What is a Documentary Wedding Photographer?

I’d like to tell you a little bit about what it means to be a documentary wedding photographer. There are a few different “schools of thought” when it comes to wedding photography, and each photographer, as an artist, has their own unique spin on things.

If you’re not a professional wedding photographer, you might not even realize that there can be BIG differences from one wedding photographer to another. From what equipment they use, to how they approach their work, to if they bring an assistant or another photographer along, it will affect how your photos turn out.

When you’re looking for a wedding photographer, or when you’re working with one, it’s good to know what their particular style is before your big day arrives. That way everyone is on the same page and you know exactly what to expect.

Photo-journalistic Style Wedding Photography

Documentary wedding photographers use a photojournalistic style approach to a wedding day. Like a photo reporter, they blend into the scene and document the story of the wedding, as it naturally happens. They want to capture the WHOLE story. Documentary wedding photography takes into account all of these questions, and more:

  1. Where did it take place?
  2. How did it begin?
  3. Who was there?
  4. What was the weather like?
  5. What was the energy like?
  6. What were some of the important moments?
  7. How did it end?

Documentary Wedding Photography Is Considered Non-Traditional

Traditional wedding photographers rely heavily on posed portraits and staged photographs. The wedding day is approached with a shot-list mentality. Portrait of the bride and her mom? Check. Portrait of the bridesmaids sitting on a bed? Check. Photo of the rings? The dress? Check.

Documentary wedding photography is much more fluid and spontaneous. The photographer focuses on REAL moments and what’s ACTUALLY happening, from one moment to the next. There is no planned shot list.

Documentary wedding photography produces natural, honest photographs of your wedding in a storytelling format. Often creating some of the most POWERFUL and emotionally stirring images imaginable!

Summertime lakeside wedding in Brighton Michigan

How Documentary Wedding Photography Benefits You (The Wedding Couple)

Since documentary wedding photography doesn’t focus on portraits or set-up photos, you can relax and enjoy your wedding day more than with a traditional photographer. You can just let the events of the day play out, knowing that it’s all being recorded for you. So you’ll be able to look at your photos and re-live all those amazing moments again and again!

Documentary wedding photographers use their expertise to capture in-between moments and emotions with creativity and passion. So your photos are going to mean a lot more to you than if they’re the same photos you see in everyone else’s wedding album.

Photographs bring back exactly how you were feeling at that precise moment. Wouldn’t you love to have a wedding gallery full of photos that make your heart flutter…make you smile ear to ear…laugh out loud…and cry happy tears? Instead of a bunch of photos that remind you of how uncomfortable it is posing for the camera, being rushed from one photo-op to another?

When you work with a documentary wedding photographer, you’re trusting that photographer to use their skill and vision to tell the story of your wedding day. In return, your photos will not be like ANYONE else’s! They’ll be 100% true to you!

Wedding at Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake, Michigan
Carp River Gardens Wedding.
Wedding at Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake, Michigan

Who It Isn’t For

Documentary wedding photography isn’t for everyone. And that’s OK! People have different tastes, and what’s important to one couple won’t be important to another. Everyone deserves to have wedding photos they love!

A documentary wedding photographer might not be right for you if:

  • You actually LOVE posing for the camera and being in the spotlight.
  • You’re looking forward to all the smiling, looking at the camera portraits with your family and friends.
  • There are a bunch of wedding photos you’ve seen online that you’d like to re-create.
  • Having beautifully set up photos of your dress, rings, invitation suite, and other accessories is more important to you than having photos of what’s actually going on at your wedding.

I recommend asking a potential wedding photographer for examples of REAL wedding galleries they’ve delivered. This way you can get a feel for what to expect when you receive your own photos.

Why I love Documentary Wedding Photography

Documentary wedding photographers like to blend in with your wedding, like they’re just another guest there to celebrate with you (who happens to have a camera and is an amazing photographer). 😉

I love this approach because it lets me mingle with everyone and get REAL, natural photos of the people at your wedding! I don’t bring a crew of people, or a heap of equipment. Instead, I’m fun, easy-going, and can get right in the middle of the action with barely being noticed!

In turn, I can create photos for you that are ONE-OF-A-KIND. That speak the truth. And that are much more meaningful than staged photos.

Winter wedding in Detroit Michigan
Bride and Groom doing a first look on Presque Isle, Marquette MI
Wedding at Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake, Michigan

My Fusion Approach

Some die-hard documentary wedding photographers insist on not influencing things. They won’t do ANY portraits or staged photos, at all. They don’t touch or move ANYTHING. I like to take a more relaxed approach.

Most of the time, I approach weddings with a documentary style. I try to be unobtrusive and document the day as it naturally unfolds.

However, I do take some liberties. I might ask someone getting ready to turn a certain way if I can see the light is going to be WAY BETTER and therefore, make them look way better in the photo. When I’m taking photos of just the couple, I will provide direction, so the photos are consistent with all the beautiful work you see on my Instagram and website.

Wedding at Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake, Michigan

What About Photos of The Dress and Family Portraits?

I think it’s important to have family photos and some portraits of the people there on your wedding day. Before your wedding, I send an online worksheet that helps me with your family group photos and any other staged portraits you want. Just remember, the more photo requests you make, the more it takes me away from documenting your wedding day!

As far as photos of the dress, rings, accessories, etc, I don’t set up photographs of these items. I just feel it takes me away from the more important things. But it’s not that I don’t get photos of these details! I love photographing all the little things AS THEY ARE. And I love adding a human element to bring more depth and meaning to the photo.

Wedding at Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake, Michigan
Winter wedding in Detroit Michigan

Your Wedding Story Matters

In closing, as a documentary wedding photographer, I feel it’s so important to have the story of your wedding day told. So you have the ability to experience it over and over as the years pass. So you can share it with those who weren’t able to be there. And so you have those intense emotions preserved in a time-capsule, to return to whenever you need.


Lume Photography is a documentary-style elopement and wedding photographer based in Michigan, traveling worldwide. Behind the camera you’ll find me (Andrea)- a girl who loves animals, the wilderness, and love stories. I believe in magic, soulmates, and the hidden forces of energy that connect everything and everyone in the universe. My favorite places are the woods, the mountains, and the ocean. My passion is documenting the moments, emotions, and connection between two souls in love, in wild places. I’ve traveled to Arizona, Colorado, Costa Rica, Scotland, and beyond to photograph wild elopements and small destination weddings.

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I love that you broke down what your style is, who it’s for and who it best fits! So great!

This is a lovely way to explain to couples (or anyone else who isn’t a photographer) how a documentary approach works. I completely agree that these photos will mean a lot more to the couple and will be more true to them. :)

SO much great content here, and you give such a great in-depth perspective on documentary photography! Also, the photos really do say it all, but you CLEARLY exhibit all of the traits of a great documentary photographer! Amazing work.

Great thoughts and a really thought out approach to documentary work and why it’s such a powerful way of sharing moments.

Okay I seriously LOVE this! I’ve never seen a blog post like this that actually explains what it means to hire a documentary style photographer. This is so helpful for any potential bride to help them understand the style of photography they will want for their wedding.

These are such gorgeous, spontaneous images! Love how you combine visual artistry with capturing those fleeting moments – you have really caught the soul and spirit of each individual day.

Wow, i love the emotions in these shots! Awesome work!!

Love your fly on the wall style so much! And I love all the emotion you capture in these shots! Plus your description of a doc style photographer is spot on. Great info for so many couples.

this is a really awesome explanation of what documentary style photography is. i describe myself as this too but have never quite had the words to phrase it. i love how you described it.

This blog post was super informative and very well written! The images could not have been any better!

Thanks for your feedback!

<3

Thanks!

This means a lot to me – thank you!