Bride and groom dancing outdoors at night.

The Three Styles of Wedding Photography: Posed, Unposed, and Both

Three Styles of Wedding Photography: an Introduction

Before starting your journey of finding the right wedding photographer – a process about which I’ll write in the future – your first and most important decision is to decide which of the major styles of wedding photography you prefer. This is a pivotal point because your decision will sit at the core of all subsequent choices you make. There are three styles of wedding photography to choose from include: traditional wedding photography, wedding photojournalism (otherwise known as documentary wedding photography or photojournalistic wedding photography), and a hybrid wedding photography, which is a combination of the first two. Broadly speaking, they can each be summed up as posed, unposed, and a mixture of both.

Posed wedding photo of a couple at Hart House in Toronto.
An example of traditional or posed wedding photography.

Traditional Wedding Photography

Traditional wedding photography is all about control and manipulation of the elements that form the final images. It’s a highly directed approach to photographing the day’s events, even in situations that seem unposed. As the name implies, it was the dominant approach throughout wedding photography’s history.

By its very nature, the traditional style of wedding photography is exceptionally intrusive! For example, during the couple’s first dance, both spouses have big smiles, either looking directly into each other’s eyes or the camera’s lens. The photographer or their assistant has also ensured that the bride’s gown and the groom’s suit and boutonnière are straightened and upright. During the cutting of the wedding cake, the photographer will make sure that the bride and groom look great while smiling and looking at the camera, at the cake, and then at each other, all while holding the knife in the same fixed position. There is heavy-handed manipulation of the couple throughout the day, from the moment the photographer arrives during the bridal preparations to when she leaves after the dancing gets underway.

For many couples, directed posing and adhering to a strict schedule is the preferred style of wedding photography. They appreciate the precise control because it leads to wedding photography that’s predictably safe, offers a great variety of poses, and is technically proficient in that the images are correctly exposed, sharp, and well composed. I have strong feelings about the traditional style of wedding photography because it greatly diminishes from the spontaneity of the day.  By turning couples into actors (instead of participants) and the wedding into a production (instead of a celebration), the wedding day becomes a means to an end, that being the finished photographs.

Unposed wedding photo of couple during the outdoor dinner reception.
In this example of wedding photojournalism, the couple is captured beautifully in a perfectly spontaneous moment.

Photojournalistic Wedding Photography

Photojournalistic wedding photography is about forfeiting control and letting spontaneity rule the day. Couples that appreciate this style of wedding photography are more interested in having the photographer capture the raw unhindered emotions in place of forced smiles beaming at the camera. This style of wedding photography is ideal for couples that are either uncomfortable posing for the camera or want to enjoy their friends and family in a celebration that’s uninterrupted by constant prompts for photos.

Then there’s the matter of sincerity. Let’s face it, weddings present themselves with a wide gamut of human emotions. Attempting to reduce them down to a sample of one emotion (happiness) expressed in the most standard form (the smile) is insincere. The aim of photojournalistic wedding photography is to capture an accurate photographic representation of the wedding day, without discrimination against emotions that are displayed as anything less than idealised smiles. Documentary wedding photographers aim to capture the key wedding moments that will come to define the event. Smiles, frowns, tears, and awkward hugs are all fair game because anything less is being unfaithful.

Improvised wedding photo of couple looking at downtown Toronto from across the waterfront.
An example of a hybrid wedding photography. The couple was minimally guided.

Hybrid Wedding Photography

The hybrid style of wedding photography is a blend of both the traditional and photojournalistic approaches. Its aim is to capture a varied mixture of both posed and unposed photographs. And by far, this is the dominant style of wedding photography as practised by photographers of the western tradition. Simply put, almost everyone is a hybrid wedding photographer, including myself.

So let’s get technical. Despite everything written on this website, I’m firmly a hybrid wedding photographer. I fulfil the definition because I do not shoot either of the other styles exclusively. My photographs capture the spontaneous moments of people with their guard down and posed photographs of couples with their families and close friends (and sometimes, upon request, other less-than-spontaneous shots such as the monochrome picture above). My personal bias leans heavily towards the former because my style is informed by the ideals of pure wedding photojournalism. I capture fewer posed than unposed images and spend a greater amount of time recording unsolicited wedding moments than directing fake ones. Photographers that are inspired by the traditional style will employ more of their time towards capturing posed as opposed to unposed pictures, and their delivered product will have a commensurate ratio.

Style Determines the Photographer’s Expertise

More important than the ratio is what it reveals: your wedding photographer’s prowess for a particular type of imagery. Labelling a wedding photographer in such a manner is just another way of expressing where their distinct strengths lie (and where they don’t). The two styles require different sets of skills. Strength in one is typically a weakness in the other. My aptitude lies in the photojournalistic style of wedding photography; I believe that capturing real wedding moments creates a better and more authentic representation of the day, one that will remain timeless. However, my exclusive focus on this style means that I do not possess the level of polish for posed imagery that is displayed by photographers whose proficiency is informed by the traditional method. The reverse is true for traditional photographers, who frequently show a weakness for imagery that they cannot entirely control. In each case, the creative mind is operating on different planes. Some photographers are better planners whereas others are more effective at anticipating.

So as you embark on the journey of selecting the right photographer for your wedding day, your first and the most consequential decision will be regarding the style of wedding photography you desire.

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