How to get natural wedding photos you love
You’ve made your family photo list. You’ve discussed potential portrait locations. And now you’re wondering what you need to do for the natural photos. In this guide, I’ll explain exactly how to get documentary wedding photos you’ll love and cherish.
Let’s talk about your documentary wedding photos
Okay, so you like documentary wedding photos because they’re relaxed, personal, and meaningful. But while you love their natural look – and have no doubt the end result will be magical – there’s still one thing on your mind: “How do you get natural documentary wedding photos?”
Which is a great question.
Because after all, we devote a large – and seemingly disproportionate – amount of time to creating a detailed plan for your posed portraits and group photos (which includes a way to keep Uncle Tom away from the hard liquor until the family photos have been taken BTW) so we can complete that part of your day with ease (and fun!) and get you back to the party as quickly as possible.
But we spend very little time talking about and planning your documentary wedding photos – which make up most of your finished collection of pictures.
So, what’s the deal? Will we just wing the natural wedding photos? Well, yes, but also no.
As always, you can trust I’ve got your back. Over the years (15 and counting!), I’ve learned what conditions are most conducive to capturing one-of-a-kind photos you’ll cherish.
Wondering what needs to be in place? Keep reading, lovebugs!
SIX WAYS TO PLAN FOR NATURAL WEDDING PHOTOS YOU LOVE
1| Create a wedding you love
Documentary wedding photos won’t just bring back memories of things that happened on your day. They’ll also bring back your feelings. Imagine a photo of you stopping to hug your Grandad as you walk down the aisle. It’ll remind you of the love and excitement you felt at that moment. What a joy!
But what if you feel awkward, angry, or anxious about something? Perhaps mum insisted on doing a reading during the ceremony when you didn’t want any readings at all. Or you felt forced into a church ceremony when you really wanted a celebrant. Yep, when you look at the photos of those moments, the wedding planning upset will flood back. And no matter how good the pictures are (and how good you look!), you won’t cherish those photos.
So, the very first step to getting documentary wedding photos you love is to plan a wedding you love.
2 | Pick a photographer you feel relaxed with
You haven’t got to find a new friend. But choosing a photographer you feel comfortable with helps hugely.
Think of it this way…
if you want photos that feel like you, you have to reveal the real you – in front of a near stranger with a camera.
And take it from me, seriously special documentary photos go to couples who are vulnerable enough to wear their hearts on their sleeves, let their emotions overflow, and allow themselves to be 100% weird and wonderful – in front of a near stranger with a camera.
So yep, it’s a great idea to pick a photographer who makes you feel at ease.
3 | Allow time for the magic to unfold
Much like Daisy and Poppy when they’ve sniffed something particularly heinous, magical moments (and photos) don’t come when you call them! You can’t tempt them with treats, threats, or bribes. Much less champagne, canapes, or wedding cake. You have to be patient and let them come when they’re ready.
It’s a game of anticipating, watching, waiting… and eventually, reacting. So only allowing a few minutes here and there to squeeze out a special set of documentary photos won’t cut it. It’s a process, and however much you (and me!) might want it to be faster, it can’t be hurried.
And even if you could conjure up magic on demand? There’s still one problem. Your photographer needs time too. I know, so human! But seriously, creativity doesn’t come from chaos, rush, or pressure. It comes from a calm and clear mind. (Just think of all those great ideas you’ve had in the shower!)
So what can you do? Simples. Minimise your formal photos to allow plenty of space in your schedule for those magical natural moments to unfold and be captured.
4 | Create a flexible plan
Remember how you chose documentary photography to capture truly personal pictures? Well, this requires you to talk, and me to listen. Because the more I know about you and your day, the more meaningful I can make your photos. So we’ll jump on Zoom, share some tea and biscuits, and have a good chat.
Wondering what to tell me? There’s no such thing as over-sharing. Seriously. You can’t tell me too much. I’m here for the wedding chat! So just blurt it all out. You might be surprised how a tiny titbit you share can spark a shot idea on the day.
During our session together, we’ll create a timeline so I can be in right place at the right time and cover all the important moments, like your ceremony, speeches, and first dance. And we’ll work through all the logistics, chat about potential portrait locations, and carve out time for your group photos.
I’ll also make notes about things that are unique or particularly important to you. And remember, share as much as possible! Because this bit brings a whole new meaning to “sharing is caring”! For example, instead of requesting really good cake photos, please tell me why the cake photos are important to you. Maybe your mum is making it from a family recipe. If I know this in advance, I can look out for a shot of mum putting the finishing touches to the cake display, looking on proudly as you cut it, or sitting in a quiet corner enjoying a slice to herself. I love to know what’s really going on so I can give you something extra special.
And then? We stop. I’ll write up an outline of what I’ll do on the day. You’ll check it. And then we’ll put the spreadsheet away. This is the flexible bit in “flexible plan”. No more detail is needed than that, and no shot list is necessary except for particularly personal things.
5 | Brief your family and friends
Many of your family and friends – especially the older generations – may not know natural documentary wedding photography is even a thing.
I know this because of the number of people who look at me and smile, tell someone else to smile, or contrive the scene when they see me taking a photo!
But to get meaningful photos full of character we need them to be natural.
So before your wedding, tell your guests you’ll have a photographer around all day to capture ‘fly-on-the-wall’ photos to tell the story of your day … and you’d love them to be themselves, enjoy the day, and ignore the camera so you can remember the fun of the day when you look back at your pictures.
6 | Trust the process
Now, this is the part that’s easier said than done.
Please trust me. (And for the spiritual among you… trust the universe, too.) Everything will work out as meant to. So let go of any preconceptions about your photos. Embrace the unexpected. Relax, and enjoy your day.
A wise man (James Clear, author of Atomic Habits) once said: “The ultimate form of preparation is not planning for a specific scenario, but a mindset that can handle uncertainty.” And that’s very much how I approach capturing natural documentary wedding photos.
Why? We don’t know what unique moments will happen on your day. Anything could happen! So we can’t be completely planned; we can only be prepared and ready.
But believe me, it’s always the spontaneous moments and unpredictable photos that are the most meaningful and special.
And what will I do? How on earth do I know what to capture if it’s not on a list?
HOW I CAPTURE ONE-OFF NATURAL WEDDING PHOTOS
If doing the wedding photography version of a trust fall feels scary, here’s a BTS look at how I’ll capture your natural, documentary wedding photos.
I’ll bring all my past experience
I’ve photographed over 350 weddings – and whilst you can never see it all, I’ve certainly seen a lot! And it’s given me a sixth sense to predict what might happen at any given moment. So you can bet I’ll be ready to capture anything.
I’ll use my spidey senses
One of my best skills (besides the newfound ability to keep plants alive!) isn’t a technical talent but an emotional one. Empathy. I feel and relate to other people’s emotions as if they were my own. Which helps me anticipate likely reactions. It means I can easily spot subtle in-between moments that others miss. And it points me to poignant feelings through people’s body language. It’s a radar to moving moments and photos, and helps me capture images about people rather than of people.
I’ll become part of your day
I haven’t got an invisibility cloak, but I do have another weird ability: to fit in easily. My social gift might not be leading the conga line (just noooo), but all my couples tell me I’m a pro at making people feel relaxed around me and my camera. Which means they can carry on being them and I can capture their true character.
Which is all to say: Between us, we’ve got this. A little bit of planning and a whole lot of trust will give you the meaningful, unique, natural documentary wedding photos you love.
TL;DR: To get the best natural wedding photos you need to plan and let go. Prepare the things you can be certain about (timings, logistics, list of family photos)… and then on the day, relax, be flexible, and be open-minded. Trust me (and the universe) to take care of you. It’s tough to surrender to serendipity but that’s where we’ll find the most magical and meaningful documentary wedding photos.