Black and white photo of man laughing during wedding speeches

What Is Documentary Wedding Photography?

Documentary Wedding Photography explained.

A documentary wedding photographer’s guide to documentary photography.

Wedding planning is exciting and an important part of the process is to find the right photographer to capture your memories. However, with so many photographers and styles to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming.

The majority of couples have never planned a wedding, have never hired a photographer, and are fearful of having their photographs taken.

They like the idea of candid/natural wedding photos. A quick internet search yields the term Documentary wedding photography.

But what exactly is ‘documentary wedding photography?’

Keep reading to find out more…

what is documentary wedding photography. Groom whipping tears from brides face during wedding ceremony

Professional documentary wedding photographer

My name is Wes Simpson, I’m a professional wedding photographer from Liverpool, England specialising in luxury weddings and documentary wedding photography.

I was awarded Best Documentary-style Wedding Photographer 2022. I love documentary wedding photography. I think it is perfect for modern couples.

A decade ago I left a successful media career to pursue wedding photography. I wanted to share my knowledge and insights and help couples get real, meaningful and powerful wedding images.

I have put this page together to help assist you in finding the right photography style for your wedding.

I have included useful information on the different styles and techniques of modern-day wedding photography and use real examples of how I photograph weddings.

Emotional man groom crying with head toughing bride

Documentary wedding photography explained

Documentary, reportage, and photojournalism are just some of the names that photographers, wedding magazines and blog writers use to describe natural, unposed and factual images.

Pure documentary wedding photography produces an image without any interference or direction from the photographer.

These images capture genuine, observed moments and convey authenticity.

Wikipedia refers to documentary photography as a popular form of photography used to chronicle events or environments both significant and relevant to history.

For me, photojournalism, reportage, and candid documentary wedding photography are the same. Unposed images that capture real-time events during a wedding celebration.

I guess the only real difference is the way bridal magazines fashionably label ‘real moments.’ To keep it simple, as a documentary wedding photographer, I love pictures like this…

Dad giving bride away ashfield house wedding

Why is documentary wedding photography important?

Documentary wedding photography is a form of photography that documents weddings in a way that is different from traditional photography.

Documentary wedding photography is important because it captures the story of the wedding and the emotions that are associated with the celebration for future generations.

If you want to capture the story of your wedding and the emotions that are attached to the celebrations, then documentary wedding photography is the way to go.

Traditional wedding photography does not capture the story or the emotions that are associated with the celebrations in the same way that documentary wedding photography does.

If you fear having your picture taken during the wedding or don’t want to be photographed for long periods. Documentary wedding photography might be the perfect option for you.

Little girl and bride getting ready on either side of wall. Documentary wedding photography

Documentary V’s Traditional

What’s the difference between documentary wedding photography and traditional wedding photography?

Traditional wedding photography is more about capturing the traditional elements of a wedding. For example, the ceremony and formal group shots.

Traditional wedding photography is more posed and formal. Documentary wedding photography is more natural, creative and engaging.

Most traditional wedding photographers are more experienced in lighting and posing than documentary wedding photographers.

Documentary wedding photographers are more experienced in capturing the spontaneity and natural beauty of real life.

Traditional wedding photographers are more visible on the wedding day, often using lighting techniques and posing for the couples and the wedding party.

Documentary wedding photographers are less visible during the wedding day and often use more natural lighting and less posing.

Documentary wedding photographers can capture a more personal and intimate experience of the wedding day. They use less equipment, and smaller cameras and blend in with the wedding.

Old man laughing. Liverpool Documentary wedding photography


“It’s about waiting for, seeing and feeling all the important elements of what makes an ordinary moment an extraordinary picture” – Wes Simpson

Russell Watson hugging bride on wedding day with Behaves landscape

My approach to documentary wedding photography 

By no means am I a purist when it comes to documentary wedding photography? My approach is about 75% documentary, capturing real moments as they happen throughout that day.

Documentary wedding photography is important. These are the types of images that trigger memories in years to come.

During a real wedding, I mix my style of documentary wedding photography with some creative portraits, which my couples call “works of art” and proudly hang on their walls.

I began my career as a Cameraman on t.v,  I also have a degree in communication and body language. This experience enables me to pre-empt and capture special moments as they happen.

My cinematic style of photography and ability to capture emotion has seen me become one of the most sought-after photographers in the North West of England.

I have had the pleasure of photographing weddings worldwide, won multiple awards and seen my work featured in celebrity magazines such as Vogue and Hello!

My technique 

As a documentary wedding photographer, I use my eyes and my heart when photographing weddings. I take the time to tune into what’s important.

I’m an avid people watcher by nature and I’ve studied body language, which helps with documentary wedding photography.

My approach to wedding photography means I don’t take the couple away from their guests for too long, and there aren’t any awkward poses.

I don’t direct guests to get in line, spend hours doing formals or waste time making sure everyone’s buttonholes are perfectly aligned. I creatively document the day as it happens.

Photo take through a gap in the door of of Little girl looking at wedding dress West tower

How I became a documentary wedding photographer 

Early in my wedding photography career, I was influenced by trends; I was guessing what I thought was going to be popular rather than finding the thing that I loved doing the most.

I was producing editorial-style images, using big light set-ups, fashionably posing my couples and heavily photo-shopping the images. 

I was becoming increasingly unhappy at ‘manufacturing’ wedding images. Something just didn’t sit right with me. I longed for a deeper connection to my work and customers. 

Don’t get me wrong, traditional and fashion-style wedding photography has its place, and it provides the security of producing an organised record of the event and the people who attended it.

No one ever went to work on a Monday and said: “I went to a fantastic wedding at the weekend, we stood in a line and got our pictures taken.” 

For me, documentary wedding photography has more personal and emotional value. It can trigger a memory and transport you back to a time and place just like a piece of music can.

Read the full story – how I became a wedding photographer.

Bride with wearing white gloves comforting emotional groom with hands on face. Documentary wedding photography

Little boy holding granddads hand during wedding ceremony. What is documentary wedding photography

The value of documentary storytelling

A few years into my photography career I found myself looking through my Mum and Dad’s wedding album, which I had not looked at since becoming a wedding photographer.

I noticed the memories and personal stories that I had come to associate with the wedding weren’t present due to the traditional style of wedding photography. 

It rained on Mum’s wedding day, yet there was no evidence of this in the album. A simple image of her under an umbrella would have helped me connect with their wedding. This got me thinking.

 “How can I serve my customers better and add ‘real value to their wedding pictures?”

Most couples worry about wedding photography, awkward poses, and it eating into their day.

I aim to photograph people at their best and the moments that matter so that they have meaningful pictures and a wedding they love. I do this without interference or dictating. 

Enjoy the day, and let your photographer capture the memories. That’s the beauty of documentary wedding photography.

Wedding car driver holding umbrella as it blows inside out. Lancashire Documentary wedding photography explained

Close up photo of emotional groom as bride walks down the aisle in background. Cyprus documentary wedding photography

Sun set of wave crashing over bride and groom on wedding day

Let’s talk about your wedding. 

I’ve had the privilege of photographing weddings worldwide with hundreds of couples who trusted me with their engagement and wedding photography.

I was awarded Wedding Photographer Of The Year 2022 and 2023 at The English Wedding Awards, and I have photographed celebrity weddings, Premiership footballers and music icons.

More recently, I was featured in the top 50 most memorable celebrity weddings of the decade in Hello! Magazine. This was a compliment to my documentary-style wedding photography.

In 2022, I was named Best documentary-style wedding photographer in the UK. It is safe to say that if documentary wedding photography is your thing, we have a lot in common.

Check out my approach to photographing your wedding and the latest weddings on the blog or contact me today to be your documentary wedding photographer. 

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