Storytelling Wedding Photography : What It Is & How I Work

A few years ago, I wrote a post for the blog about the way I work, so I thought now would be a good time for an update.

Lets start with a picture up top. You know what’s going on, right? You know who’s coming. Well, strange though it may seem but a few years ago, I wouldn’t have taken this shot! Why? Well, because I would have been so focused on the bride & her father walking down the aisle that I wouldn’t have even been looking at anything else. Experience though has taught me to look at the bigger picture … the guys leaning out into the aisle tell you all you need to know in a more interesting way … oh, and I still got the traditional bride & father shots too.

This, in a nutshell is storytelling wedding photography (also referred to as photojournalism, reportage, documentary), and it’s pretty much how I shoot the wedding day. My preference is to let the day flow, capturing real moments rather than fabricated ones, so here’s a typical day from my perspective …


Typically, I start the day with prep shots – hair, make-up, that kind of thing. I’m not there all the time – the last hour and a half are usually enough to capture all the goings on but I can be there earlier if you want me, just let me know. All you need to do is let me in and I’ll crack on – you just get back to doing what you need to do. Naturally, I’ll also shoot things I see like the dress, shoes, jewellery etc, but I’m not big on re-arranging stuff and prefer to shoot things where I see them; I don’t run off with the dress for example and hang it from a chandelier or staircase – unless, of course, it’s already hanging from a chandelier or staircase then that’s a different story!

To my best ability, I’ll also cover your partner getting ready too, unless logistically impossible. With guys, this may just be the last 10 mins of getting ready (waistcoats, cravats, jackets, buttonholes etc. With two brides, I’ll try and make it more of an even split (again, if possible) but I’ll always firm up your requirements etc closer to the date – it’s your day so do it your way, I say!

About an hour before the ceremony, I like to be at the venue ready to go and take this opportunity to take some shots of your venue (or church) plus all your guests arriving. I’ll also factor in some time to have a quick catch up with your celebrant just to make sure I know what I can and can’t do during the ceremony, and also that there are no unforseen surprises! Then it’s back to the bride once the dress is on (usually about 15 mins before the ceremony) for a “first look” shot, totally unposed of course – there’s no reaction like the “real” reaction!

The Ceremony

So this really is where I like to become “invisible”, so to speak – no one wants the focus on a photographer haring around all over the place attracting attention! I kid you not, I’ve seen footage of photographers literally stand about a foot away from the couple to get shots of the ring exchange … NOOOO!!! That’s what zoom lenses are for!

I’ll pick a spot or two, stand there and only move at key break points during the proceedings – my primary goal is to be permanently “on guard” to ensure I catch all the reactions (and there’s usually plenty of those).

Sometimes though, there can be restrictions on photography during the ceremony, particularly with church ceremonies. Usually it’ll just be that I am told to stand in a certain spot and not move but, on the odd occasion, photography can be banned altogether, so do check in with your minister/priest beforehand guys to make sure there are no nasty surprises come the day – trust me, it did happen to a couple I shot once!

At the end of the ceremony, I’ll come forward for the signing of the register and am usually invited by the celebrant to do the “fake” signing shot – you know the thing, pen in hand, pretending to sign the register etc. I’ll already have got the real thing so, pen down guys, squeeze in and look at me/each other while I’ll rattle off a few shots for the record … and this is (usually) the first point in the day that I’ll direct you in any way – happy days!


So, once the formalities are done and dusted, time to kick back for a bit, have a drink, meet your guests (especially the bride who won’t have spoken to anyone up to this point). I’ll just float around and capture it all – you might see me, you might not, hopefully! If you’re planning a confetti shot or a big group shot (assuming your venue can accommodate), I’ll help organise this and then let it run – I have a few tricks up my sleeve for getting some “interesting” reactions as well!

Group Shots

So here’s the thing … YOU DON’T NEED TO DO THESE!!! Yes folks, I kid you not – we live in different times and the old tried and tested formula of everyone standing in a line, perfectly posed, afraid to move, for group pictures is very much not my thing. For sure, you might want some shots with your bridal party and close family, most couples do, but my preference is for connection rather than perfect posing – in you come, get close (important!), have some fun (dependant on the group), rattle off a few shots … done, on to the next. Fifteen minutes tops and we’re finished!

As I said though, if you want to go radical, don’t do any group shots – I’ll be shooting all day and will always be able to capture you with your family/friends throughout the day anyway – just do it your way!

Couple Shots

So again … YOU DON’T NEED TO DO THIS!!! Yes, it might seem odd that, as a wedding photographer, I’m saying that you don’t need to do a couple shoot as that’s kind of a staple of the wedding day isn’t it, but that’s the truth folks. I think sometimes there’s often a pressure put on couples that they “must” do a couple shoot, but not in my book. Truth is, most couples “will” want to do one as, at the very least, it does give you some time on your own for a wee bit, away from the crowds, and that can be a good thing on what can be a very hectic day.

Assuming a couple shoot is your bag, I find that most couples that book with me are not really into long overly styled shoots that take you away for ages. My preference is to take you away for a short shoot (about 15 mins), put you where the location and lighting are going to make you look fabulous, and then go with the flow … you do what you like and I’ll keep shooting, and I’ll still be shooting even when you think I’ve finished shooting, as they’re often the best shots right? I’ll keep you moving and I’ll keep talking to make sure there are none of those awkward silences. And absolutely will I never ask you to look at the camera and say “cheese”.

Dinner & Speeches

So here again is where I take another step back and just shoot everything as it happens. For me, the speeches are all about the reactions to what’s being said … and there’s usually plenty of them! I’ll be constantly scanning the room, as it’s not always the top table that the best reactions come from – that table at the back with all your workmates on is usually the one!!!

If you’re doing the cake cutting before dinner, I’ll make sure that’s covered too before I head off to take a break while you’re having dinner. I use this time to check what I’ve got so far and also do a few more venue shots, as well as grabbing something to eat. On that point, I do sometimes get asked by couples if they need to feed me and my answer is, as it always has been, that I leave that up to you guys. It is a long day and a meal is always very much appreciated but I’m old enough to fend for myself if need be – all I ask is that I know one way or the other beforehand so that I can make the necessary provisions before leaving home.

The “After Dinner” Shoot

Again, very much optional but I find that this is the part of the day where some of the best couple shots come from – all the formalities are done, you’ve been sitting for nearly two hours through dinner, why not stretch your legs with a quick “after dinner” shoot. The light at this time of the day can lead to some quite dramatic shots – could be dark, could be a sunset, even a touch of rain can look good (check the one above) – again, super quick, very natural, off the cuff etc etc – done in ten minutes and I’ll get you back in time for your evening guests arriving.

The Dancing

Ah, one of my favourite parts of the day. For the first dance, I’ll hang back on the edge of the floor but, as soon as the crowd pile in, then so do I. I’m right in there with you, maybe even shuffling my feet a wee bit too; but it’s where I get the best shots and I love it. Strange the number of guests that play to the camera by this point – I can’t think why! For sure, I get bumped around a bit, but the knocks are worth it for the end result.

Typically, I’ll stay for around four or five dances but, if you want me there longer, then no problem. Maybe you’ve got fireworks or sparklers arranged for later or even just want more of the dancing captured, just let me know and I can build it into the package for you.

So there we have it guys, a typical wedding day for me and hopefully one that ticks some boxes for you too. About 90% of the day shot in a candid, documentary fashion with just a short amount of time set aside for group and couple shots … IF YOU WANT THEM!

So What Are The Benefits Of This Approach?

First up, I’d say of course that the way I shoot is just a personal preference, and there will be couples who prefer the more “stlylised” way of shooting a wedding but, for me, the way I do it definitely allows you to spend a lot more time with your guests and not worry at all about your photography, as I’ll photograph the whole day, no matter how the whole day pans out. If you’re running late, it doesn’t matter – I’ll photograph that “lateness” (trust me, you’ll laugh about it later) and, as we have no big “shot list” to try and get through, there’s no panic about not getting everything done.

I guess my style also suits couples who don’t much like having their picture taken (not knowingly anyway), and it’ll certainly appeal to those who just want to enjoy the party and, excuse my language, have a bloody good time!

In addition, as I work very much in the background (and on my own) for most of the day, you won’t have anyone shouting orders at you or bossing you around. In fact, my hope is that you don’t notice me at all – I have been called a “photo ninja” on more than one occasion and that suits me. In fact, I guess this review that I received from Lee-Anne & Alastair pretty much sums things up…

“I don’t think there are words to describe how amazing this man is. He’s an absolute wizard with the camera. Mike has an eye for capturing the moments so naturally and beautifully creating memories and images you would of completely missed yourself. There should only be one photographer you should consider for your day and it should be this gent of a man. You hardly notice him in your space and around you through out the day, his work is so seamless and he has you completely at ease. Thank you for everything”

Thank you guys, you’re too kind :-).

Want to see more?

There’s only a few shots on this post but, if you want to see more, why not head on over to my portfolio for some of my own favourite shots over the years. Better still, check out any of the blog posts on this site – I have hundreds of weddings blogged now and each and every one will have in excess of a hundred shots from that day – a great way of seeing what I do across a whole wedding day. For a wider view, and to see lots of other fabulous wedding photojournalists, why not check out the site of the Wedding Photojournalists Association (WPJA), of which I’m very proud to be a member and am currently Scotland’s No.1 ranked photographer.

I do hope this post has given you a wee bit of an insight into how and why I do what I do but, as always, I welcome any feedback and comments and you can add these at the bottom of the page.


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