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How does a Documentary Wedding Photographer shoot a wedding?

Hi my name is David Walters and I am a Documentary Wedding Photographer. it would be great if you could read on so I can explain what this means and how it will make your wedding day more fun and stress free for you.

So what does a Documentary wedding photographer do?

Well maybe it’s better if I start with what I won’t do.
I won’t boss you around. Ask you to put your earrings on. Ask you to  look in the mirror and pretend to apply make up. Ask you to hug your mum (or dad). Jump in the car as you arrive at the church and ask your dad to give you a kiss. Shout at any of the guests for getting in the way of “the shot”. Drag you around for a few hours on your portrait shoot. Ask you to say cheese until your jaws ache.

I won’t ask you to do anything at all apart from the obvious – Have the most amazing day of your life without any intrusion, direction or instruction from me.

In fact you can just forget about me as your photographer, just know that I will be there capturing every beautiful  moment you and your partner experience throughout the day.

The following images I really love……….

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I shot this during my first season and it is still one of my favourite bridal prep shots. Trying to set up a shot like this would be impossible. This image has caught the natural beauty and grace of the bride putting on the dress she has painstakingly chosen for this day.

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I absolutely adore photographing the kids at weddings. The couple Rebecca & Chris married in Mexico and were making it legal in the Lake district so they arrived at the church together. I had been waiting for them to arrive and as they did I heard the kids shout “here they are” and was rewarded with this shot. As you can see the eldest child is very happy to see her mum & dad walking towards the church!

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It’s nice to get some feedback from the girls to tell you how fantastic you look in your wedding dress! This photograph will remind the bride in years to come how wonderful she looked on her wedding day.

documentary wedding photographer04pintopinterestA beautiful  moment between a mum and her daughter. As a documentary wedding photographer you become more practiced at observation and better able to capture powerful moments like this one. Because you are not constantly thinking of how to construct or direct the next shot you become so much more aware of your surroundings and what is happening around you. This is the “decisive moment” Henri Cartier Bresson described to the world so many years ago and what makes photography such a powerful medium.

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Another kid shot. The little boy had just received his inflatable guitar during the speeches and was really loving it. Both kids lost in their own worlds – the big rock guitarist and the Prima Ballerina! It’s what makes a wedding such an amazing event, there is something happening everywhere and keeping a close eye on the kids is usually a sure way of capturing something funny and unique.

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Aaaaahhh! a real moment of love between the groom’s brother and his partner. I think a wedding makes the guests appreciate the love and happiness they have in their own lives and intensifies the feelings they have for each other. Everybody becomes so much more romantic and loving for the day! Love love love capturing stuff like this it is so life affirming.

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A penny for your thoughts! I’m pretty sure the groom is thinking how lucky he is. This is real and it’s happening right now, no second takes and re-runs. Because you are constantly focussed on what is happening around you, as a documentary wedding photographer you are always ready for great moments like this.

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A little moment to reflect. The bride looks so calm and happy as she arrives with her husband at the reception. The car window makes a great framing device. I could of course jump in the car and say “give your bride a kiss” to the groom, but somehow I don’t think I will.


What is documentary wedding photography?

There are other terms for this style of wedding photography that you might also come across – Reportage wedding photography or wedding photojournalism. They all mean the same thing. A Documentary wedding photographer creates a truthful and beautiful story of the wedding day with candid images. A candid image is a photograph that is taken of a subject that generally is not aware they are being photographed. The dictionary definition of ‘candid’ is “truthful and straightforward” or in regards to photography in particular “(of a photograph of a person) taken informally, especially without the subject’s knowledge.”

The documentary wedding photographer captures these truthful moments in the most creative and artistic way possible. Their personal vision and experience of lighting and composition informing the ‘look’ or style of their work. It takes skill and a certain attitude to do documentary wedding photography well. I suppose that is the difference between a ‘snap’ and a documentary photograph – they are both candid images although the documentary photograph is composed and lit more artistically.

I am a storyteller using images. As every shot I take during the day is a real truthful moment in time, when these photographs are weaved together the photographs that I take become the story of your wedding day.

The following sequence of images show how powerful documentary wedding photography can be. The incident happened while the priest was finalising the signing of the register, a time when a traditional photographer will be organising the witnesses and family to shoot a set of “registry shots”



I had noticed something was happening between the bride and groom as they were admiring each other’s rings. I knew the Brides Mum & Dad were looking over so I spun round to capture their reaction. In the fourth image you can see the look of love from the groom. As he kisses the bride’s ring on her finger she is so touched she wipes away a tear. You can see the bridesmaid and best man look away with embarrassment at such a tender moment.

Again turning to Mum & Dad you can see Mum overwhelmed with emotion at the scene she has just witnessed. And then it is just left to the groom to shed a few tears of his own! We can see the bride & groom laughing at their sentimentality in the final picture!

If I would have been absentmindedly flicking through images on my camera waiting do to do the group shots I would have totally missed what happened. Ot worse still, by organising and ‘stepping in’ I might have stopped this beautiful scene from ever happening. Having the attitude of patiently waiting  rewards the documentary wedding photographer with photographs that have real memories and the powerful emotions that go with them. I love this set of images because it captures so well how important the ring is to the bride and groom and what it signifies – their promise to each other for life.

I don’t want to be the photographer who treats your wedding day as an extended portrait session. I want to be the Documentary Wedding Photographer who captures all of the myriad things that happen during the day. The stuff you don’t see and the real important things that happens in and around you throughout the day. So that when you look back over your photographs you are able to relive your day through the images, which tell the story of your wedding day.

For the father of the bride it can be a very emotional moment when he sees his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time. As that documentary wedding photographer It is important that I capture this scene as it will be a very important memory for both the bride and her father in years to come. The following images are from a very recent wedding and illustrate this very special moment.



The brides dad was waiting for her to walk down the stairs after putting on her wedding dress. This is one of the most emotionally charged moments from the wedding day, so when it happens you need to be ready to capture it well. I love the look on the fathers face in the last image, I’m sure the bride will value this image more as time passes.

Being a documentary wedding photographer the mind-set is more about being aware of everything that is happening around you. Reacting to your surroundings as well as observing and anticipating situations as they occur. Rather than thinking how to create the next shot in the list of ‘shots’ a wedding photographer is ‘supposed’ to take (according to some industry standard)

The above sequence of images is a good example. A more traditional photographer would have already been orchestrating portraits of the bride and might have led the bride out into the garden for example to photograph some portraits, which might even stop this scene even happening. As a documentary wedding photographer it is about waiting for magical things to happen and then capture them.

Traditional vs Documentary Wedding Photography

To illustrate the difference between true documentary photography and ‘subtly directed’ or just plain old bossy photography, imagine a film director who can only make one film with one story ‘The Wedding’.

In each film he makes, even though it has a new set of actors and locations he continues to ‘direct’ the same scenes over and over. So every Film he makes is the same but with different actors.

One ‘industry standard’ shot is asking the bride or brides mum to open the champagne and do a cheers shot, with all the bridesmaids and bride clinking their glasses.

Although the crazy thing is, if there is champagne it will get opened and you and the rest of the bridal party will almost definitely clink your glasses together because that is what people do when they celebrate isn’t it?

So why do I need to orchestrate it?

So armed with a mental list of these type of shots your ‘subtle director’ (although direction can never be subtle) orchestrates his version of a wedding over your wedding!

So in essence you get the same set of photographs as everybody else, because each ‘wedding scene’ (like the bridal preparations or arrival at the church) has a set amount of shots that the photographer uses to ‘stamp’ their version of a wedding onto your day.

A documentary wedding photographer will observe and document the day with no direction or contrivance at all. I will capture beautiful shots of you and your family and friends being yourselves in your own version of ‘The Wedding!’

And the beautiful thing about that is every wedding is unique, with it’s own set of characters who adlib rather than follow the photographers script.

So rather than standing behind the camera shouting the orders, your documentary photographer is in the ‘film’ with you quietly shooting all of the spontaneous and wonderful stuff that happens all around you on your wedding day!

I would like to show you a set of images where I have captured the bride’s sisters getting a little emotional throughout the day

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You could see how much they loved big sister. From the ceremony through to the speeches and the first dance they cried every time. By the first dance I was watching and waiting for either sister to burst into tears!

I hope these images will be a source of comfort and amusement to both the bride and her sisters in years to come.

Your wedding is also about your friends and family and they have their own ‘story’ that is inside your story, like a sub plot.

I will capture images of your friends and family, capturing their personality and mannerisms, just as you know and love them. Because they are unaware they are being photographed they are being themselves and that is what I capture – people being themselves.

I try to capture the story of your wedding day which includes your friends and family too. I am a naturally inquisitive person and I will roam around the wedding capturing great shots of not only you, but your friends and family too. They are an important part of your story and I will provide natural beautiful images of your friends and family that you will treasure long after your special day is over. Moments that you were not present to witness or never noticed happening.