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Wedding Photography: What Do All These Styles Really Mean?

Bride Vs Groom, Wedding BlogI was blown away by the response to last week’s wedding advice post on finding the right style of photographer for you, but after receiving several emails from some of our avid readers this week it’s clear that there was one question on which we probably provided more questions than answers:

What do all these different styles of photography actually mean?

It’s a very good question and one that’s actually unbelievably difficult to answer. There are just so many styles and most photographers these days probably to some extent cross over several of them. Photographers do tend to have a primary style they categorise themselves under but at the end of the day we all just want to make our couples happy, and the result of that is that actually we cross over slightly into other styles of photography in order to fulfil our client’s wishes. Confused? I certainly am! Let me use myself as an example:

On our website I describe our work as “Fine Art Documentary”. Documentary describes the way in which we shoot, fine art is the style of the final image we present. That’s the type of photography we specialise in, but it doesn’t necessarily tell the full picture. Documentary style means that we shoot events as they happen without interfering, but if our couples come to us and want to get some cool posed shots and a few groups of course we’re happy to do them, they’re just not necessarily our primary focus on the day. For others the posed images are most important and the documentary side of things is just to record key moments you wouldn’t want to miss. In wedding photography we can’t always stick to hard and fast rules, but the style we photographers categorise ourselves under represents the shots we as a photographer look for on the day and is therefore a good indication of the style of photography you’re going to get for your wedding.

Image by York Place Studios

It’s definitely complicated, and in the writing of this post we’ve realised just how difficult it really is to understand exactly what each term means. We’re never ones to shy away from a challenge though so we’re going to do our best to get you on the road to understanding. In the interests of clarity (and not making this into an essay!) we are going to break this down into the simplest terms we can, a glossary if your will, with the more detailed definitions to come in future posts. We haven’t defined the pictures in this post under any particular style, but they’re there to get you analysing your own analytical muscles and get you thinking about the categories you would classify them under… we’re intrigued !

But enough beating around the proverbial bush… deep breath… let’s go!


Traditional photography is about perfectly placed posed imagery. The photographer controls what happens in front of them down to the finest details, instructing the subjects in how and where to stand, the type of expression they should adopt etc. A traditional photographer might be more likely to use outdoor studio style flash to ensure the lighting is perfectly balanced between the subject and the background and may take fewer shots, but by controlling every element of the image each photograph should should be technically perfect.

Documentary / Photo-Journalistic / Reportage:

These are three terms that cover very similar territory. For some photographers they each represent subtle differences, for others they mean the same thing. So for simplicity’s sake we will for now summarise these three under documentary, and they effectively boil down to this:

They are about capturing what the master of this particular style Cartier Bresson called “the decisive moment”: photographing the pinnacle moment in a piece of live action to tell the story to the maximum effect. A documentary photographer does not interfere with events but gets amongst the action and captures it as it happens. They look to capture natural imagery and consider every moment important.

Image by Ed Peers

Fine Art:

Probably the simplest way to explain Fine Art photography is that it’s the type of photography you’d probably most want to hang on your wall in the same way you might hang a Monet painting. It’s not just about being a great picture of the couple, it’s about being a piece of art such as that you might find in a gallery. It tends to be not overly posed but highly flattering imagery, generally using light and shadows to sculpt the image in an interesting way.


Alternative photography is about seeing the world differently: taking what’s in front of you and photographing it in a way that attempts to break the photography mould. It’s considered by most as a very fun form of photography and it’s what for some might be described as “quirky” or “kooky”. Alternative photographers often take their couples and the objects from the wedding (flowers, shoes etc.) and photograph them in an unorthodox place and is often chosen by couples holding a less traditional, more unorthodox wedding.

Image by Tux & Tales Photography


Vintage photographers tend to make use of warm tones and soft processing to create images that give a sense of popular types of film photography from the past. They tend to have very defined effects on the pictures, for example they might add quite pronounced scratches and colourising effects or make a particular image look like the old 60’s instant polaroid photo. It’s a very nostalgic form of photography and is often matched to great effect with vintage weddings where the couple are looking for old-style charm.


Contemporary photography is the cutting edge of wedding photography. If it were to be placed in an art gallery it would probably be the Tate modern of the wedding world. Contemporary photography often uses bright saturated colours, makes use of harsh light and flash effects to create dramatic shadows, creates bold dramatic posing and tries to capture things in an extremely interesting way. It’s about experimentation and playing with the art-form to create something new, whilst still creating stunning images of a couple’s wedding day.


Editorial wedding photography is probably most comparable to the photography you’d find in a glossy magazine: clean, unfussy, paying particular attention to the details of the day. Editorial focuses less on telling the absolute truth of the day as a documentary/reportage photographer might, but aims to create a beautiful reflection of the wedding, often using soft, flattering light.

My word those were hard to define!

Image by Sachin Khona

The fact is that every photographer is different and will probably each have their own definition of what their style really means. We love all the different forms of photography though and we hope this will help to at least get you on the right footing towards finding the photographer that best suits your own style.

A note for photographers:

I’m sure there are still categories we’ve missed and believe me it’s not my intention to diminish anyone’s art-form, so photographers if you think there’s something we should add or anything you think we’ve got wrong then let us know and we’re more than happy to add or change it! We’d like to go into further detail on some of these styles in future posts and would love to hear from any interested photographers from each category to hear their thoughts on their adopted style! We’re looking to include a few photographs too, so if you’d be interested in having your work featured then get in touch!

  • Kelly @ Boho Weddings - January 15, 2013 - 11:55 am

    Excellent post and very imformative. thank you xxxReplyCancel

  • Michael & Andrea - January 15, 2013 - 12:18 pm

    Good stuff! A great post to open the eyes of couples to be to the vast amount of amazing style sand talented people available.

    It’s always a little tricky even explaining our own style, we know what it is visually as we live it and shoot it. But defining, breaking it down it to words can sometimes be tough, especially to couples who are just starting their wedding planning journey. Really though these days for us we like to take a step back and un-complicate things….if we like it – we like it and hope our potential customers do too. Simples 🙂

    Thanks for another great article!ReplyCancel

  • Rachael ~Marry Me Ink~ - January 15, 2013 - 6:05 pm

    Great post! Wonderful information! 🙂 XReplyCancel

  • Catherine Kerr - January 15, 2013 - 6:24 pm

    Good, informative and well written. I bet lots of brides and grooms would find that very useful.ReplyCancel

  • Duncan Knifton - January 15, 2013 - 8:27 pm

    Fantastic post.
    Very well written and informative.
    I would very much like to share this on my site.

  • bridevsgroom - January 16, 2013 - 1:48 pm

    Thanks so much everyone! 🙂 So glad you found it a useful post, as it turns out it really is incredibly complicated to write and to summarise each style in just a few words! I hope it helps Brides and Grooms out there to understand more what photographers mean when talking about their style and in turn helps them to find the right photographer for them. Thank you all for the great response xReplyCancel

  • Dilip Hirani - January 22, 2013 - 12:22 pm

    This is becoming quite an interesting blog!

    I’ve had discussions with fellow photographers countless times, especially the definition side of things related to documentary vs reportage vs photo-journalistic.

    Hats off to anyone trying to describe it in lay terms and without ruffling anyone’s feathers.ReplyCancel

  • Becky Male - February 5, 2013 - 2:14 pm

    I found this so interesting – well written and very informative – thanks for trying to explain something that isn’t always easy to explain !ReplyCancel

    • bridevsgroom - February 5, 2013 - 3:35 pm

      Thanks Becky and you’re very welcome! It really is so tricky to summarise all the different styles in such a brief post, particularly as all photographers are so unique and each have their own take on their genre, often crossing over from one to the other in their work. So glad you found it a useful post! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • David Weightman - March 13, 2013 - 8:33 pm

    What a great post, for photographers like me as well as couples. It’s so important as a photographer to be able to describe accurately to clients what kind of photographer you are.ReplyCancel

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