The History of Reportage Wedding Photography

Reportage Wedding Photography is still thought by many to be a recent trend in photography. In fact it has a long heritage and was often called candid photography in the context of a wedding. Seen by extreme traditionalists (a rare breed now) as a new fad, it was felt to threaten the supremacy of the medium format camera with its staged shots and posed set ups.

In the old style, photographers always had a big camera set up on a tripod and even a hood over the head of the photographer. This Very formal and very posed art of portraiture was born, like so many of today’s cultural norms, of technological limitations. Way back when, photographic technology required long exposure times, long winded plate or film changes and “keep still” poses. Fast 35 mm film basically solved this problem, again with certain limitations. Lighter cameras holding rolls meant that photojournalistic techniques could be applied to wedding photography.

The game changer was that wedding photography needed no longer to be posed. Wedding Photography could now become Reportage Photography. Precious moments, unrepeatable in a pose are only possible with the participants being unaware that a camera is in use. Fast film offered this to a degree, although the fastest film was ISO 1600 or 3200 and were very grainy. In fact the grain produced by fast film (which enabled action freezing photojournalism in low-ish light) became a signature “look” found in Time magazine and other iconic journals.

Naturally, wedding photography started to borrow this look and start demanding the grainy black and white look. The grain is of course a form of visual artefact – a distortion of the truth in reality. Today’s technology now takes this several steps further with the equivalent of ISO 102,000 available on some machines. A shot at ISO 6400 is now considered routine – affording incredible reportage wedding photography options to the photographer – with no grain in sight.

At times the modern, digital photographer is asked to add a simulation of celluloid film grain to otherwise pristine photograph. Although it can look great, it is an intriguing fact of aesthetics that a photograph can seem more timeless and real with artefacts added to it.

Part of the maturation of reportage wedding photography has to be the evolution of the Wedding Album. Rather than present the married couple with a simple book with best pictures placed in order of preference, the wedding photographer’s task now includes the design and layout of a book that well tell the story of the wedding. Photographs are placed in a digitally printed book, in chronological order. Each photo relates to each other photo as part of a linear story, bringing vividly back the memories of the big day.