I was recently with a couple who were planning their wedding and we were discussing the photography for the day. They were so relieved to hear that they would be enjoying being married, having time together and have plenty of time with their guests. This is because when a Documentary Photographer is capturing the day, there is no need for excessive group shots or smiling at a camera, it is all happening so the photographer just captures it with sincerity and care.
For many couples they seem so happy that they can get images like this without the real need to actually do anything; the days of smiling for hours at a camera are over(!). This also means there is time to capture many of the guests and capture the entire flow of the day, also focussing on details that would be missed when organising who's going to be in the next photo.
I think we hold it in our minds what we 'should do' and what we expect on a wedding day, especially from a photographer. I've heard so many stories about excessive family pictures, couples being late etc. When documenting a wedding however things flow so much better and so many of the issues surrounding timings etc are much simpler.
The one thing you can expect when people come together on a happy occasion like a wedding is; things will happen, lots of things. The truth is however that these things; stories, memories and characters coming to the surface; only happen for a brief moment and the image is gone. That's why it is a challenge and a joy to document the day. The thought dawns on me at every wedding' 'this is only going to happen once, and I am the one going to have the privilege to capture it'.
The image above is a bit different, but it illustrates the idea perfectly. In this Engagement Shoot I was documenting the couple together, who also were surprised at how little I really got involved in directing them yet they felt totally comfortable. Things just seem to happen all the time when I've got the camera and for this brief moment a stunning horse approached us as we were documenting. The horse came forward, the reflection in his eye was stunning, the hand stroked his face and the ring was in sight and it all happened without me saying or doing anything.
This is clearly a detail image, a 'ring shot' of sorts, but it still tells the story; a story the couple won't ever forget.
At another wedding the couple had so much time to talk to their guests as I documented everything that they all decided to get their cameras out as they cut the cake. Here I thought, 'well, I'll just catch them taking the pictures in the background, get the cake in their, as they cut the cake hopefully a flash will go off from the guests.. oh wait it did'. Here you have a lovely story and again it is a detail shot without the couple's faces in it. But I could have simply taken a bland image of the cake, a stereotypical image of the couple cutting the cake later on which would have abruptly slowed the proceedings down, worst of all venues always ask that guests don't take images while the photographer takes his or hers!
So documenting is the antithesis of this and your an see how everything is already happening on its own anyway without any direction.
I love to meet my couples before the engagement pictures are taken, then for the engagement and then for the meeting before the wedding so that they know me and are very comfortable with me being around because, let's face it, not everyone likes getting their picture taken at the best of times. That is why I build such a comfortable relationship with the couple that they will virtually let me go anywhere with them without disturbing anything or hardly being noticed. In the above image, I just just really wanted to have part of the day documented which depicted things really starting to move! Many thanks to the driver who let me come along.
So by the time the wedding has come I will simply be moving around and documenting the day and everyone will be comfortable with me doing so. Documenting not only makes wedding days so much more about the actual wedding, it in fact doesn't interfere at all, and makes room for the couple to enjoy the day, the love and their guests.