Are you missing the point of Reportage?

"Seems to me that most of the wannabe 'photojournalist/documentary/reportage' photographers just think that as long as the person is not looking at the camera, then they can hit the grayscale button and it becomes reportage. They are wrong" A comment above was posted in response to Part One of this series - simple, yet it highlights the issue with absolute clarity.

My interpretation of a reportage and documentary wedding photographer - or wedding photojournalist for that matter, is that they have a finely tuned, well-practiced eye for storytelling - an ability to be in the right place at the right time. Elements such as composition and lighting will be second nature and instinctive with practice. Most importantly however, they will understand their customers and their subjects. They will successfully create personal, enduring images and not just banal, stereotypical snapshots of the bride's shoes and isolated mugshots of the friends and family.

Unfortunately, this interpretation is almost the very opposite of what the majority of couples researching into reportage are experiencing. As far as they're concerned, and lets face it who can blame them, 'reportage wedding photography' is the black and white stuff where people aren't looking at the camera, right? Wrong. I've mentioned in previous posts how important I feel authentic wedding photography is; images accurately and sincerely reflecting the spirit and occasion of the day, an approach perfectly suited to documenting more delicate and sensitive moments, funeral photography for instance.

This type of coverage is highly relevant and incredibly personal. Its images are full of context and emphasise the environment around a subject rather than a simple headshot, which will unquestionably take a customer back to a particular moment with total clarity. The end result is a timeless and highly significant body of work that has a strong emotional impact for your clients.

"Mum hates posing for the camera, so if you can photograph her from the other side of the room in order to get a genuine smile, that'd be great"

With the correct people skills, you don't need to sneak up or hide from people in order to ‘steal shots’, it really is possible to be accepted as the photographer at the wedding, even by the camera shy and aware. However, first you must develop the ability to instantly give people complete faith in your abilities. A good social, reportage, documentary or photojournalist wedding photographer will first and foremost have excellent people skills, an asset that is too regularly overlooked in the wedding photography business.

When employed by a competent photographer these people skills allow them to develop a positive rapport with a subject and to seamlessly become part of, and identify with, very personal and often private moments. The camera and lens is a means to an end. A tool that is at best a passport into a situation and at worst a disruptive influence that can spoil a once in a lifetime moment. For instance, the familiarity I'm able to achieve by approaching a wedding like a guest allows me to make very intimate and honest photographs. I use small cameras and lenses, very rarely use flash and dress like a guest too.

It is people skills that allows me to do my job well, to be accepted into the day and to empathise with the subjects. In fact people will ask me from time to time how I know the bride and groom, thinking I'm a guest - this is when I know I’m doing a good job.

True reportage wedding photography is so much more than just a pretty picture. I fully appreciate that aesthetics come into play, such as the undefinable instant wow factor an image may have. However, that only lasts so long. Images need to have more to them, they need to provoke an interpretation or an emotional connection if they are to stand the test of time - something that I strongly believe mainstream wedding photographers do not do with their 'snapshot wedding photography'.

Okay, time to walk the walk. This wedding from 2010 (see my very latest weddings on the blog) is Philipa and Rob's well planned, very relaxed and welcoming day at Langshott Manor in Surrey which, especially during the low-light days of winter with pools of low directional light, was incredibly satisfying to document. This wedding depicts very clearly what I consider to be strong, timeless and most importantly honest documentary wedding photography, aka 'reportage wedding photography'. More than a snapshot, or a pretty picture for that matter.

This was a simple, gently-paced Surrey wedding with a genuinely warm atmosphere. Both families were ideal to work with too - fully embracing our true reportage, 'hands-off' approach.

In the next post I will guide you through the equipment, including cameras, lenses and accessories, that I use to create my reportage wedding photography.