Modern Wedding Photography

Post Modern Wedding Photography

Why Post Modern?   I believe that we have already gone well beyond the concept of Modern Wedding Photography.  In my opinion, the modern wedding photography era started with the emergence of quality digital cameras.  As a wedding photographer who has spanned both the film and digital eras, I feel like I can speak with a certain amount  of authority on the subject.  With over 1,200 weddings photographed, I have still shot more weddings with film!  I can certainly say that the difference between the film and digital eras are enormous.  I thought it might be fun to explore this in more detail in a blog post.  So here goes……

Great Wedding Photography – Film Era

OK, so I used to photograph weddings with a 2 1/4 Hasselblad film camera.  It was manual focus, manual exposure and the largest film magazine only held 24 exposures.  The biggest challenge in those days was getting the exposure right and producing sharp, well composed wedding photos.  It took considerable skill and tons of practice. Clients were generally pretty happy if you delivered about 500 final photos that were in-focus and nicely posed.  If you caught a few special moments, even better!  There was a certain fear back in those days of hiring a friend or having Uncle Bob shoot your wedding.  Why?  Because of the horror stories  involving amateur photographers delivering  blurry photos or no photos at all!

This fear became relief from clients when  professional wedding photographers were able to deliver  500 +  proofs in a nice preview album.  I am certainly not suggesting that brides and grooms didn’t expect great photos back then.  Yes, even then there was always hope for something better than simply “in focus” prints.  There has always been different levels of wedding photography excellence and most of us strived to reach that type of success.   My point is the pressure was not as great back then and you would be forgiven if you didn’t produce any great shots.  This type of mediocre performance would not place you in the elite division of professional wedding photographers.  But it  would allow you to have a career in wedding photography and make a decent living.

Digital Photography Comes of Age

To avoid boring my audience with a long and tiresome history lesson on Digital Photography, suffice to say that in the late 90’s advanced types of digital cameras were starting to become available.  For those readers who want more details, here is an excellent digital photography history for your perusal.  Exceptional yet affordable digital cameras being made available to the public basically killed the old wedding photography industry as we knew it.  The mystery was gone!  Anyone could now take wedding photos and know that they would at least turn out.  Professional wedding photographers throughout the San Francisco area and beyond began to see their bookings drop!  I actually remember comparing notes with my fellow photographers regarding the number of weddings we had booked for the year.  As each year went by, the numbers went down.  Many wedding photographers closed their businesses.  There were just not enough weddings to go around for all of us because so many potential clients felt confident in “Uncle Bob” shooting their wedding with his cool new digital SLR.

Surviving the Digital Photography Era

For a professional wedding photographer to survive in what I call the Modern era, we had to offer our clients something more.   How did we do it?  Well, digital photography had one major advantage over film…..  You could take all the photos you wanted and it didn’t cost a penny.  This allowed pro photographers to take more photos and as a result, produce more candid photos. Thus, Wedding Photojournalism was born!  Now we could shoot thousands of photos at every wedding and capture all the special moments and we didn’t have to pay $1.00 for each photo (approximate film era cost per photos was always said to be $1.oo each!)   Books were published about this new phenomenon of Documentary wedding photography.   Brides started asking us if our style was traditional or photo journalistic.  I could go into a great detail about all of this and perhaps will in a future blog post, but for the purpose of this article suffice it to say that this was the hot style  in the 1st decade of the 21st century.

Death of the Wedding Photojournalist

What I am about to write will be somewhat controversial among some of my fellow wedding photographers.   It is my opinion that after a decade marked by  thousands of brides having their weddings covered in a purely documentary style the result was considerable disappointment among many clients.  As it turned out, it really wasn’t that difficult to take 3,000 photos at a wedding and catch dozens of “moments.”  In fact, armed with a fully automatic digital camera and about 1 hour of training, virtually anyone could be a wedding photojournalist.  Unfortunately this ease allowed hundreds of wedding photographers to enter the industry with no knowledge of lighting or posing.   Clients soon grew tired of having to wade through thousands of candid wedding photos with no images really standing out.  Did the wedding photographer capture some great moments? Of course they did!    But how were the family photos, how was the lighting, were there any fun poses?  Too often the answer was no!

Wedding Photography as Art

I believe that the post modern era of wedding  photography began in the early part of this decade.  It’s emergence was gradual yet definitive.     We began to approach wedding photography as an art form and not just an assignment.  In fact, we even started calling ourselves artists!  Randomly check out some professional wedding photographer’s websites and you will see that many people have changed  the “About” section to “About the Artist”.   Many  now refer to wedding packages as “Collections”.  If you could still see wedding photography websites from the film era you would not see any of this terminology.

To stand out in the post modern era, wedding photographers need to provide their clients with creative photos with beautiful light and gorgeous backgrounds.  The posing needs to be correctly done and grab the viewers attention.  Do these attributes sound familiar? Of course, it’s some of the same things you hear about other forms of art such as paintings.   Even Pinterest has collections of wedding photos called Fine Art Wedding Photography 

The Post Modern Wedding Photographer

If you aspire to be a professional wedding photographer in this era, you will need to be able to produce creative images with impact and beauty.  You will also need to understand lighting, composition and posing.  Machine gun candid photo shooters are still out there, but they will not be considered in the upper echelons nor will they command top dollar for their work.  In a sense, the industry has come full circle.  As was true in the film era, a successful wedding photographer will need to possess great skill, but with a difference……  The old Technical skill needed to operate ancient film cameras has now been replaced by the skill of an artist!

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