You know the differences between restaurants in your area after living there for a couple of years. Someone might ask about a good mexican place for dinner, and your answer would reveal what matters to you. For me it's a mixture of the type of food they serve, the quality of the food, and the dining experience. I know a few restaurants where the food is amazing but the customer service is non-existent or pretty poor, and that alone keeps me from going there. Some people have very specific food preferences and that alone drives their decision where to dine out. I don't love places that feel snobby or too cool, so the experience matters a lot to me. This is so much like looking for a wedding photographer. All wedding photographers have a particular style, whether they know it or not, and it's helpful to know what you're looking for in order to make your decision. And, just like a restaurant, wedding photographer's style refers not only to the final images but the entire experience the business provides.
There are three major components in understanding wedding photography styles: the specific shooting style, the editing style, and the photographer's style in relating with the clients. The shooting style refers to the type of images that are made and how they are made. There are whole books written on this, but to give you a brief idea think about the angles a photograph can be taken, the use of light and shadows in a shot, how blurry or in focus the background is, whether the image was shot on film or with a digital camera. Are the images taken close up or farther away; do you feel a personal connection to the image or as if you're looking on from a distance? Granted a photographer's portfolio is full of so many of these different elements, but in general you will see a specific style stand out through their images. Some photographers are known for their beautiful panoramic shots of couples in a field with a gorgeous sunset, while others for their ability to capture real emotions in their images. Photographs can be dramatic in the way the light is captured, with interesting shadows across someone's face or dark backgrounds, or some photographers specialize in more light and airy photos.
Editing is another major factor that makes up a photographer's style. Editing includes how light or dark the photo is, how bright or faded the colors are, how much contrast is in the image, etc. If I were to go through 5 photography websites I would see images with neon or almost electric colors (think grass that is really bright and blue eyes that almost don't look real!), some that have an almost pinkish tint to them (often in the vintage editing camp), and others that look like they may not have been edited at all. Some photographers love black and white images and include them in their portfolio.
The last component of a photographer's style might seem more difficult to figure out but I think it's definitely possible. A photographer's relationship style can usually be figured out based on their "about" section, the reviews provided on their site, and any writing done on their blog. Are they very personable in their description? That would indicate photographers who like to get to know their clients. Do they keep their blog post short and sweet, without a lot of descriptions? These photographer sees their job as the art of documenting the day and letting the images speak for themselves. Why does this matter? Just like the restaurant I don't like to go to because the people are a little too cold for me, the photographer's relationship style is going to matter big time on your wedding day. If you feel uncomfortable in front of the camera and your photographer is all business and not super personable, you might feel even more awkward in front of the lens and your pictures will show it. On the flip side, if you are choosing your photographer for their incredible candid or serious shots, a more formal relationship style with them would be fitting. I like to point out that it's good to think about this considering you will be spending one of the biggest days of your life with your photographer right next to you for most of the day.
So how do you start the process of figuring out which style fits you and your fiancé best? Start by narrowing down the images you like by collecting them through Pinterest or looking at wedding blogs for images you love. After making a collection of images, you will most likely see a common theme or thread through most of them. It might be a dreamy, romantic look, with some sort of editing that makes the colors look more faded. You may have chosen images that are more serious or pensive. Or maybe you love images that show a variety of emotions, with lots of happy pictures. When people ask me what my style is, I am always thinking in terms of these 3 components of style- I strive for photographs that are lively, simple, and/or interesting in the way they are shot. I try to edit very simply, usually just adding a little more light and doing my best to get it right in the camera. And I am very personal in my interactions with couples because I hope to show their personalities in my photographs which requires me to know them! If people contact me and ask for a different look than what I usually do, I always refer them to other photographers because I want them to find someone who fits their style. One word of caution in collecting images on Pinterest: you want to get the look of the photographs but not the exact shots. Every couple and day has it's own unique setting, lighting, personality so it's really difficult to duplicate a whole set of images and takes creativity away from the photographer. Certainly one or two shots that you just love are great and can be done but leave room for your day to be yours with all it's own unique beauty.
In the end there is a great deal of overlap with all photographers. In light of the restaurant analogy, all mexican restaurants serve some sort of salsa and queso (we hope:), and all wedding photographers will take the obligatory and precious family photos. One noted photographer applied the 80/20 principle to wedding photography, that 80% of all photographers' images are the same and 20% are different. It's that 20% that you are trying to figure out in determining their specific style and bent. But no worries, they all can get the wedding party pictures and family portraits (with differing levels of expertise, of course). So look for the photos that you love, read the "about" sections of photographer's websites and see if they seem like people you'd like to share your wedding day with, and your specific photography style will become evident through that. Hopefully you will find a good fit who will give you awesome images and a great experience!
About Kaitie:Kaitie Bryant is a wedding photographer based in Athens, Georgia. Her work has been featured in Style Me Pretty and The Brooklyn Bride, among others. Kaitie’s goal is to capture people in such a way that you see their personality, and take wedding images that tell a story about your relationship and your wedding day. To learn more about Kaitie and see her work, visit her website or check out her blog.
Images courtesy of: Kaitie Bryant Photography
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