What Is Documentary Wedding Photography?

An easy guide to documentary wedding photography explained by a photographer.

Wedding planning is exciting and finding the right photographer to capture your memories is important. However, it can be a little overwhelming as there are so many photographers and styles to choose from.

Most couples don’t like having their pictures taken and are drawn to the idea of documentary wedding photography, but what exactly is ‘documentary wedding photography?’

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

A decade ago I left a successful media career to pursue wedding photography because I wanted to share my knowledge and insights so that couples got 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 how I photograph weddings and why I believe documentary wedding photography is the most valuable of all the wedding photography styles…


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

Documentary wedding photography explained

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

Pure documentary wedding photography is producing image(s) without any interference, direction or poses from the photographer. The images capture genuine, observed moments and convey honesty and 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, when relating to wedding photography, photojournalism, reportage, candid and documentary wedding photography is all loosely the same. They are unposed and natural-looking 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…


Emotional man groom crying with head toughing bride

Dad giving bride away ashfield house 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 and 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. 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 Camera Operator in the Television industry,  I also have a degree in communication and body language. This has given me an incredible gift of being able to visualise an image in my mind before I’ve pressed the shutter.

I find my style, approach and training to photographing weddings are perfect for documentary wedding photography because it 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. 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. Taking the time to tune into what’s important. I’m an avid people watcher by nature and I’ve studied body language, which really helps with documentary wedding photography.

My approach to wedding photography means I don’t take the couple away from their guests for too long, there aren’t any awkward poses, I don’t direct guests to get inline or spend hours doing formals and making sure everyone’s buttonholes are perfectly aligned. 

However, this wasn’t always the case, it’s a technique that I have developed over time. To fully explain my take on documentary wedding photography and why I believe it’s the most powerful of all the wedding photography styles, I have to briefly take you back to the beginning of my wedding photography journey…


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 into my wedding photography career, I noticed that I had started to become influenced by trends; I was trying to second guess what I thought was going to be popular and what people would want rather than finding the thing that I loved doing the most.

During this time I was producing editorial style images, both in the wedding and commercial photography sectors. I was using big light set-ups, artistically and fashionably posing my ‘subjects,’ and heavily photo-shopping images. 

I found 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 with my customers. 

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

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

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

The value of style telling 

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 people had spoke about wasn’t present in the album due to the traditional style of wedding photography. 

My Mum has always recalled that it rained on her wedding day, yet there was no evidence of this in the album. A simple image of my Mum getting out of the car under an umbrella is an image I would have been able to connect with. 

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. My aim is to photograph people at their best and the moments that matter so that they have meaningful pictures and a wedding they love.


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’m proud to say that more than 400+ couples in over 10 countries have trusted me with their engagement and wedding photography. I have been Wedding Photographer Of The Year Finalist for the last four years at The English Wedding Awards and photographed celebrity weddings, Premiership footballers and music icons.

More recently, a wedding I photographed was listed in the top 50 most memorable celebrity weddings of the decade in Hello! Magazine. A true compliment to my documentary style of wedding photography.

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

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