Like most decisions involving your wedding, choosing your photographer isn't a simple process. Not only will you need to do a great deal of research to ensure that you're choosing the right person (this involves selecting someone you vibe with), but you'll also need to make sure that your photographer's signature style caters to your event's tone. What does this mean exactly? There are dozens of photography categories out there, each with its own unique purpose, look, and approach to documenting major life moments. The first step in nailing down a photographer, then, is making sure their go-to aesthetic speaks to your own.
The best way to do this? "Take some time looking at photographs first—and then photographers," says Charla Storey. "While looking, ask yourself what you want to see when you look back on your wedding-day images: What kind of coloring, tones, or trends do you learn towards? What poses and light do you like? What images evoke emotion for you? When you find a common thread, note what it is you love about those images. Then seek a photographer with that style!"
Identifying the style that resonates with you, however, is easier when you understand what you're looking at—which is where we come in. Ahead, you'll find a comprehensive guide to photography styles, culled by three industry experts who have seen (and oftentimes done!) it all. If you can't decide on one type, don't stress, adds Storey—most photographers flip between several styles on the big day, depending on who or what they're shooting: "There are several different needs throughout the day. For example during family formals, you can be a traditional portrait photographer; during couples portraits, you can take a candid or natural approach; while the couple is getting ready, you can be documentary- or fine art-focused."
If you want timeless, classic wedding photos, a photographer who shoots with a traditional approach will probably be the best fit for you; it's also a modality to bookmark if you want to curate a family album full of posed shots. "With traditional wedding photography, I always think of our parents' wedding album. There isn't any motion or emotion—for our parents it was more about photographs of people standing still in group photos," says Abby Jiu. Storey agrees, noting that the "style tends to be more posed" and that the resulting images are "sharp and clean." "You see more dresses perfectly placed around the bride, a good variety of smiling-at-the-camera images, and an emphasis on family breakout shots," she adds.
A photographer who specializes in this authentic, of-the-moment style "makes those candid moments happen," says Elizbaeth Austin. Storey also emphasizes that a candid wedding photographer is not one that is hands-off: "These images have loose posing, but are still directed. I think of this more of sculptures like Winged Victory, which is hellenistic (meaning it tells a story!) and has more movement and a variety of expressions."
Just as its name suggests, documentary-style wedding photography is more journalistic- and story-focused. Jiu says this approach is similar to what a "photojournalist documenting a news story" would do, adding that it is "completely unobtrusive." All three experts liken this approach to being a fly on the wall—which is why it's one of the better forms for documenting raw, uninterrupted emotion. It's also often best illustrated through black-and-white photographs, adds Austin.
Much like the photography you'd see at a fine art museum, the images captured by a fine art photographer are focused on aesthetics. "A fine art photographer is one who is also a creative artist, in a sense," explains Storey. "They will put a focus on the little details of the story. They also curate the light, the backdrop, and use natural, candid, and traditional poses (often with an editorial approach) to tell the story of the wedding day." Most fine art photographers use film, she adds, "but thats not aways the case—fine art is more of an approach than anything else."
Illustrative photographers skew towards the dramatic, notes Storey, adding that these artists emphasize composition, use more artificial light, and do more editing post-wedding ("You might see a texture—an overlay or two—with this style," she adds). "I feel like this style of photography is more baroque—it lives more in the shadows. You often find dramatic lighting and maybe even some elaborate poses," she says.
The main objective of portrait photographer is to, as their name implies, capture the important people on the big day ("This can apply to couple portraits, as well as bridal party photos," notes Jiu). These experts typically have a subspeciality, too, adds Storey: "You can be a traditional, candid, or natural portrait wedding photographer!"
The main objective of natural photography is to use natural light when snapping images. For this reason, a natural photographer is an excellent choice for outdoor ceremonies and receptions. "On an ideal day, a natural photographer will use the golden hour to get your best photos," explains Jiu. Storey notes that this refined style places "a focus on candid portraits and clean edits."
The type of photography that you spot on the glossy pages of fashion magazines falls under this category, which is a surprisingly popular choice for wedding photography. The reason? It's dynamic and action-oriented, says Storey. "Most fashion photographers will show lots of movement, showcasing a look, moment, or dress in a controlled light environment," she says. Most couples, however, don't want this particular style to carry throughout every single photo—just a few. To ensure this happens, Storey recommends chatting with your photographer ahead of the wedding day to ensure that not every image feels editorially charged.