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Is Your Wedding Photographer Really a Photojournalist?

May 19, 2008
One of the big buzzwords in wedding photography is "wedding photojournalism." Many photographers claim to have a photojournalistic approach. Surprisingly, real wedding photojournalists are hard to find.

First, what is a wedding photojournalist? Unlike traditional wedding photography, which focuses on posed pictures, staged shots, and formal portraits, the wedding photojournalist focuses on capturing the spontaneous, natural moments of the wedding: capturing the personality of the bride and groom, and the unique story of their wedding. The photojournalist will remain as inconspicuous as possible, and the only time he/she will set up a shot is during the portrait session, which tend to be relaxed and brief (and little as 10 to 15 minutes). It's an idea that appeals to many, but just because a photographer claims to be a wedding photojournalist doesn't make it so.

So, how can you tell if your photographer really is a wedding photojournalist?

First, a growing number of newspaper photojournalists are leaving their jobs as the newspaper business declines and getting into wedding photography. If your photographer has been a photojournalist at a newspaper, the chances are good that he/she uses a photojournalistic approach at the wedding: he/she is used to documenting events without interfering.

Second, check to see if your photographer is a member of the Wedding Photojournalist Association? The WPJA is an exclusive and authoritative organization on wedding photojournalism, so if your photographer meets their exacting standards for quality, then you can be sure you are dealing with a real wedding photojournalist.

Third, the pictures themselves will give you a good idea of the approach of the photographer. When looking at a photographer's portfolio or website, what percentage of the pictures are "camera-aware"--that is, that the person being photographed is aware of the camera? A guideline set up by the WPJA is that about 80% of one's images should be spontaneous, natural, un-posed pictures with the subjects unaware of the camera. Keep that guideline in mind when you look at websites. In how many pictures is the person looking at the camera? How many pictures look posed?

Third, the aim of wedding photojournalism is to capture what really happened. It documents the day, rather than creates an illusion of the day. Therefore, wedding photojournalists tend to avoid overly processing the images in Photoshop. When looking at a portfolio, pay attention to how "natural" the images are. Photojournalistic shots tend to be crisp, clear, well-composed, but above all, natural. On the other hand, many photographers will "spice up" a picture with tricks in Photoshop, like vignette-ing (which is darkening the edges of an image) or color-select (where an image is black and white except for one part, such as the bouquet), or toning (sepia-toning being most common). A high percentage of obviously processed images is an indication that the photographer doesn't approach the wedding as a photojournalist.

Finally, interview the photographer. Find out about the photographer's philosophy in approaching a wedding. Ask the photographer how often he/she speaks to the bride and groom, and what kinds of things are said (a photojournalist, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, says little beyond what is necessary and/or polite). Find out how the photographer handles things at the reception (the photojournalist will do no orchestration of events at the reception, but let the reception unfold naturally).

But again, above all, look at the pictures. Because the wedding photojournalist is focused on capturing the couple, each set of wedding pictures will have a completely different look and feel. No two weddings will look alike. If you can get a good sense of the personality of the bride and groom, and a good idea of what their wedding day was like, then you are probably dealing with a bona fide wedding photojournalist.
About the Author
Larry Brunt is a wedding photojournalist. His company, Essential Moments Photography, is located in Spokane, WA, and Larry photographs weddings throughout the United States. Visit his website at www.EssentialMomentsPhotos.com or drop by his blog
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