The term photojournalism is a buzzword in the field of photography. It means so many things to so many different people. Pinning down a concrete definition is difficult. But brides and grooms need to be in the know when researching and hiring a wedding day photographer.

Definitions of the term photojournalism are varied.  It’s different with every person. Some think it’s candids. Some think it’s details of the day. Most experts agree it’s the telling of a story from beginning to end. It’s capturing the entire day. Photojournalism is not that new of a concept. It’s been a part of the wedding vernacular for 10 years and now is considered mainstream. Most couples know it as unposed, documentary photography. The hallmarks of photojournalism are images that aren’t posed or staged. Instead, the concept is showing all the events of the day and capturing unprompted moments like tears of joy and laughter among friends, or a child caught napping from exhaustion at the reception.

In contrast, traditional photography is based on poses and planned moments. Think of a photographer lining the wedding party up for a group photo. Everyone is posed and for a staged moment. Everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. Aside from contrived looking images, these posed shots can be time consuming and draining for the bride, groom and the wedding party. Photojournalism allows couples the freedom to spend their wedding day enjoying themselves, not mugging for the camera. Photos captured in the photojournalistic style are naturally occurring and aren’t reliant on poses or multiple takes of the same shot.

Photojournalism is about capturing moments, not creating them. A photojournalistic approach to shooting a wedding is like a documentary of the day. There are shots of the guests being natural, enjoying the day dancing, laughing and smiling. And there are other shots that capture the details of the day like the centerpieces, the candles on a table and the cake being served. Combined, these images tell the story of the wedding.

Since the wedding day is a blur for most brides and grooms, they rely on some images from the day to piece the whole event together. The newlyweds may not have a chance to mingle with all the guests or to view the behind the scenes pre-ceremony excitement, so they look to candid photos to fill in the gaps. For example, a bride may have missed her nieces sorting through the rose petals before the wedding, but an unstaged photo brings the image to her in such vivid detail that she feels as though she witnessed the scene. Professional photographers have a knack for not missing anything at the wedding; their eyes are all over the place when they shoot a wedding. Such keen attention helps them capture everything that happens before, during and after the wedding.

Photojournalism is about capturing the day as it occurs. Some think it’s really the best way to cover the wedding. Somebody who wasn’t there could look at the photos and get a real feel for the day.

Still the term photojournalism is so widely used that the concept isn’t exclusive to professional photographers who pride themselves on their documentary, shoot-it-as-it-happens style. Lately photojournalism has become more of a marketing term rather than a unique way of photographing a wedding. Technically, anyone who photographs a real life moment without setting up, creating, or interfering with the event is a “photojournalist.” That does not mean all photojournalists are created equal. To do it properly one must capture not only the surface but also the emotion and meaning of that reality. A good photojournalist uses all the craft that photography has to offer to reinforce and clarify a real life moment.

So how can a bride and groom tell if a photographer is a photojournalist? According to experts, the test is to look at the photographer’s images and ask yourself, “does it look staged or does it look like it actually happened?” By perusing a photographer’s website or portfolio a couple can get an idea of the professional’s photojournalistic style. When you look at images, you should see emotion and key elements captured. Don’t get caught up in the terminology. Instead, check out a photographer’s images to see if the photos are in the photojournalistic style that conveys emotions and highlights the details of the wedding day. Once you look at a few web sites and portfolios, you can see the wide range of photojournalistic images and style variations.

While the unstructured aspects of photojournalism are appealing, many couples still want posed shots like portraits and group photos. That’s understandable; most couples still want a certain number of traditional posed shots for framing or for albums. The solution to this problem is to shoot some posed, formal shots like family shots and portraits of the bride and groom, while still capturing those natural events like tears during a dance and smiles during the toasts.

Many photographers say they can successfully cover a wedding with one photographer complete with posed and photojournalistic photos. But other photographers recommend a second or a third photographer for a mixed shoot of formal and candids. The decision to have an extra photographer is up to you, but know that with additional help, you can expect to pay more for the wedding photography.

The best photojournalists are working off the radar. They avoid staged shots and they focus on emotion and natural occurrences. They’re so good at their craft that wedding guests won’t even know they’re there. The resulting images are magical because they are sincere, real and unfettered, just like a strong marriage.

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