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  • Manon Douard

Wedding photography: documentary and editorial styles

Hi there,

I'm considering adding this clarification on each of my articles: I started translating my content though my French being already quite chaotic the translation is probably far from perfect (and most of my jokes didn't survive it which is quite a loss). I apologize for the mistakes I surely made. On the bright side, at least you can't hear how French I sound when I speak English)

One of my great specialties on this blog is rereading my old articles, discovering that I no longer agree with myself and wanting to rectify my own words (I'll obviously never run out of topics for this blog since I change my mind every five minutes).

Some time ago now, I wrote an article about the different styles of wedding reportage with which I no longer entirely agree. In that article, I conflate the retouching aspect of wedding photography with the photographic style that I define as the way a picture is taken. I'm not judging myself (self-love always), but in today's article I'll try to clarify my point of view.

Wedding photography : retouching VS style

For the purposes of my demonstration, I'm going to define what I call photographic style and retouching. Please note that these definitions are totally personal and that my point of view is mine alone (well, mine for two years, after that we don't know).

  • What I call the photographic style is the way the photographer will approach the shot, how he will create an image. What composition he'll choose, what light, whether or not he'll intervene to make the subjects pose, and so on. This is the step I'm going to tackle today.

  • Retouching is the way the photographer post-processes the image once the raw photos have been taken. What colors he'll modify or accentuate, how he'll manage contrasts, exposure and so on. It's the passage from a raw photo to its final version. It's this aspect that I described to you in my previous article, and which I'm completing with today's topic.

In wedding photography I see two main styles which creates a broad spectrum over which wedding photographers wander: editorial and documentary style.

mariée de dos qui descend un grand escalier en colimaçon à l'abbaye des Prémontrés

Documentary and editorial styles in wedding photography


Documentary photography is inspired by the first photojournalists, who were war photographers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Initially, these were posed shots of soldiers or landscape photos, due to the slowness of the photographic process, but technical progress later enabled photo-reporters to create images at the heart of conflicts (Robert Capa, for example, covered the Normandy landings). In this approach, reality is reported without any intervention on the part of the photographer, and without having his subjects pose (not that the American soldiers on the landing had time to strike a pose between two bursts of machine-gun fire). Applied to weddings, this style traditionally results in a reportage look, with lots of black and white and wide shots to encompass all the action and surroundings.

In my opinion, this style favors above all else the composition of the picture. When you're not involved in the action, the aesthetic of the picture depends mainly on the photographer's ability to analyze the environment and place himself (very) quickly in the right spot.


Editorial photography is a more 'fashionable' approach to wedding photography. The photographer approaches wedding photography as he would a photo shoot: the entire environment of a scene is thought through and reflected upon to create the most harmonious images. This can mean moving the bride and groom toward this light or this decor, removing elements or furniture from a scene, having the bride and groom pose - in short, creating the atmosphere you want by shaping the environment rather than just freezing the action exactly as it happened. The aesthetic is naturally derived from that of fashion magazines: luminous, sophisticated, with poses that take their cue from fashion magazine standards.

In editorial style, composition is obviously very important, but for me it's mostly about the photographer's posing skills. The aim is to recreate a magazine atmosphere, except that a fashion photographer shoots experienced models who are used to posing, not inexperienced brides and grooms who are mostly new to the exercise. To be able to recreate elaborate poses while cultivating a light, fun atmosphere so not only the pictures are memorable but the moment itself is cherished by the couple is a technical tour de force that requires a skill that I strive to develop (and it is safe to say I'm far from done yet).

Le marié embrasse son épouse dans le cou lors de leur mariage en Provence

Important note: any retouching style can be applied to any photographic approach, depending on the photographer's sensitivity and artistic flair. Photographic styles have a rendering that flows naturally from their history and raison d'être, but everyone is free to adapt them.

Which approach for a wedding reportage: documentary or editorial?

Well, both !

Most wedding galleries alternate between documentary and editorial style. Some moments require the photographer to intervene to a greater or lesser extent to guide the bride and groom (the couple's session, for example), while others are totally incompatible with an editorial approach, since it's impossible to have the couple or guests pose at the ceremony, for example. A day where everything is constantly staged would be exhausting for everyone involved, and frustrating for the bride and groom, who also need spontaneity at their wedding!

The balance between editorial and photojournalism depends on the photographer, his or her retouching and artistic style. However, the photographer's approach does play a role in the way the images are rendered, because beyond the composition, which will be different, each approach has its own aesthetic canons that come from its history.

Which style is best suited to Fine Art rendering?

Fine Art as a movement was born from the desire of photographers in the '40s to promote their craft and having it recognized as art. They wanted photography to gain the credit literature or painting already had. Images are no longer created just to fill private orders or sell cans of food: photography can convey emotions, which makes it Art. The canons of Fine Art derive directly from this ideological positioning: timeless images with an assumed artistic dimension.

In wedding photography, this vision naturally leads to a more editorial style. To create an artistic image, to bring your creations closer to 'works of art', you need to create the shooting conditions that will enable you to create the image you want, and thus intervene in the action. The reportage approach is not to be excluded from Fine Art, as it's impossible to constantly stage everything at a wedding (and it would be unbearable for the bride and groom), but long sequences of the wedding are designed to give the photographer time to stage the action, particularly during the getting ready moments and the couple's session.

A reportage that aims to be Fine Art will include both approaches, but the editorial style will probably have a more important place even if, as I said, each photographer brings his own vision to his creations.

Détail de l'épaule d'une mariée et des détails en perle de sa robe

Why is it important to know which style you want ahead of your wedding?

The vibe of your wedding photos won't be the same

Depending on the style of your wedding photographer, the atmosphere created in an image is radically different. Editorial photography often relies on portraits, fashion-inspired poses and vertical framing. Reportage style, on the other hand, captures one or more simultaneous actions and encompasses the scene. There are traditionally more wide shots and horizontal framing.

Even retouched in the same way, a same moment will give you radically different photos depending on whether the photographer approached the shoot with a reportage or editorial style.

It's important to make sure you already know the vibe you're looking for before you book your wedding photographer, so you can make sure your photo gallery is up to your expectations.

Your involvement as bride and groom won't be the same either

An editorial approach requires more involvement from the bride and groom, since they'll have to pose and follow more prompts than with a reportage style photographer.

If you hate posing, if you feel like your couple's session is going to be the most boring part of your wedding, maybe an editorial approach is not for you. On the other hand, if you want photos that make you feel like a movie star, and you're willing to play the posing game on the big day, a photo-journalistic approach might disappoint you.

You should take into account the way you're willing to spend your day and interact with your photographer when it comes to deciding on which style suits you best.

The schedule

It may seem a trivial logistical matter, but it's one to bear in mind: the style you go with will have a direct impact on your wedding schedule.

This year I photographed a bride and groom that wanted an editorial style for their wedding photos in Italy. We did several couple sessions that were long enough to leave us time to devote to staging the couple.

On the other hand, if you prefer a reportage approach, with as few posed images as possible, your couple session may not last as long which gives you more time to spend with you guests.

There's no right or wrong choice, but knowing the aesthetics and atmosphere you like best can guide the whole course of your day.

photo d'une table de mariage dressée dans la cour intérieure d'une masseria italienne au coucher du soleil

I hope I've shed some light on the subject and possibly helped a few bride and groom trying to understand the messy world of wedding photography !

A plus tard,


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