[I wrote this article in 2002 as a brief introduction to wedding photojournalism.]
The stereotype of wedding photojournalism is that it is simply wedding photography using black and white film, with the camera tilted at an angle. While there is some truth in the stereotype, it doesn’t describe the true mission of wedding photojournalism.
“Wedding photojournalism” was defined in the 1980’s by Denis Reggie. While attending a wedding as a guest in the ‘70’s, he noticed that the traditional photographer was busy setting up portraits while missing wonderful, real moments. Reggie observed that a sports photographer did not simply make portraits of the players, but rather captured the essence of the game – the emotions, the great moments, even unexpected moments. He realized that the same approach could be brought to wedding photography.
As defined by Reggie, wedding photojournalism is coverage of a wedding in real time, anticipating and capturing moments without the subject actively aware of the process. The photographer quickly and quietly reacts to real events instead of arranging staged events. He or she is a historian documenting an event without manipulating the subject. The photographer understands that the couple would rather enjoy the celebration rather than have the day become a long portrait session. Formal posed portraits, necessary for family historical purposes, typically make up less than 10% of the final album.
Genuine, nonposed coverage means that the photographer may be wherever there are interesting scenes or occurrences. The photographer will for the most part blend in, roaming and photographing without attracting attention or directing people. By contrast, the traditional photographer may spend time photographing from a check-list of standard poses, some in front of a painted backdrop and studio lights. For the wedding photojournalist, the backdrop is the real setting the couple has chosen.
Coverage in real time means anticipating and capturing events as they occur. When the couple is cutting the cake, the photographer will capture their real interactions and perhaps the reactions of guests and family members. By contrast, the traditional photographer may direct the couple on how to cut the cake, telling them where to stand and prompting them for eye contact with the camera.
The success of wedding photojournalism is related to the trend toward reality in the arts as well as to technical advances. Today’s professional equipment allows the creation of photographs that were previously impractical and unlikely. Key advances include fast, accurate autofocus (even in low light), instantaneous focus tracking of moving subjects, high quality wide-aperture zoom lenses, fine grain fast color films and, more recently, digital cameras with extraordinary low-light performance. By contrast, the traditional approach was born out of cumbersome equipment, slow films and heavy-duty lighting, all of which hindered spontaneity.
In sum, wedding photojournalism is the art of authenticity rather than artifice, and responds to the demand for genuine coverage of the family celebration.