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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).

{LeahAndMark.com, 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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