New Workshop! Lighting 3 | Advanced Off Camera Flash

Tips & Tricks

3 Reasons to Consider Adding Documentary Style to Your Wedding Portfolio

By Michael Henson on September 29th 2015

SLR Lounge - Jeff Ascough Wedding Photography1

Image Courtesy of Sarah Ascough

Wedding photography brings to mind a certain “vibe” for most people. Immediately,  we have thoughts of incredible sunsets with a tiny bride and groom holding fiercely to each other in the afterglow of their newly officiated union. Or others brides and grooms, unaware of the epic surroundings and landscapes of which they are but a tiny part. Others may think of hectic, motion drenched scenes from a raucous reception or of the details found in a bride’s bouquet or the pizzazz of the groom’s perfectly knotted tie. Frequently, the maelstrom of emotions and the countless stories that interweave themselves through these days are overlooked or missed in the chaos of the bridal party, family formals, and the revelry of the reception.

However, there are those that specialize in the portrayal of those stories. Rather than taking a leadership role in the wedding festivities, they instead choose to relegate themselves to the backgrounds and focus on capturing the moments and memories that will otherwise fade over time. These photographers seem to be a more rare breed and, as such, don’t enjoy quite the level of popularity or the household name that others may enjoy.

SLR Lounge - Jeff Ascough Wedding Photography7

Image Courtesy of Jeff Ascough

This article will not attempt to define which style is best because that decision ultimately rests with you, in determining your style, and the bride, when deciding on a photographer. Instead, this article is going to discuss three benefits of the documentary style of wedding photography while examining the work of one of the leaders in this genre, Jeff Ascough.

Jeff began his wedding photography business in 1989 and has since received countless awards. He has covered the weddings of celebrities and sports icons, and been showcased in the Getty Image Gallery in London. Also, he has been named Britain’s most celebrated photographer and has made it into Professional Photographer’s magazine’s list, the top 100 photographers of all time. Needless to say, he sets the bar in this genre, and his work is incredibly inspiring. As you will see through his images in this article, there are definite benefits to pursuing this style of photography and incorporating it into your repertoire might be something to consider.

In fact, there are three primary advantages to this style of wedding photography that I would like to discuss.

SLR Lounge - Jeff Ascough Wedding Photography4

Image Courtesy of Jeff Ascough

1. It Tells A Story

In contrast to many wedding photographers today, Jeff’s approach is to avoid interfering with the wedding preparation and festivities if at all possible. He works to blend into the background and capture the day as it unfolds without coaching, posing, and interruption. Granted, this approach may lead to occasionally missing out on shots. However, it keeps the story fresh, authentic, and more genuinely reflects the family, setting, and mood of the day. Rather than close up shots of a ring or bouquet, or the bride looking introspectively out the window, this approach leads to interesting images of family and friends interacting in a more candid manner. The trick is to execute your photographs with excellence while maintaining an eye to the technical and visually appealing (think contrast, leading lines, etc.) This way your set is an artistic story, rather than a collection of snapshots.


SLR Lounge - Jeff Ascough Wedding Photography6

Image Courtesy of Jeff Ascough

2. It Captures Emotion

This style, especially as Jeff’s approach shows, captures the emotions of the day in a more “raw” manner than other styles of wedding photography. Certainly, other styles capture the emotion and tell a story, however, these components are more central to the documentary approach than to those that focus on a more fashion-centric or “epic shot” approach. By viewing the wedding through the lens of a documentarian, you are more aware and focused on the little interactions between people and capturing these moments.

While we all love the incredible landscape at sunset shots, I wonder what is going to be most treasured 20 years from now when the memory has faded, and we’re reminiscing over our wedding album? Or how much more valuable will that image of grandma hugging the bride will be than a close-up shot of the groom’s boutonniere?

3. It is Less Intrusive

SLR Lounge - Jeff Ascough Wedding Photography3

Image Courtesy of Jeff Ascough 

Now, there are ways that you can be less intrusive in the more traditionally used approached, but photographers like Jeff specifically go out of their way to not intrude during the ceremony, preparations, and reception. This approach allows you (read: forces you) to be alert and active in a different way than most. I think of it almost like street photography, with all of its quirks and difficulties, blended with a fine art approach with a deadline thrown in.

As such, finding great compositions in your surroundings and waiting for subjects to enter them becomes part of your role. Paying attention to leading lines, the emotions of family members, the humorous activities the youngsters engage in, etc. becomes your focus, rather than spending energy figuring out how to pose the bridal party in a manner that is unique, yet appealing. How does someone like Jeff handle formal poses when the bride or family insists? He schedules 10-15 minutes after the reception to get the traditional poses. Rather than seeking to carve out more time in the middle of the day for photos, he works to make the day as seamless as possible while remaining as invisible as possible.

SLR Lounge - Jeff Ascough Wedding Photography2

Image Courtesy of Jeff Ascough

Which Approach Is Best?

SLR Lounge - Jeff Ascough Wedding Photography5

Image Courtesy of Jeff Ascough

Well, that’s up to you! Obviously, there are pros and cons to each way of doing things. You have to decide which approach best fits your vision and brand. Are you an epic landscape photographer? Are you more traditional, edgy, artsy, or journalistic? You have to decide, but don’t count out the documentary style approach. These are just a few of the benefits.

Which approach do you prefer? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!


This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Michael Henson is a St. Louis based photographer obsessed with everything creative. His photography interests span genres from still life to sports. When he’s not running around with his face to the camera or behind a keyboard writing, you can typically find a guitar in his hands or catch him out enjoying life with his family and friends.

For more from Michael, bebop on over to:

Michael Henson
Personal Facebook:
Michael Henson
Business Facebook:
Henson Creative

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Feuza Reis

    As a story teller and lover of capturing history and legacy, I love to incorporate more documentary style as well but of course with some traditional family portraits which is part of telling that family legacy! I love mixing it up and embracing best of both worlds and love that there is no cookie cutter one way to document weddings and to be in business as well, congrats Jeff on amazing work through out the years

    | |
  2. Jeff Ascough

    Thanks for the article and comments. Just wanted to point out that the first image was taken by my wife, Sarah, so it is incorrectly credited.

    The success of any photographer begins with their style and approach. Just because a photographer does one thing doesn’t mean we should all do it. Today’s wedding photography market is diverse enough for everyone to see the world how they want to.

    | |
    • Hanssie

      Hey Jeff,

      Thanks for sharing your gorgeous imagery with us! I have changed the first image to credit your wife, Sarah. Have a great day!

      | |
    • Michael Henson

      Thanks for stopping by, Jeff! Keep up the amazing work and thanks for all that you do for the photographic community.

      | |
  3. Paul Empson

    back in the film days 60-90 photos per wedding.. presented as prints and or album.. documentary has boomed now we can re-use our memory cards and have in camera ISO adjustments.. yes having an eye for the shot is key but we can afford to mix our styles.. majority of the day for real:documentary and some crafted traditional groups / portraits.. then possibly a spectacular staged photo with removed triggers and flash..

    | |
  4. Justin Haugen

    I’m always trying to reconcile this with my style and vision for wedding day. I want to capture natural organic moments, but I also have to enact my will onto lighting and positioning. I refuse to be a victim to bad lighting or setting.

    I think it’s okay to influence your subjects, but pull organic natural moments out of them. I’ll have the mother of the bride help the bride with the dress. I’ll tell them where to stand. At some point I’ll ask the mother of the bride to come in closely over the shoulder of the bride and ask her to “give some advice to your daughter on her wedding day, that only you two can hear” and then I wait for what usually amounts to a beautiful moment that only the bride and mother are sharing.

    Half staged, half documentary.

    | |
  5. Max C

    I think that Photographers should be hybrid and most are; capture traditional shots and capture candid shots. It all depends on what’s going on and the space available. A photographer who only captures documentary style with a zoom lens will capture great candid photos but he will be missing out on capturing closeups of hands, rings faces and many other things. Alternately a photographer that is always close to the action is usually missing out on capturing candid shots. So Photographers need to be able to do both; get close to the action, then move away and shoot candid from afar. Don’t paint yourself in a corner by labeling yourself as a documentary Photographer or traditional Photographer, mix it up. I would not want a photographer who practices one style of Photography to capture my Wedding, but that is just me.

    | |
  6. robert s

    Dennis PJ Reggie.

    | |