Documentary Wedding Photography – My Approach

March 2018 will mark 10 years since I began working in documentary wedding photography. In that time I’ve seen all sorts of trends come and go, and the number of photographers offering their services has grown considerably. One of the questions I hear most often when I chat to potential clients is, “What do you do differently?”. What they’re essentially asking is “why should we book you for our wedding, over photographer X, Y or Z?”. It’s a perfectly reasonable enquiry and one I thought I’d take a moment to answer today by looking at 10 distinct things that differentiate the Tony Hart Photo approach from other documentary wedding photography.

1. Documentary Wedding Photography Isn’t A Buzzword

For me a wedding is a story waiting to be told. However I’m not the author of the story, I’m just the reporter. I don’t spend the day trying to direct things and while we set aside some specific time for group photographs and portraits, I’m quite strict with myself about letting the day flow. Ahead of the wedding we’ll certainly discuss things like the best order to come down the aisle, and while I might remind you of the plan before the ceremony, for the most part, I like to let things be. I’m there to photograph your wedding, not stage manage it. Documentary photography can be a convenient keyword in an advert, but it’s easy to abandon the concept in the crucible of a wedding day. I assure you that whenever possible (which is nearly always) I’ll document your wedding rather than orchestrate it.

2. All Day Means All Day

My standard coverage package includes all day coverage. While many photographers may talk about all day coverage and then constrain you to 10hrs or so, when I say all day, I mean it. I typically begin shooting during the bridal prep and only pack up my bags once you’ve made your departure. In trying to provide a photographic narrative of the day, I believe in starting at the beginning and finishing at the end. The last thing I want you to worry about is whether the photographer is going to leave if the first dance slips by half an hour.

3. Face-to-Face Consultations

It’s key to my approach to get to know my couples ahead of the wedding day. Documentary wedding photography is not only about photographing the day ‘as it is’ but also about capturing the essence of the event. To that end I think it’s critical to build a good rapport and have some genuine insight into you as people. What makes you tick, how you met, what’s important to you? Therefore, for most couples, we’ll arrange two consultations ahead of the wedding day. An initial consultation prior to booking and a second ‘pre-wedding’ consultation in the 2-6 weeks ahead of the day. When it’s not possible to sit down together in person, perhaps because you live abroad, we’ll arrange the next best thing, a Skype or FaceTime to chat everything through.

Stone Barn Documentary Wedding Photography

4. No Batch Editing

Many photographers wax lyrical to their peers about the efficiency of their editing process. While I’m all for working smart, I’m more interested in quality than efficiency. To that end, I process each image I deliver individually. No whacking on a filter and then copying those settings to hundreds of other photographs. That method, known as ‘batch editing’ might be quick, but it compromises quality. While some photographers will give all the photographs a brief edit and then ‘polish’ the images that end up in albums and frames, by contrast, the standard of post processing you see throughout my blog, is replicated in every single photograph I deliver.¬†Each image is unique and I treat is as such.

5. I’ll Come To Your Wedding Rehearsal

If you’re having a church ceremony, the likelihood is you’ll also have a wedding rehearsal, usually a day or two before the wedding. I always try to attend these as no two weddings are the same. It gives me an opportunity to understand the nuances and subtleties of exactly how your ceremony will play out, to meet your families and wedding party ahead of D-Day and get a feel for how your vicar likes to run things.

6. A Long Term Backup Plan

I deliver all your images on a USB memory stick and they’re also available to download from my website. However I also have a backup strategy in place to keep your photographs safe long into the future. Wedding photographs are some of the most precious possessions of all and in the event of something everyday, like losing the memory stick, or something drastic, like a house fire, I want you to have the peace of mind that your images are secure. I keep all the wedding photographs that I deliver backed up indefinitely via a multi layered system of redundant onsite and offsite backups. If you get in touch 5 years from now and want a copy of your photographs, no problem, we can sort it!

7. I Stay Till Midnight As Standard

Lots of photographers leave shortly after the first dance. I find this completely perplexing, especially when they profess to offer documentary wedding photography. I stay till midnight as standard – as this is when most weddings in the UK end – and am happy to stay later than this for an additional hourly fee. The evening is full of rich stories. Be it grand parents having a natter, the bouquet toss or the couple making good their getaway via an amazing sparkler send off, I think it’s important to document the day in its entirety.

Hampton Court House Documentary Wedding Photography

8. I Consciously Work Alone To Keep Things Discrete

Documentary wedding photography isn’t about capturing every moment from every possible angle. It’s about telling a real and compelling story that conjures memories and stirs emotion. Likewise, documentary photography isn’t about turning the wedding into a photoshoot. Instead it’s about letting the celebration breathe and people be themselves. With this in mind, I always try and operate in a quiet observational manner. Exceptional circumstances aside, I shoot alone for the discretion it affords. I don’t want you to feel like you have an entourage of photographers following your every move.

9. I’ll Do A Recce

If I’m not already familiar with a wedding location, I’ll do a venue recce to ensure I know my way around and understand the flow of a venue. Documentary wedding photography calls for a large portion of anticipation; things like a¬†working knowledge of where the sun rises and sets, and comprehension of the venue’s geography. I want to ensure that I’m in the right place at the right time and a recce really helps.

10. Only One Wedding Per Weekend

I regularly shoot from 9am to midnight (or longer) as standard, which is fantastic for photographic storytelling, but it’s a seriously long shift and I’m invariably knackered the following day! As such, I limit myself to a single wedding per weekend. I used to occasionally shoot multiple times per weekend, sometimes a Friday followed by a Saturday, but I found that on the second day I wasn’t as alert or as sharp as I’d like to be. When you’re paying to hire a professional photographer, I think it only fair that you get me at the top of my game. Therefore, these days, I only ever shoot one wedding a weekend. The other upside is that you’re my sole priority and in the run up to the day I’m easily contactable and ready to help with whatever may arise.

Hopefully that gives you some insight into what my particular brand of documentary wedding photography looks like. There’s lots of great options out there, and at the end of the day, it’s about finding the wedding photographer that’s right for you. My way is not the only way, but it’s an approach that I’ve spent a decade cultivating and refining. If you’re considering commissioning me to document your wedding in Hampshire, Surrey or further afield, take a look at my portfolio and if you’d like to discuss things further please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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