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Wedding Photography: A Glossary of Terms

Wedding photography is easy, right? Get a photographer, pose, and great results. Simple! However, you’ll find it’s full of new terms that can be confusing. Let us help you with our guide to all the styles, words and terms so you can make the right choice

Of course, first of all, you have to choose your photographer from all the brilliant creative artists available, and then you have to hit upon a style that will help make your big day memorable.

You’re engaged? Great, now it’s: date, venue, photographer!

The wedding photographer is usually one of the top three things that a bride will book after announcing her engagement. Good photographers can get booked up over a year in advance so don’t delay.

Different styles of wedding photography

One of the key things to think about and even before you choose your photographer, are the different styles of wedding photography. Gone are the days of formal family line ups, cake cutting and the first kiss – although these shots are still popular, wedding photography has developed into a spectacular genre all of its own with lots of different things on offer.

Most photographers will offer a mixture of styles and shots so if you have your heart set on one particular type then make sure you only look at photographers who have this specialism. Here are some of the most popular and trending styles.

  • Reportage – reportage also sometimes called ‘documentary style’ are terms used interchangeably and really describe a style where the photographer documents the wedding like a magazine photographer. This includes lots of unposed pictures and shots taken from a distance with the occasional interference to set up an image like cutting the cake
  • Traditional – also known as ‘old school’ or ‘old fashioned’, remember those poses in the church door or under a tree at the reception. The key word here is ‘posed’ as these shots are all set up and staged with nothing spontaneous or natural. However, some group shots retain their popularity, but the setting is commonly more modern than just a simple line
  • Dramatic – this style of photography takes a lot of planning, and some couples go to a separate area at the ceremony or reception like ruins or parts of the venue with dramatic views or even off site to a different location altogether. Most brides and grooms will incorporate some staged and dramatic pictures into an otherwise varied set

Glossary of Wedding Photography Terms

Couples will feel more confident if they understand the different styles and processes that photographers use. This will help you maximise the quality of the final images and hit the jackpot when it comes to the finished photos.

Here are some commonly used photographic terms with an easy explanation.

  • Aged style – this gives a faded look, and a colour tint is added too. Some photographers also add a scratchy/crinkle over-layer so the images more closely resemble old film
  • Squint photographs – this style has the horizon totally off kilter, building walls are not straight and might appear to lean out of the picture. This is a popular style in an urban or industrial setting
  • Desaturated photographs – desaturation tones down the colour in the original images which is a nice alternative to going black and white.
  • Dark photographs – images with perfect exposure are darkened down to suit preference, this can add mood and atmosphere particularly to external shots in big landscapes
  • Sepia – sepia was a process created when images were taken on film. During the processing of a film in the dark room, a special treatment was used to give black and white images a warmer, slightly golden tone. Nowadays, with digital imaging, this look can easily be added
  • Copyright – copyright refers to ownership of the image so wedding photos are owned by the photographer who has taken them. If your photographer works for a studio then copyright will rest with the studio owner. Handing images over to a bride and groom does not mean you own them and in the digital age, this is a very important point to understand. The photographer’s terms and conditions will usually set out what you can and can’t do with the prints and this will also depend on the format they are in – digital or hard copy
  • High Res / Low Res – ‘res’ stands for resolution and in digital photography that means the file size – a large file size of 5MB or more can produce artwork or large format prints. Low resolution means a much smaller file size which is only suitable for sharing online or emailing, these will not be suitable images for printing
  • RAW format – most pro wedding photographers who use digital imagery shoot in RAW file format. RAW format allows photographers to re-open the file numerous times and re-save it over and over again without diminishing the quality during this process. Digital compact cameras produce JPG files which are already processed within the camera to enhance the quality. However, any editing of JPG files will reduce the quality of the images, even just during the saving process. RAW format allows a photographer to change images from black and white back to colour and vice versa with no loss of quality. If a JPG image is saved in black and white, then it can be reconverted back to the original colour picture
  • Post production – most photographers who shoot digital images will edit their photos. This can either be done on a shot-by-shot basis or in groups which is called batch editing
  • Ambient light – this is the natural light in the location or room without any artificial intervention
  • Candids – a photograph taken without the knowledge of the subject, some of the very best wedding photos can be candids
  • Depth of field – this refers to the technique of blurring or sharpening parts of the image and is done by altering the aperture settings. A picture that is sharp in the foreground, say a close up of the rings, and blurred in the background is referred to as having a shallow depth of field
  • Dropbox – a way of transmitting large numbers of photographs or other large files safely and securely online
  • DSLR – this stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera and is one of the most popular types of camera for wedding photographers
  • E-shoot – an engagement photo shoot sometimes also called a pre-wedding shoot
  • Fish-eye – a wide-angle lens which is used to create a distorted image and is typically used for a wide panoramic picture
  • First look – this refers to a particular shot capturing the moment when the bride and groom first meet each other. Many photographers now offer a ‘first look’ private shoot before the ceremony which can also do wonders for brides who suffer badly with nerves and stage fright
  • Grain/noise – the pattern of miniscule dots which make up the image. If the image is described as ‘grainy’ then it has probably been enlarged beyond its quality and the dots are visible. These dots are called pixels and the image may be called ‘pixelated’
  • Monochrome this is just a black and white picture
  • Second shooter – this is a second photographer who works with and assists the main photographer especially at large weddings where there are lots of guests
  • Spot colour – this is the selective use of a splash of colour in an otherwise black and white image so it could be a red corsage in a buttonhole
  • Trash the dress – a post wedding shoot where the dress is, quite literally, trashed

What is the process behind great wedding photography?

The images that your photographer takes during the wedding day are only one part of the service being provided.

On arrival back at the studio, the photos will need to be downloaded and then backed up. The photographer will then work through the images and delete the ones that are technically deficient or no use, say someone walked in front of the camera or had their eyes closed at the critical moment.

The selected catalogue of images is then edited with special photo editing software like Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop.

It is unlikely your photographer will pass across unedited and unchecked images, and you probably wouldn’t be very happy with the results if they did. You may be very keen to see those pictures but give the photographer time to work their magic!

Finding the right wedding photographer

Wedding photography may be a technical process, but at the end it’s all around the creative ideas and people. You need to have a great connection with your photographer – so you can trust them to come up with stunning photos in the style you want.

Make sure that you see the style of images in your photographer’s portfolio that you are looking for.

When it comes to describing different types of images or effects, let the portfolio do the talking. Any decent wedding photographer should be able to demonstrate what they mean with images they have taken at previous weddings. A picture speaks a thousand words as the saying goes so this is much the best way to demonstrate the different types of imagery available rather than getting bogged down in a conversation about technical detail which will go over the heads of most couples.

Do try and avoid a photographer who talks non-stop in jargon – if they can’t explain to you what they mean in plain English then they are probably not the right photographer for you.