologies to APW for this one, that after all my time reading your site we won’t be able to take advantage of any of the sponsors which support it.

  • Ha. These are actually all GREAT categories and like you wrote near the end – many of us blurrrrr the lines anyways – and that one of our photos was used near the ‘fine art’ category is kind of amusing and awesome ;-)

  • Amy

    I have a somewhat related photography question: I am prone to migraines and have fairly severe light sensitivities, which means that when I’m photographed with a flash, that blurry purple or green orb/aura stays with me for upwards of 15 minutes… so multiple flashes are my worst nightmare at events where people are taking tons of pictures.

    At my wedding, I would ideally ONLY want my non-flash-using photographer to take pictures throughout the entire event, is it awful to request/demand that guests don’t take any pictures unless they swear they won’t use flash? When do you even bring it up? Seems like a silly thing to get worked up over, but I would hate to spend my wedding in a near-blind and dizzy stupor.

    • This concept is gaining popularity! Do a search for “unplugged weddings” and you will find a great OBB post as well as suggestions for how to best make your guests aware of your preferences. I photographed one destination wedding where the couple made an announcement at the rehearsal dinner about no one taking photos during the ceremony because they wanted to see their friend’s and families’ faces, not a bunch of cell phones or cameras when they looked out at their guests. I’ve also seen it in ceremony programs or in signs posted in front of the ceremony areas.

      Have you talked with your photographer about the issue so they know you don’t want any flash? Some photographers who use a lot of natural light for most parts of the day will still use flashes for indoor or night settings. But if no flash at all is important, make sure they know ahead of time to bring the best possible equipment for low light that doesn’t require flash.

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  • Useful blog! The benefits & drawbacks of different photographs are good and giving more knowledge to select a wedding photographer.

  • Linda

    Is this site only written by eloquent, amazing writers that I want to be friends with? Sheesh.

  • Tristan Johannesen

    My mom asked me to go online and try to find a wedding photographer for her. She is getting remarried in about six months. Her friend told me to look up StarLight Studioz. Do you know anything about them?

  • DavidJennifer

    Great blog. A great deal of information is given on the importance of choosing a good photographer. The picts become immortal and hence surely it is advisable to choose a great photographer.

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