5 Wedding Photojournalism Myths

July 21, 2019
The Best Wedding Photojournalism - The bride turns toward her reflection as she tosses her bouquet over her shoulder in this wedding photo.

Photo by: Danilo Muratore, Reggio Calabria, Italy

With the number of wedding photojournalists perpetually on the rise, confusion over what they will and won’t do seems to be increasing at a parallel rate. This article aims to bust the most common wedding photojournalism misconceptions and stereotypes circulating in the marketplace.

Wedding Photojournalists can make creative portraits on wedding day.

Photo by: Elena Haralabaki, Attica, Greece

MYTH 1: WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALISTS CAN'T CREATE GOOD PORTRAITS

Perhaps in an effort to protect their business, traditional wedding photographers often try to scare couples into thinking that they will not be able to have wedding portraits taken if they decide to use a wedding photojournalist.

In fact, most wedding photojournalists take portraits or posed shots if that’s what their client wants.

As some of our WPJA members have pointed out, there is more than one way to shoot a portrait. While wedding photojournalists may specialize in capturing moments, they are creative and qualified enough to shoot quality portraits as well. A portrait by a wedding photojournalist may match their more natural and artistic style, but it is a portrait nevertheless, and style is truly the only difference.

Continuing, members note that their clients appreciate the unconventional way they approach portraits, seeking something more unique that employ out-of-the-box thinking. Clients enjoy having formal photos with a little more flair and creativity, thanks perhaps to the wedding photojournalist finding ways to add more depth to the photo or searching for compositionally interesting elements to serve as a backdrop, ultimately offering their client something a little more interesting than gathering everyone together for a static pose. For instance, some of our WPJA contest winners have said that they try to work in the surroundings as much as possible. If the client chose to have an outdoor wedding, the wedding photojournalist is going to do their best to incorporate the setting into the portraits in the most original way possible.

Some of our members have proposed that this myth about portraits comes from the typical and most simple descriptions people assign to wedding photojournalism versus traditional wedding photography; one is “un-posed” while the other is “posed.” As you’ve probably guessed, this is an oversimplification of roles which is often taken too literally. In truth, portraits are a skill of talented wedding photojournalists. At the end of the day, the wedding photojournalist’s goal is to tell a story, and portraits are a part of that story.

Although posed shots do seem to contradict the very notion of photojournalism—and are definitely not why you hire a wedding photojournalist in the first place—almost all are willing to take posed photos during a planned formals session, and will accommodate specific requests when asked.

Some of our members have spoken to their style of finding and capturing the best portraits, typically keeping in line with an un-posed feel even in posed shots. For instance, some of the best portraits may come just after a planned photo is taken, when the subjects have let down their guard for a moment. Or perhaps something like a spontaneous group hug might feel more natural and emotionally truthful than a portrait of a group of people all standing together in a straight line. In fact, one technique to achieve a more social, comfortable, and natural style that the wedding photojournalist might employ would be to loosen up the stiff atmosphere by asking the group to hug, helping everyone to relax and reveal the true joy they feel in the moment instead of focusing on posing.

Wedding photojournalists use flash sometimes in darker settings, like this photo from the reception dance floor.

Photo by: Philippe Swiggers, Belgium

MYTH 2: WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALISTS WON’T USE FLASH

The simplest way to address this myth, according to our award-winning members, is to say that it is entirely untrue. To elaborate more, while some wedding photojournalists may try to employ natural light when possible, sometimes the only option is to use flash. In fact, some wedding photojournalists actually use it more frequently and are skilled at manipulating the flash, on or off-camera.  

Typically your wedding photojournalist will do as much as they can to avoid interrupting natural moments or making their presence overly obvious, which means that they may try to avoid using flash when they don’t have to. It is difficult to use flash in a way that looks natural and doesn’t cause interference, as once people notice the flash they are going to immediately look in the direction it came from. However, while the use of flash may not be preferred, it is sometimes necessary, and so your wedding photojournalist will use techniques to soften the light as much as possible, such as using bounce flash.

Another technique wedding photojournalists employ is to tone down the intensity of their flash by controlling it through the settings. This can be very effective in preventing the subjects from being too camera-aware, and it also helps produce pictures with more natural-looking light. When this technique is properly executed, most people will not be able to discern the use of flash in the pictures, and perhaps that's where the no-flash myth originated!

Wedding photojournalism is crisp, clean, sharp imagery...like in this photo.

Photo by: Dominique Shaw, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom

MYTH 3: WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALISTS TAKE GRAINY AND BLURRY PHOTOS

This is often related to the flash myth, since shooting pictures in low light can lead to unappealing, grainy and blurred-looking images, especially if the photographer is not particularly skilled at working a camera in such settings. There’s also a misconception among many people that wedding photojournalism is defined by ambient-light-only imagery, and that all of its practitioners exemplify that style.

Some highly accomplished wedding photojournalists do go for the occasional slow-shutter image to capture the movement or atmosphere of a scene as it unfolds. They basically take the picture using a slower shutter speed that does not freeze everything in the photograph. However, the vast majority of photojournalistic wedding pictures are clean and sharp, as illustrated by a browse through the WPJA’s contest galleries, or those of individual members. In a nutshell, blurry and/or grainy images are most likely the product of deliberate artistic shooting, especially as it pertains to WPJA members, not technical shortcomings as some would contend.

Clean background in this photo of the bride walking into her mountain ceremony.

Photo by: Shaunte Dittmar, California, United States

MYTH 4: YOUR PHOTOS ARE GOING TO LOOK CLUTTERED BECAUSE WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALISTS NEVER ALTER SCENES

Many wedding photojournalists take weddings just as seriously as they do any news event—making even the slightest of changes in the surroundings, regardless of how insignificant they might seem to you, is a breach of ethics.

It’s important to recognize that wedding photojournalists are skilled at altering the background without actually moving anything. Without bulky equipment to lug around, they’re able to move quickly around the room, capturing scenes from various angles, making background decisions based on what they see in their viewfinders. Something as simple as a photographer's step in a certain direction or a change in elevation can do wonders in cleaning up a distracting foreground/background.

Because wedding photojournalists don’t create fake, unrealistic backgrounds, they’re constantly looking for the most pleasing backdrop for their photos. It’s a different way of controlling the scene. As some of our members have said, this balance of control is one of the most difficult things to learn. On one hand, they must give up control over what is happening, but must still control the appearance of the final image, all of which is only accomplished through their own perception and the way they choose to shoot the scene.

Wedding photojournalists capture action and emotion at the event.

Photo by: Isabelle Bazin, France

MYTH 5: ANYONE CAN BE A WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALIST

Just because some wedding photographers may try to emulate WPJA members' documentary approach, it does not make them wedding photojournalists who are qualified to document your wedding. Our members have commented that wedding photojournalism goes far beyond walking into a room and taking photographs at random with the hopes that at least a few of the resulting images will turn out nicely.

Wedding photojournalism is applying professional skills and honed talent to tell the story of a wedding. Some of our WPJA award winners feel that they have a pretty good idea as to how this myth began, saying that some traditional photographers feel that wedding photojournalism is merely a disruptive fad. Additionally, some people may simply have encountered bad wedding photojournalism, and that handful of mediocre photographers merely calling themselves “wedding photojournalists” put out poor-quality work and give a bad impression of the profession. Unfortunately, it is easier for people to simply call themselves photojournalists than it is to actually produce strong work.  

A black and white wedding photojournalism image of bride having her picture taken by a friend

Photo by: Xiaoye Sun, China

REALITY: COMMUNICATE AND TRUST YOUR OWN EYES

When considering a wedding photojournalist, it's best to communicate and trust your own eyes, not rumors or hearsay. Ask your WPJA photographer about his or her style. Ask to see samples. Look for a wedding photojournalist who is able to tell the story from start to finish, instead of presenting just one good photo from each wedding. Our members say that a small group of good photos may indicate that someone has potential, but does not prove that they are capable of capturing the story of the day. Fortunately, WPJA members have mastered the art of storytelling. And that’s no myth.