These moments could be the ceremony, the speeches, or the dancing. It's impossible to pose or move people around at these times. I prefer to work candidly for the entire day at my weddings. I don't manipulate anything and want the wedding to happen like I wasn't there. The result is a set of wedding images that are 100% candid, besides just a few very relaxed portraits. Building a business on this documentary wedding photography style puts me in a position to hand out a few tips. I could write this article multiple times with new tips, but these are enough to get us started.
Don't Be Scared
It isn't easy, I know. You turn up to a room filled with people that you've never met before, with two cameras hanging by your side, and the idea is that you start taking photographs of them. Sometimes, it seems easier to begin posing people or asking them to move around because you will assert yourself as the photographer. You might be more comfortable with a long lens at the back of the room.
I will take an opposing view and say that, in my experience, the best thing to do is get stuck in! Start taking photographs that tell the story of what is happening in the room, and don't be afraid to point a camera at people.
Think of it this way; if you attend a wedding as a guest, you know there will be a photographer, and you'll expect your photograph to be taken. As soon as you spot the photographer taking candid pictures, you'll accept that this is how they work and probably make a conscious effort to pretend they're not there. Other people are no different. They will understand once they see you working.
And so try it. Just show up and take photos of people, you will only get past the fear by doing it more.
Context Is Key
I've often clarified that candid, reportage, or documentary photography isn't just taking photographs of people when they aren't looking. It's the art of telling the story of who, what, when, why, or where. An excellent storytelling image will often cover at least two of these by providing context, a subject that could require an entire article or even a complete workshop.
Just one example, though. Let's take a bride's father giving a speech. We naturally want a clean photograph of him talking, but that's easy and obvious. Any guest with a decent camera can nail that shot. Once I've covered the safe stuff in this situation, I want to add something else to the frame to turn it into a story.
In the photograph below, I've chosen my angle and focal length so that my main subject is the bride. The timing makes it apparent she's crying, and the frame's context shows her father reading his speech.
The photograph now tells a story and documents a moment for the bride to remember forever.
Keep Your Gear Simple
Sometimes, compelling moments happen fast without leaving us much reaction time. Knowing your gear so well that it becomes an extension of yourself is vital to catch these. However, that will never happen if you're constantly changing lenses or messing with settings.
I shoot with two bodies (Fujifilm X-T5s) and two primes (usually the Fujifilm 18mm f/1.4 R LM WR and Fujifilm 33mm f/1.4 R LM WR) throughout a wedding day. I have my cameras set up to do most of the work for me, taking away the thinking time and allowing me to react much faster. This article about keeping wedding photography simple goes into much more detail.
I can also conserve energy by staying light on my feet. Carrying a bag of lenses and spare gear all day makes me tired, and I need to be just as quick on the dancefloor as I am in the ceremony.
Utilize Natural Light
Nothing screams "photographer" like a flash firing in a relaxed room. However, when the ISO starts to creep into the early thousands, it's very tempting to grab the flash to ensure our photographs are clean and noiseless.
But flash can kill a moment very quickly. If you want to capture emotions between people, which most of us do, then flash can also be a little disrespectful. You aren't there to make yourself known, so learn to work with the available light and embrace some of the camera's low-light capabilities. I will happily deliver a photograph from my Fujifilm cameras at ISO12800.
Going back to the point about simplicity in our gear, flash can also complicate things. We're more likely to make settings or exposure mistakes with the extra gear and we often get one chance at a shot.
Look for Interactions
Some of my favorite photographs show an interaction or connection between two people. This may be anything from a funny conversation to a bride's father giving her a final few words before she says her vows.
Look for these interactions and turn them into mini stories.
Don't Just See, Listen
In the UK, our weddings can often have long breaks during the day and it can feel like there's nothing to photograph. In these moments, it can help to lower our cameras from our eyes and just spend some time listening to what's going on. You may hear children playing, people laughing at the bar, a mum shushing her baby to sleep, a wife deep in conversation with her husband. You now have multiple small stories to photograph.
We often hear photographers describe themself as a fly on the wall or invisible. But, in my own experience, standing away from the action with a longer lens takes something away from what's happening.
Get involved and become a part of the day, almost like a guest with a camera. Talk to people about their day, dance to the music, follow crowds and just enjoy it. This will give people time to get comfortable with you being around, meaning you can click away without anybody paying attention. You can only make the viewer feel like they are there if you are immersed by the day, too.
The photo below shows me, in action, at a wedding. No 70-200mm in sight. Just getting involved and enjoying the day, camera in hand.
Get out there and put some of these to the test. You may find a new love of documentary photography simply by stepping back and letting events unfold without manipulating them.