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The Friday Fight-Out: Wedding Photography – Documentary Vs Posed

Bride Vs Groom, Wedding BlogToday’s Friday Fight-out topic is a biggy and one that we struggled to answer one way or another. Dom is principally a documentary wedding photographer: she is there to capture the day as it happens without influencing events or artificially placing people together. She would say that most of her best work is created that way and that’s what most of her customers are looking for. However, the majority of couples will want to have at least some group shots taken which are a completely different type of shot – everyone looking at the camera, carefully posed to create a perfect artificial composition of a group of people that otherwise may not all be in the same shot together if events are simply allowed to unfold. Also with the Bride and Groom it’s sometimes nice to take them off away from everywhere else and get some intimate pictures of bride and groom together. Such pictures are equally as precious a keepsake and, if posed well, can be just as effective if not more so than documentary images.

Similarly I shoot wedding videos in a documentary style but, depending on the couple and the style of the video we want to create, we might choose to shoot some direct-to-camera footage, something that can be incredibly effective when done well and integrated properly in the final edit. The key to this argument is probably more about how much you focus on either of the two styles rather than ruling one out completely but, this being a debate, we’ve forced each other to take a side and stick to it for the purpose of this argument! So let’s get cracking with the big debate:

Wedding Photography: Documentary Vs Posed


In the Red corner, with a nod to the inspirational father of  modern photojournalism Henri Cartier Bresson, she’s been shooting documentary style wedding since she was 16 and loving it! It’s Dom “The Tog” Shaw

In the Blue corner, representing the posed image, he’s been working with writers, directors and actors to create completely artificial yet powerful theatrical imagery since he was 16, it’s Matt “The Gormless” Groom


Dom: Your wedding is supposed to be the most magical day of your life. It’s a day to simply enjoy and share with those closest to you. You can have a photo shoot in your wedding dress after the wedding if you want, taking too much time out of your day to do lots of group shots and artificial imagery takes you away from the real events of the day.

Matt: But after the wedding the photographs are what you are left with, they are what will remind you of your wedding day for the rest of your lives and it’s important to get the images you want. I know my parents for example would be upset if there wasn’t a picture of the immediate family together, even though everyone will be photographed within the same album just not necessarily all side by side. It’s a different type of shot but just as important.

Dom: Often though people ask for group shots with virtually everyone at the wedding in different combinations and they invariably don’t choose any of them for their final images apart from perhaps immediate family, groomsmen and bridesmaids and a full group shot. Even for the most skilled photographer getting a large group of people to do what you need and look interesting is extremely difficult and time consuming, time that could be better spent letting the guests (and the Bride and Groom) enjoy themselves and capturing the magic as it unfolds around them.

Matt: Posing people gives the photographer that level of control to get the absolute best shot possible, with perfect composition, styling an image to create the look you want with the people you want and ensuring that it’s an interesting picture. When shooting documentary style sometimes there will be one of those amazing moments that creates an incredible picture, sometimes there won’t be. Without posing it’s difficult to ensure that you will get that killer shot as the control is taken out of your hands.

Dom: Most people adapt what they are doing and slightly change their persona when they know they are being photographed. With posed imagery although you can create something very dramatic you often lose some of the real personality of the subject. Shooting in a documentary style and blending into the background so people don’t notice you allows you to get a much truer reflection of the day.

Matt: But part of the photographer’s art in getting those posed shots is to put people at ease and get that personality shining through whilst also making sure they look their best. If you can succeed in this you can create amazing imagery.

york-place-studiosDom: This picture is one of my favourites and is a perfect example of a beautiful “found” moment that you would never be able to artificially create. The Bride didn’t know we we were there capturing this moment and it shows: she is completely relaxed and letting go of her inhibitions and naturally forms a beautiful pose without any direction. 

Matt: At what point is an image classified as posed? The line is not always so clear cut… This image was taken in the bride’s own room using only the natural available light in the spot where she herself had chosen to get ready. The only direction was to remain in that position and look at the camera. It’s a powerful image but couldn’t have been captured without that direction.

Dom: Posing people takes the natural interest of what’s happening out of the shot and forces you to artificially recreate it. This usually means trying to find some dramatic backdrop to the image which sometimes the setting just doesn’t lend itself to. Documentary shots don’t need an exciting background, the interest is in the interactions between people and the subtle nuances of the image.

Matt: The group shots can be a good chance for the guests that don’t know each other to break the ice a little and have a laugh. It’s one of the few parts of the day when everyone is doing something together as a group and it can be one of those parts of the day like the cutting of the cake or the first dance that becomes a bit of an event and acts as an activity. 

Final Remarks:

Dom: A wedding is about the couple, it’s their day not the photographer’s! Their wedding should be about their own style, about the way they are with one another, not the way the photographer would like them to be. There is undoubtedly a place for posed imagery in a wedding but it should never interfere or take you away from the magic that is happening naturally without any direction whatsoever. These photographs will become the couple’s memories of the most important day of their lives, it should be a true account, not an artificial performance.

Matt: These are the couple’s record of the day and the photographer’s job is to ensure that those memories are captured perfectly. The couple want to be able to hang the pictures on their walls, to look back at their wedding album in their old age. The images should be timeless, beautiful and a work of art. Posing someone a little doesn’t have to mean the situation becomes artificial, it is more about complimenting events rather than changing them completely. Posed imagery can capture the personality of the couple every bit as much as documentary imagery and often more so. It can help to ensure that these are the pictures the couple always dreamt of and ensure they have that precious photograph of them and their loved ones together on the most important day of their lives.

So where do you stand? How much should a photographer interfere with the natural events of the day? You can join the debate by leaving your comments below or catch us on twitter and let us know what you think!

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