Wedding blogs love to tell couples that they need to find their "wedding photography style" before they can choose a wedding photographer. In my opinion, this information can be very helpful, but it can also be very confusing! So, to help guide you through a variety of terms and quizzes and to help you avoid the utter nonsense, I present my analysis of the many styles of wedding photography.
Wedding Photography Styles
There are many different styles for both shooting and editing. The shooting style of a photographer relates to the content of the image and the intention. For example, did the photographer create a distinct mood or feeling in the image by directing or posing the couple? Or did the photographer just capture the moment as it happened?
Editing styles refer to the way the image was changed after its initial capture to reflect the artistic preferences of the photographer (think of them as custom-made Instagram filters). A photographer's personal style is often a fusion of multiple shooting and editing styles.
The following are some of the possible categories a photographer might demonstrate:
This style is a broad category that includes many variations on the same theme. Generally, a documentary wedding photographer will not be directing the action (although they will occasionally give some direction when appropriate). Instead, they will watch events unfold and capture the highlights of the story. This is a critical skill for a wedding photographer because much of the wedding day would be disrupted if the photographer constantly shouted out directions. Ceremonies and most of the best reception moments are photographed in this style.
Lifestyle wedding photography is a little more hands-on. There is a small amount of direction, and the photographer's particular point of view is more obvious.
Photojournalistic wedding photography is more objective. The photographer looks for moments that tell the story of the wedding day from a variety of points of view.
Editorial wedding photography has a more glamorous edge (think of a glossy magazine cover). This style still tells a specific story, but often the photographer uses tools like an off-camera flash to help boost the drama of a moment and highlight the subject.
Candid Wedding Photography features stolen moments during which the photographer is unnoticed by the subject. It works best in natural light with long lenses so the photographer can get close to a subject without them knowing. Examples include paparazzi or nature photographers.
Below are examples of each style. I have pulled several photos from one wedding and listed their shooting styles to demonstrate that most wedding photographers, myself included, can use many of these shooting styles throughout the course of a day.
This style focuses on must-have wedding photos in which the couple wants the photographer to follow a specific shot list. A lot of the items on a shot list include family photos, wedding party photos, and couple's photos. Clients who prefer this style often want to find a delicate balance between their own desires and the requests of older family members.
Thirty years ago, weddings very seldom had a photographer capture the whole wedding day! It was common for couples to simply get a few portraits after the ceremony and maybe a cake-cutting photo at the start of the reception. This is still a viable option for small elopement weddings. When combined with elements of documentary wedding photography it can meet a couple's needs while respecting their budget.
Wedding portrait photography means almost all the images will have the subject looking into the camera. Each image is posed (even if it's done more candidly), and everyone is aware they are being photographed. Most weddings will have some wedding portrait photography.
Contemporary Wedding Photography is probably the method most people imagine when they begin looking for a photographer. Under this style, a photographer mixes portraits with photojournalism but still relies on a wedding photo list and the photographer's editing style to set it apart. This is probably the most common wedding photography style.
Classic wedding photography relies on traditional poses that work for most people and body types. A quick Pinterest search for "wedding photo poses" can help you identify if this is the right style for you. Most must-have wedding photo lists are composed of classic wedding photography samples.
Photo Editing Styles
This is where things get interesting (or horrifying, depending on your editor!). The way a photographer edits an image will greatly determine your attraction or revulsion to it. Here's what you need to know:
Most photographers shoot in RAW format. Images come out of the camera with low contrast, lacking sharpness and saturation.
Editing is required. RAW files cannot be opened without editing software.
Because images are shot in all sorts of lighting situations on a wedding day, editing is a very meticulous process.
Every photographer's photo editing style is going to be different, and it changes over time.
To provide a visual comparison of the differences in editing styles, I took the same image and edited it to match the styles below. That said, there are some broad categories that you can fit into different photo editing styles. These have been popularized as hashtags on Instagram, and you can easily search for photographers using these terms.
Bright and Airy tends to have soft tones, low saturation, shadow detail, and occasionally loss of detail in the highlights. Skin tones are soft and often muted. The overall effect is similar to the 35mm film that has been slightly overexposed. This is sometimes also referred to as artsy or boho.
Dark and Moody edits go exactly opposite of Bright and Airy. It has deep shadows, a wide contrast range, and more suntanned skin tones. It's dramatic but not saturated and often leaves a lot to the imagination.
Fine Art edits look like film or mimic the grain of the medium. Some shoot film and process digitally. The exposure favors the highlights only slightly, and the overall look is truer to life with a bit of manipulation. Grain might be added to enhance the organic look, and saturation might be toned down to match popular films from the past.
Clean and Classic edits are all about true-to-life colors and tones. This is the best for couples who want to accurately capture the style of their wedding. The detail in the highlights and shadows are usually preserved and match what you might remember seeing on that day.
Glam and Dramatic editing has more contrast and vivid colors than clean and classic but is similar in style and application. It also has very little grain or noise, so the images feel high quality.
Vintage edits are reminiscent of old photographs and have a strong warming filter. They often look like they were shot at sunset no matter the time of day. Skin tones can take on a slight orange tint in this style.
Photo Editing Styles Comparison
This is a quick comparison between the different styles all done on the same image to show how each subtly changes the photo.
IJ Photo Editing Style
I consider myself a documentary wedding photographer with a contemporary wedding photography bend. I love shooting in all subgenres of both documentary and traditional wedding photography, but I'm happiest when I capture real tears, heartfelt laughter, and genuine emotion.
When it comes to editing, I tend toward clean and classic for most images, but the moments that feel glam and dramatic are my favorites. No matter where the editing leads me, I always try to preserve true-to-life detail in the shadows and highlights so your images look timeless and beautiful for generations!
If you want to review some of my favorite weddings that show off my wedding photography style, please check out these blog posts:
Here are some handy links that might also help you decide which wedding photography style is for you.
What is your wedding photography and videography style? Take this quiz on TheKnot.com
Wedding Photography Styles you Need to Know from TheKnot.com
Which Wedding Portrait Style is Right for You? Take this quiz on WeddingWire.com. (Use this one with caution. It's pretty random and unhelpful, but I had a good laugh because the answers feel more like a personality test. Have fun!)
Which Wedding Photography Style is right for you? from JuneBugWeddings.com This is a great resource!