Wedding photography is a major commercial endeavor that supports the bulk of the efforts for many photography studios or independent photographers.
With the advent of the digital revolution in photography, today’s contemporary wedding photographer needs to stay abreast of all the latest developments in the industry.
Depending upon the demands of the client, a contemporary wedding photographer will usually need to provide some or all of the following:
During the film era, practitioners favored color negative film and medium-format cameras, especially by Hasselblad.
Today, many more weddings are photographed with digital SLR cameras as the digital convenience provides quick detection of lighting mistakes and allows creative approaches to be reviewed immediately.
Like the technology of photography itself, the practice of wedding photography has evolved and grown since the invention of the art form in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. In fact, an early photograph , recorded some 14 years after the fact, may be a recreation for the camera of the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. However in the early days of photography, most couples of more humble means did not hire a photographer to record the actual wedding itself. Until the later half of the 19th century, most people didn’t pose for formal wedding photos during the wedding. Rather they might pose for a formal photo in their best clothes before or after a wedding. In the late 1860’s, more couples started posing in their wedding clothes or sometimes hired a photographer to come to the wedding venue.
However, due to the nature of the bulky equipment and lighting issues, wedding photography was largely a studio practice for most of the late 1800’s. Over time, technology improved, but many couples still might only pose for a single wedding portrait.
Wedding albums started becoming more commonplace towards the 1880’s. And by then, the photographer would start including the wedding party in the photographs. Often the wedding gifts would be laid out and recorded in the photographs as well.
In the beginning of the 20th century, color photography became available, but color photography was still too unreliable and expensive thus most wedding photography was still practiced in black and white.
The concept of capturing the wedding “event” came about after the Second World War. Using film roll technology and the better lighting techniques with the invention of the compact flash bulb, often photographers would simply show up at a wedding and try to sell the photos later. Despite the initial low quality photographs that often resulted, the competition forced the studio photographers to start working on location.
Initially, professional studio photographers might bring a lot of bulky equipment, thus limiting their ability to record the entire event. Even candid photos were more often staged after the ceremony. However, in the 1970’s the more modern approach to recording the entire wedding event started evolving into the practice as we know it today.
In spite of diminishing film use, some photographers continue to shoot with film as they prefer the film aesthetic, while others are of the opinion that negative film captures more information than the latest digital technology, with less margin for exposure error. Certainly true in some cases, it should be noted that exposure latitude inherent in a camera’s native RAW image format (which allows for more under- and over- exposure than JPEG ) varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. All forms of Raw have a degree of exposure latitude which exceeds slide film - to which digital capture is commonly compared.
Currently however, it is fair to say that many professional labs have a greater capacity to provide services in post-production for film compared with digital, such as quickly generate adequate prints in the event of some over- or under- exposure. (i.e. there seems to be an inability or reluctance to process large quantities of 12-bit and 16-bit files of various MP sizes on a commercial scale).
This should change over time, with manufacturers like Kodak announcing a commitment to further develop streamlined services in the area of professional digital lab output.
There are two primary approaches to wedding photography that are recognized today: Traditional and Photojournalistic. Traditional wedding photography provides for more classically posed images and a great deal of photographer control and interaction on the day of the wedding. Photojournalistic wedding photography takes it’s cue from editorial reporting styles and focuses more on candid and unposed images with little photographer interaction. These are two extremes and many of today’s photographers will fall somewhere in the middle of these two styles.
A third style that is becoming more and more in demand is a fashion-based approach. In contemporary/fashion-based wedding photography, photojournalistic images of the events of the day are combined with posed images that are inspired by editorial fashion photography as would be found in magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and so forth.
The range of deliverables that a wedding photographer presents is varied. There is no standard as to what is “included” in a wedding coverage or package, so products vary regionally and from photographer to photographer, as do the number of images provided.
Most photographers provide, at a minimum, a set of “proofs” (usually unretouched, edited images) for the clients to view. Photographers may provide hard copy proofs in the form of 4×5 or 4×6 prints, a “magazine” of images with thumbnail sized pictures on multiple pages, an online proof gallery, images on CD or DVD in the form of a gallery or a slideshow, or any combination of the above. Some photographers provide these proofs for the client to keep, and some photographers require the client to make final print choices from the proofs and then return them or purchase them at an additional cost.
Many, although not all photographers provide albums to their clients. There are a wide variety of albums and manufacturers available and photographers may provide traditional matted albums, digitally designed “coffee table” albums, contemporary flush mount albums, hardbound books, scrapbook style albums or a combination of any of the above. Albums may be included as part of a pre-purchased package, or they may be added as an after-wedding purchase. Not all photographers provide albums; some may prefer to provide prints and/or files and let clients make their own albums.
Most photographers allow clients to purchase additional prints for themselves or their families. In the last several years many photographers have begun to provide online sales either through galleries located on their own websites or through partnerships with other vendors. Those vendors typically host the images and provide the back end sales mechanism for the photographer; the photographer sets his or her own prices and the vendor takes a commission or charges a flat fee.
With the increased ability of consumers to scan images and get high quality prints with inexpensive scanners and printers, some photographers are also including high resolution files in their packages. These photographers allow their clients limited rights to reproduce the images for their personal use, while retaining the copyright. Not all photographers release files and those who do will most likely charge a premium for them, since releasing files means giving up any after wedding print or album sales for the most part.
As a wedding is a one-time event, the photographer must be alert and prepared for the unexpected. Shooting a wedding is both exhausting and invigorating as the photographer is constantly looking for good angles and opportunities for candid shots.
Communication and planning time lines before the event will alleviate many of the stresses associated with photographing a wedding. An ability to tactfully take charge also helps - particularly when photographing large groups or families - a common expectation after the ceremony.
It is not unheard of for a photographer to work with an assistant who may carry their equipment, help round up guests and assist in the shooting through clothing adjustments or the holding up of reflectors. Assisting offers great experience for the would be wedding photographer, and assistants should aim to work with as many photographers as possible.
Having a run list with all of the expected shots is also a useful tool for the novice photographer.
Wedding photographers usually have an office or studio and some double as a Retail Photography Studio in many small town and villages. In bigger cities you will find dedicated wedding studios that only shoot weddings and may have large studios equipped with make-up and hair and gowns ready for the bride to wear. Some studios also have arrangements with Bridal shops allowing the bride so try several gowns during her portrait session.
While the successful wedding photographer’s responsibility is to the bride and groom, brides generally take greater interest in the results.
There are several professional organizations that support wedding photographers. Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) and Professional Photographers of America (PPA) are two of the more well known. Each organization offers training, professional competition, and support to member photographers. Another, newer, organization is the Wedding Photojournalists Association (WPJA) which provides support for photographers specializing in wedding photojournalism as well as providing regional links to clients who are specifically looking for that style of photography.
Depending on the contracts used, wedding photographers generally retain copyright over the images taken, charging their clients for any extra reprints. Photographers that do not retain copyright can charge more for their services.