Why Photojournalists Choose to Become Wedding Photographers

 Mongolian girl behind a gate.

I've been serving in the military as a photographer for a number of years now, and my service has taken me throughout a number of countries in Europe and Asia to cover many events in a photojournalistic role.  To say it's a passion would be a complete understatement, I'm convinced that it's the best job on the planet.  Think about it: I get paid to shoot with the best equipment, in the most exotic and historic places, with some of the coolest and most gripping subject matter, and most influential and powerful people in the world.  For a guy like myself who likes high-pressure and stressful work environments that require me to think on my feet and adapt to changing situations, this job is an absolute dream.  So why then are so many professional photojournalists like myself moving into wedding photography?  I can't speak for all of us, but I can certainly tell you why I love it.

The best photos aren't production and composition masterpieces, the best photos are emotion-driven.  They either capture emotion and play on connecting or distancing the viewer, or they evoke emotion.  I don't care what anyone else may believe, the best way to hit the mark is to capture or evoke genuine emotion.  Think about photos of children, when we connect with a photo of a child it's rarely because the child is particularly aesthetically pleasing, it's because we either have an existing emotional tie to the child, or we connect emotionally with something the picture may imply, show, or elude to, like joy, innocence, or hope.

In that, and in so many other ways photojournalism is the same as wedding photography.  Photojournalism, that is to say good photojournalism, is all about telling a story through images.  Think of basic photographers as documentarians.  While they certainly are capable of taking a photo that shows people in a place doing things, that's all you naturally see in their photos.  Sure you may be able to piece together the story by analyzing the image, but that's where there's a clear distinction: a photojournalist's will tell a story with the photo.  You may not be sure what the story is, but it will likely hold you, engage your imagination, or invoke emotions.

Take the following image for instance.  I don't need to put it into context for you to connect with it, or see a story in it:

 
 

That's generally how you can tell a photographer from a photojournalist; simply by looking at the images and asking if you can tell more than a basic story with them.

That's why the candid style of photojournalism will always win, particularly in wedding photography.  When I think of posing subjects, requiring them to smile on cue, placing them in odd places and awkward positions, I feel like I'm designing something with the emotional depth of a denture advertisement.  Sure the images may serve a purpose, documenting the who, what, where, why and when, but often there's no UMPH to those shots.  That's why so often our favourite images from weddings are the candids!  The first kiss, the rings, the tearful parents walking their daughter down the aisle, the groom's face when he first sees the bride, the joy of those in attendance, there's where the story is!  It's the difference between capturing photos of a story of life, love, and hope, or capturing photos of a room full of people sitting.

For me that's why I shifted into wedding photography: I simply love good photos of people.  I believe that aside from conflict zones there aren't any places that offer nearly as much pure and beautiful raw emotion.  Much like photojournalism, weddings offer a high-pressure environment, with no forgiveness, no option to try again, and an absolute requirement to apply every photography skill you have ever learned.  You need to be comfortable and competent at adapting to the shifting demands of clients, to changing environments, to managing situations, and to predicting where the action will be and how you need to respond.

More than just the challenge, wedding photography is an art of joy.  Sure, capturing emotional photos at a wedding is like shooting fish in a barrel... with dynamite. It's actually hard NOT to get a few shots of people smiling, crying, laughing, etc.  But what IS a challenge is getting shots artistically while managing equipment, organizing people, following strict timelines, navigating crowds, and leading a team of other photographers and videographers.  That's when a photojournalist shines, firing under pressure. 

When you think about everything involved, every shot I get is a little victory, and that's why this type of work is so appealing to a photojournalist like me.

 
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-Wes.