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What Are The Different Wedding Photography Styles? with Fiona Kelly, Wedding Photographer

What Are The Different Wedding Photography Styles? Fiona Kelly, Wedding Photographer, walks us through your options and what questions to ask your photographer!

Listen to Fiona on the Wedding Espresso Awesome DIY Wedding Planning Podcast…


Fiona Kelly, Wedding Photographer


James: [00:00:03] Fiona thanks so much for joining me today. 

Fiona: [00:00:06] Caught me sneaking a little sip of water. Yeah, you see, it needs to be branded. I need to have something… 

James: [00:00:19] Yeah. So we were digging around and looking at what brides and grooms to be were really asking about wedding photography, prior to booking it. And this question, I really like, it came up so many times.

People were asking “what are the different wedding photography styles?” 

Fiona: [00:00:38] Yes. Well you know it’s a bit of a… It can feel like a bit of a minefield because I’m fully aware, as a photographer, I have a hard time sometimes explaining the styles of what I do, and how I work, and how other people work. So I completely understand how the brides and grooms, they can literally get a little bit daunted and hear all these words, and just go whaaaat? I have no idea! 

Fiona: [00:01:05] So basically I’ve kind of tried to put it together in sort of three kinds of areas that I think sum up most of what people might hear, and most of the styles that are kind of relevant I think, now. 

Fiona: [00:01:24] Firstly, and this is probably a style that is not quite so popular, but it’s just with the nature of digital photography, the way things have moved on,

the traditional classic style is probably not done as much, as a stand alone approach to photography.

And what we mean by a traditional or classic approach is it’s slightly more formal. You’re producing more in the way of posed imagery. The photographer will probably direct a little bit more. It’s not so focused on capturing emotions as such. It’s more classic portraits, family portraits. An approach that’s kind of a very… Probably a more static way of capturing the event. And I’d imagine for the majority of time, the traditional, the classic approach is probably tied down into more kind of like the ceremony and a few photos afterwards. 

James: [00:02:18] Yeah. 

Fiona: [00:02:20] Just by the nature of how that kind of style really is approached.

It’s one that I suppose probably sort of benefits from the days of film, where film was expensive and photographers would go along for a couple of hours at most, with a few rolls of film.

They’d maybe shoot two or three, a handful of photos in the church, and then they do the family formals outside the church. Where you capture you know, Bride and Groom, Mum and Dad, Auntie Mavis, Uncle Bob, you know all the people who’d come. And that was kind of it. 

James: [00:02:57] It’s basically the album that all our parents have. 

Fiona: [00:03:00] Pretty much, yeah it’s pretty much there. And while that sort of style definitely isn’t the approach that a majority of couples really want to go for. But it obviously does have its benefits in certain parts of the day, like getting your family pictures.

So it is something that I think you’d probably be hard pushed to find a photographer who classifies themselves purely as traditional or classic, now. But a lot of photographers will include elements of this within the day. 

Fiona: [00:03:36] So sort of going on to the next grouping that I kind of put together is contemporary. So again, this is equally as random. And you’re going contemporary… Whaaaat? So this is probably more inspired I’d say by fashion editorial and creative approach. So you might have some sort of elements of posing in images,

but actually what you’re really trying to do with a contemporary approach is create something that is a wow. So it’s using light, it’s using angles, it’s using composition. It’s probably I’d say it’s more summed up in couples portraits. 

James: [00:04:15] OK. 

[00:04:15] So it’s this sort of thing you see where you’ve got this amazing vista and you’ve got a teeny tiny couple. But it’s something about the image you just go “wow” over. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in the middle of a coffee table book or that kind of thing. And so that contemporary approach is influenced by, like I said, by fashion and editorial, and you know, the kind of way that those sort of images are created. Yeah and very artistic and that’s kind of probably the next style that you see a lot of. Particularly if you look at things like Junebug, the website, or… I’m trying to think where else is really, really key with those. I mean you see them all over the place. A lot of blogs will show these kind of wow pictures like couples silhouetted against sunsets, that kind of thing. 

James: [00:05:09] Standing on the edge of a mountain! 

Fiona: [00:05:10]

Yeah it’s the images that you kind of hope would make the couples go “OH, oh my word, look at that! Yeah, yeah, take me to Kuala Lumpur, I’ll absolutely shoot that Wedding for you there! With this amazing view! 

James: [00:05:24] Actually that works really well with colour as well and contrast, doesn’t it? You see some Photographers are all about the splashes of colour and lighting. 

Fiona: [00:05:32] It is, I think that the contemporary approach, this kind of creative artistic approach, is very much key to yeah, colour and bringing in elements that really sort of like, it’s more than just here’s a bride and groom, here’s a background. When you’re create images like that, you’re always thinking about the composition. What else is coming in and what else is adding to that image to make it a wow image.

And it isn’t always quite so much about the couple in the photo, weirdly. It’s actually more about the setting as well as the couple. 

James: [00:06:04] Yeah that makes sense! 

Fiona: [00:06:07] So I would say that’s probably that. Also a style that is probably not classed as contemporary necessarily in the magazines and blogs, they possibly call it creative portraiture. But it’s definitely something that is out there and something that a lot of photographers do. 

Fiona: [00:06:26]

And the third one that is probably the one that people hear about most, reportage documentary. This is almost bandied about everywhere. 

James: [00:06:33] And has been for years! 

Fiona: [00:06:35] And has been for years. I mean basically, the essence of it is coming back from documentary photographers who went off to war, and documented what happened. Very much like what clearly weddings aren’t, thankfully. Well hopefully not anyway. So yes obviously the approach in that respect is you are not involved, from a photographers point of view, in anything other than capturing what you’re seeing. So it’s very much an approach of, you’re documenting moments, you’re capturing emotions, your watching how people interact. It’s very storytelling and you often find black and white leads quite well, with reportage, but not always. You know, I mean…

I know some documentary reportage photographers shoot primarily black and white because it actually aids their way of being able to capture these stories. And be able to show the emotion by taking out all the colour, and just having it purely focusing on what’s happening in the image. 

Fiona: [00:07:37] But this is of the approach that you know as a photographer, you’d be unobtrusive, you’re not going to be dictating anything. You’re not asking people to do anything. You are literally there to observe, to watch and to photograph. And hopefully getting the kind of moments that people are going to love. It’s like the tear in one’s eye as her daughter says “I do”. Or granny busting some moves on the dance floor. Or you know, first kiss. All those sort of things that kind of just happen, and you want to get, and you want to capture. So I mean they’re kind of… Between the three of those, your traditional, your contemporary and your reportage documentary style, that I would say probably sums up most of what is out there in terms of wedding photography, and the kind of key styles that you’re seeing at the moment. And it’s quite unusual to find people who do just one of those three. 

James: [00:08:32] Sure. 

Fiona: [00:08:34]

Photographers, myself included, combine. So for 75 odd percent of the day, you’re doing the storytelling. You’re watching what’s happening, you’re capturing the moments. You’re looking out for little emotional things. You’re looking out for the little interactions.

Personally I love doing the contemporary aspects as well. So when it comes to couple shots, finding something that’s really, you know, you get the emotional side, but also finding something that’s a real wow. So they’ve got something that brings in the place and location and everything about it. Actually an image that they’re gonna go “Oh I love that! That’s just brilliant”. And also I think with the contemporary, it’s also part of capturing the details. So that brings in the kind of editorial aspects. So photographing obviously flowers, cake, room, all that kind of thing. 

Fiona: [00:09:24] I think the point, the one that you do sometimes find, photographers who only do one style, is the documentary.

There are a few photographers who will only do documentary, who actually say “I don’t do family photos”. “I don’t do couple photos.” So I think this is one of the things that couples should be aware of when they’re actually investigating photographers.

If you like the documentary aspect, which most couples do because they don’t want to feel like it’s front and center, all on them, and they have to stand and pose for photos for four hours. Which let’s face it, is everyone’s idea of hell unless you’re a model and getting paid for it. So the majority of couples do want that kind of lifestyle candid approach. But it is worth knowing that while the majority of us who do wedding photography will include the contemporary, and will include the traditional, will do the family photos. We’ll take time with our couples to get the photos, we’ll capture all the details. Not all photographers who actually have a documentary approach do that. So it’s definitely worth checking because some I know have said I do not do this. 

James: [00:10:30] Right. 

[00:10:32] It’s definitely worth asking that question. I mean the other thing, just as a throw in, as a bit of a side comment. It’s not really a style as such, but film photography is worth mentioning.

While the majority of photographers do shoot digital now, there are still a handful who are film only shooters. It’s fabulous and wonderful and I think it’s very, I think it’s great that we still have photographers who shoot film.

But obviously the way that is approached is very different to digital. That you’re still dealing with people who are shooting x number of rolls of film. So obviously there’s a cost implication to that, as well as a technical aspect that you know, obviously there might be some things that will or won’t be possible. But then same with digital, to be honest. I think the difference between Film and Digital often comes down to a look. 

James: [00:11:27] Yes, absolutely! 

Fiona: [00:11:27] Film has a definite look to it. It’s kind of really hard to explain it, but it’s kind of like you put one next to the other, you know it, you can tell. 

James: [00:11:38] Sure yeah, a texture and a definition maybe. 

Fiona: [00:11:40] Yeah very much so. So obviously you know for the couples who do want to go down that route, there are photographers who do shoot film. So that is another option to bear in mind when people are looking. And then another thing, just to consider is some photographers are… well again, the majority of us do use natural light for the majority of the day. Daylight or light coming through windows or whatever.

There are some photographers who only use natural light, so they won’t use flash, they won’t bring in extra lights for evening, they won’t setup lights to do external shots. So again that’s something to bear in mind.

I tend to do natural light for the majority of the day. But obviously when the lights go down, you need a bit flash. I’ll use flash for speeches potentially. I’m not averse to doing the odd creative shot outside. Get a bit of off camera flash, that kind of thing. Just make something a bit interesting, a bit fun. But I know there are photographers who don’t, for whatever reason. They either just aren’t keen on the flash look or they don’t feel comfortable doing it. Or it’s just not their kind of thing. So again that’s something to bear in mind when couples are researching photographers, to find out, while for the majority of the day, when it is summer, you can use natural light. What do they do if the venue is dark? Or what do they do if it’s a rainy day? Or how do they approach dealing with lighting conditions that are slightly tricky? Because some venues are. 

James: [00:13:06] So it might be worth asking that question then, can we dip into your portfolio and see what happens in those situations? 

Fiona: [00:13:12] Yeah absolutely. Yeah I mean you know the beauty of cameras nowadays is you can shoot at very high ISOs, which allow you to grab as much light as you can. But obviously there are restrictions to that. I know a few photographers who don’t really shoot flash but still doing really great shots and evening shots. But obviously the look is very different. So it’s worth saying to people, not being, do you or don’t you? Oh you’re bad if you do one or the other. It’s no different it’s just purely a personal preference. So you know there’s a very different look to a shot that’s done on the dance floor without flash, and a shot done with flash, and figuring out which, as a couple, you prefer. This will again help you whittle down which photographer you might want to go with. 

Fiona: [00:14:00] I’ve actually got a wedding coming up in December, and the bride basically she has no issue with, you know, dance floor shots being shot with flash, because you know it’s a December wedding, it’s going to be dark. So I was like, look, we’re going to have to have some lighting of some sort, that’s how I shoot it. And she goes “Yeah well I don’t want that swirly, swirly stuff with the lights.” I said “oh, light drag?”. You know when you do the shots. She said “Yeah, I don’t want that”. Well that’s fine. Okay. No worries. Because again, that’s a very definite look, shooting with flash. You get that kind of swirly light thing. I think some people like it, and other people clearly don’t. So these are all conversations to have with your photographer obviously, if you have a preference. If you don’t, and it doesn’t matter, and you’re happy to just let them get on with it, great! But it’s always good to know if someone particularly does or doesn’t like a certain thing because you don’t want to go shoot all the dance floor shots with the swirly light, and then go “ooooh, I’m so sorry I didn’t know. It would have been really handy to know in advance!” 

James: [00:14:54] It kind of keys into the advice that we always gave our couples, and it was go and look at whole, full weddings.

Don’t look at highlight galleries. You’ve really got to dig into full weddings and see how that photographer works in all the different scenarios throughout the day. Because that’s what’s really going to tell you everything that you need to know about who to choose, and who to go with. 

Fiona: [00:15:14] Definitely. I mean if a photographer is… I’m always a bit suspicious if someone isn’t prepared to show you a full gallery, you have to ask why. 

James: [00:15:23] Yeah. 

Fiona: [00:15:24] Because I can understand if someone’s new and starting out, fair enough. In which case as long as they’re open in saying “I’m new and starting out” that’s fine. But if someone’s been around a while and they can’t show you a full gallery, then I’d be a little bit suspicious, personally. Yeah it’s something I frequently ping out full galleries and say “there’s quite a lot, you might be a while”. 

James: [00:15:47] But it’s better that way! 

Fiona: [00:15:47] Yeah. Yeah exactly. 

James: [00:15:53] Great, yeah so before we wrap things up there Fiona, we’ve just got one more quick question for you. It’s a little bit of a fun one…

What got you started with wedding photography? 

Fiona: [00:16:03] What started me with wedding photography? OK so my background is graphic design and art direction. I worked 14 years art directing photo shoots and organising photo shoots. And being the person behind the photographers saying “could you just do that. Can you do that. Can you get the light doing…” That kind of thing. For a photographer who works in fashion and in retail, they’re probably used to it. For anyone else, you know, someone over your shoulder telling you what to do, slightly frustrating. I’d done photography at school so I kind of had a basic knowledge. I’d been eight years no, I’d been ten years doing nothing but design and art direction. And I was just getting a bit tired. 

James: [00:16:47] Sure yeah. 

Fiona: [00:16:48] It was getting a bit like the same stuff every year. You get all excited about projects with new clients and then they go “Oh but could you just maybe do what you did last time with one small change.” You kind of know, from a creative point of view you just go “ohhhh”. 

James: [00:17:03] Frustrating Yeah. Yeah. I can understand that! 

Fiona: [00:17:06] And then I got married myself. We actually got married in Las Vegas, which was really random. We had the professional photographer that came with the chapel. We got married at the little chapel of flowers in Vegas and they provided a photographer to take photos through the course of the ceremony, and a couple after. But we also had one of my best friends, who used to be a photographer, and she came along and she brought a beautiful film camera and three rolls of black and white film. And she did the when we were getting ready photos, and she did the bits inbetween photos. And this was before wedding photography, in the format it is in now, was really a thing, you know, very early days of this kind of style of photography starting. And we got married and went back the next day to check out our photos, and we probably picked like five from the professional photographer. 

James: [00:17:59] Right. 

Fiona: [00:18:00] Not that they weren’t all right. They just felt really average. They were just kind of like nothing wow, nothing amazing. We were more than happy with it because it was like we knew what we were getting when we did it. So it was fine. We got photos of us walking down the aisle, photos doing the ring exchange, a couple of portrait things. Yeah I think maybe we got ten maybe, or something like that.

And then my friend processed her film photos and she sent them, and I literally was like “Oh. Oh my gosh, they’re amazing!”

She was like “oh but some of them are out of focus and some aren’t that great”. 

James: [00:18:31] Magic! 

Fiona: [00:18:33] And it was just the little moments she captured like my dad opening a bottle of champagne in the room when we finished getting ready. And then there’s a photo she took of me when we travelled in a stretched limo from hotel to the chapel, as you did in Vegas, because it’s Vegas. And I was really, really, really nervous and I was just looking out the window as I approached the chapel, just waiting to see my husband. I needed to see him because I’m just really, really nervous right now.

And she took a photo of me looking out the window, and it’s just slightly silhouetted and just profile, and I look like kind of nervous, but I love that photo because it just shows my hair and it shows everything. 

James: [00:19:13] The emotion of the moment I guess. 

Fiona: [00:19:17] Yes it really did. And then you know there’s a great one of me and my husband laughing and eating. And there’s all these little things that she captured. And I’ve got one framed picture of the official ones and about five or six of the ones that she did. So there must have been a little spark in my head at that moment where it took me another year or so, six months to a year, of kind of working out what it was. And I was processing all this. And then I remember literally I was… The same year I got pregnant with my son, and I remember just saying to my husband “I’m going to become a wedding photographer” and he was like “What!! What what what?” Because it’s all in my head, and I’d been thinking about it and thinking about it, working it out for six months, trying to figure out what it was. 

Fiona: [00:20:02] The images that my friend had taken and the fact I wasn’t really happy with what I was doing, and what could work and what could tie together. And then I did a few courses from a business point of view, and then I got some very kind person who was happy to pay me just you know travel costs to go and take photos of their wedding, because they couldn’t afford a photographer anyway. I took the first wedding and I just went “Oh this is so much fun, I love this.” You know even to this day, eight odd years later I still stand by those photos of that first wedding. Technically I wasn’t quite as slick, and my camera kit wasn’t quite as good. So it struggled with lower lighting conditions. But the essence of those photos I still stand by I’m like “yeah they’re still not bad.” Considering it was the first wedding I did! 

James: [00:20:47] The passion is there! 

[00:20:49] Exactly! I knew the kind of images I knew I liked. I already knew from doing all the years of art direction I knew how I liked an image to look. I knew what appealed to me. I knew about composition or that kind of thing. Because that’s all I’d done for years as an art director.

So it kind of all melded together into one sort of mad moment. And then the rest kind of just sort of snowballed slowly from then on. Eight odd years later and here I am. 

James: [00:21:20] Brilliant that’s fantastic, awesome. Well thanks so much Fiona. That’s been really, really cool. Thanks for sharing. A really, really great tour through the different photography styles there. 

Fiona: [00:21:31] I hope it helps. 

James: [00:21:34] It really has kind of packaged them up. I think people can understand that now and certainly progress with their searching a little better using that information. So yes. Thanks again for joining me. It’s been fun having you and hopefully I will speak to you soon. 

Fiona: [00:21:48] Will do. Chat to you soon! 

James: [00:21:48] Cheers see you later! 

Fiona: [00:21:48] Bye 

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  • Reply
    Fiona Kelly
    December 6, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks so much for asking me to take part in the Q&A! It was such fun. I hope it is of interest and helpful to the brides and grooms out there who are looking for their wedding photographer.

    • Reply
      James Pearson
      December 7, 2018 at 12:20 pm

      Fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing Fiona, tons of really great guidance and advice there for couples… and shared in such an easy to digest way too! Can’t wait for the next one!

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