Reportage wedding photography – or is it?

 

Reportage or, to give it another name, photo-journalistic wedding photography – or is it ?  In other words, is that beautiful natural looking image of that really special moment truly “reportage photography”, or has it been created ? And does it matter ?

To me, for an image to be truly “reportage”, it has to be taken without any interference, staging or direction on the part of the photographer and the best “reportage” images are the ones that are simply that. Images where the photographer has used his or her skill, intuition and experience to be in exactly the right place so that he or she can press that shutter button at exactly the right time, capturing that never to be repeated fleeting moment in time as it happens.

Most of my clients say they want a few “formal” or “traditional” wedding images together with lots of “informal”, “natural”, “reportage” or “photo-journalistic” images. ( To me, these last four words all refer to the same style of image).

Taking lots of “natural” photos during the day shouldn’t pose a problem, but what if the client says “can I have a photo like that “reportage” one on your website ?”

It’s not unreasonable for them to expect you to provide images very similar to those you have on your website or in your portfolio. In other words, if we are offering our services as a professional wedding photographer, we need to be able to provide some consistency and give our clients what they ask for.

The problem is, by it’s very nature, a “reportage” style of image hasn’t been influenced in any way by the photographer who took it. The moment has simply been allowed to “happen”. It is a fleeting moment in time that will never be repeated. How can we provide what our clients want, how can we provide that “consistency”, when these moments happen purely  by chance ?

Early in my career I went to a training session held by someone I consider one of the best wedding photographers in the world. He showed a series of fabulous “reportage” style images of beautiful “moments” then asked a question.

“How many times do you think I have managed to get each of these images at a real wedding ?” His answer was – once in twenty years!!  He had been photographing weddings for 20 years and every photo was a “one off”, a never repeated fleeting moment in time.

So budding wedding photographers out there, how can you provide every client with the “reportage” images they want ? Telling your clients that you can only get an image that’s on your website and they really like once every 20 years isn’t going to get you very far.

For the Bride and Groom, how can you feel confident the photographer can provide what you are looking for when he or she can only get a particular image once every 20 years !!

The answer? The photographer needs to know how to create the right conditions for that moment to happen in a way that looks completely natural.

Sounds easy enough in theory, but takes a bit of thought and planning to put it into practice.

I want to take you back to what I think a truly “reportage” style image is. No interference on the part of the photographer. What a photographer has to do, in order to be able to  consistently provide what their clients are looking for, is learn how to “interfere”, “stage”, “direct”, in other words create the right conditions for that moment to occur naturally without interfering excessively in the normal flow of the day and without the subjects realising he is doing it.

What I believe you get then is an image that, whilst not truly “reportage” or “photo-journalistic” in the strictest sense, looks to all the world as if it is. When done well it looks completely natural, like a reportage style image of a beautiful fleeting moment in time. Let me explain by way of example.

I am going to use 6 images all taken from the same wedding which I think is better for showing consistency than using images from different weddings. The Bride was very specific about the images she wanted (I like it when my clients know exactly what they want). These are 6 images where the right conditions were influenced or created by me in order to get the “reportage” style of images my client requested.

I will never “guarantee 100%” to get a particular image because there are times when it’s impossible to create the situation you are looking for. Some things are completely beyond the photographer’s control. But I will always try my very best and on this occasion I managed to create all 6 requested images and they all made it into the wedding album.

Wedding photographer for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Father of the Bride sees his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time. Happening naturally, or was the moment created?

The first was an image of her Dad seeing her in her wedding dress for the first time. Now you could just hope Dad will walk in at a time when you happen to be ready to take the image. It might happen once every 20 years if you’re lucky.  Alternatively you can take control and create the circumstances where Dad waits outside the door until you have his Daughter in place ready for him, with you positioned behind her. Why am I behind her? Well every photo has to tell a story. If I just photographed Dad walking through the door I might get that wonderful expression on his face, but no one will know what he’s looking at!

Wedding Photography at Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride and her party leave down the staircase and past the wedding cake on their way to the church. Happening naturally, or was it managed?

The next image the Bride requested was one of her and her Bridesmaids walking down the main staircase on her way to the church. I had literally just finished shooting the Bridal portraits ( completely different lens and camera settings ) and they were very keen to get going, so whilst the shot itself is easy enough, I had to take control otherwise I would have missed it. I made them pause for a chat and organised them all, got myself into position, then let them walk down the stairs and timed the shot perfectly.

Wedding Photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Groom watches his Bride walk down the aisle towards him. reportage, or were the Vicar and the Groom “primed”?

Next we have an image of the Groom watching her walking down the aisle. Well, what do you have to arrange here? Make sure you have spoken with the officiant. She will then prompt the Groom to look round at just the right moment. Again, you don’t want an image of just his face as you won’t know what he’s looking at. You need the bride in the image to tell the story and the co-operation of the officiant.

wedding photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride looks to camera during her first dance surrounded by her friends and family – a truly “reportage” image, or was this moment “created”?

The next 2 “reportage” style of images requested were “First Dance” images. The Bride specifically requested one of her with her Groom, surrounded by their guests partying, whilst they held their First Dance in the middle of them with just her looking at the camera. Very specific this one and I will admit to having a little bit of luck on my side. How did I “create” this one ? I prompted the DJ so that he would call all the guests onto the dance floor at the appropriate time (they also wanted some photos of their First Dance when dancing on their own so timing was important). I had a small ladder strategically placed to give me some height to see over guests and, when everything looked right, I called the Bride’s name out loud so that she would look towards me. Fortunately luck was on my side and the guests started dancing as soon as they got on the dance floor.

wedding photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
Focus on the hands during the Bride and Groom’s first dance – or is it really their first dance ?

This “reportage” style image is the most “staged” of them all. The Bride had seen an image like it on my website and loved it, so wanted it reproduced for her album. The First Dance is usually held in a room with very little light. This makes it impossible for the camera to focus on the hands alone ( Try it yourself. Your target is going to be moving as well remember ). How do you do it? Well, get in touch and let me know how you think it was done.

Wedding Photography at Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride and Groom retire at the end of a long day – or is it really the end of the day?

The final requested “reportage” image was one of them retiring for the night. Needless to say, it is a staged photo and was taken earlier in the day. I had gone home long before their party came to an end.

So I provided the images my clients wanted and I’m confident I can create those images at most weddings, rather than once every 20 years!!

Does it matter that these images were “created”, “staged” or “managed” rather than truly “reportage”. I don’t think so. All I did was create the right conditions for them to happen naturally and they all go together with the other images taken of the day to tell the story of their wedding beautifully.