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Wedding Photography Glossary: Common Terms and Wedding Photography Styles Explained

If you're not sure what style of wedding photography you like best, this handy article helps to explain the different jargon and styles on offer

Bride and groom look at each other while confetti is thrown by guests

Wedding photography is a key part of your big day, creating a lasting record and memento of your very special day. However, when you research wedding photography online or first contact your potential photographer, you'll quickly discover that there are many different wedding photography styles

Our glossary of of wedding photography styles is essential for anyone starting their search for the perfect photographer. Take your time finding the right one and bear in mind that this is an area your investment will really pay off.

From reportage to formal photography, here are the different photography styles and jargon you need to know.

1. Black and White Photography

Black and white image of a bride wiping a tear away

Just like the name suggests, this is photography with no colour, done to achieve a classic and timeless effect. Normally the photos will be taken in colour by the photographer and edited in post-production so you have both options.

Sophie from Sophie Penn-Gillam Photography expands: "Sometimes, an image can be framed beautifully, the focus looks great, but something doesn’t feel quite right. That to me is that sometimes, colour photography during an event that’s full of people, different lighting, colours etc, can look very busy.

"Black and white feels very calming, simple, but super effective. It’s where photography started, so that’s where the timeless and classic feel comes in; it’s familiar, and almost old-Hollywood like."

2. Boudoir Shoot

A sexy set of photos that is usually given to your spouse as a gift. It’s best done by a dedicated boudoir photographer who’ll have the knowledge of the best angles and lighting. These photos aren’t meant to be shared with anyone else – they’re just for you and your partner to enjoy!

Sophie says "Some women gift these images to their spouses either before the wedding, or as a wedding gift. It’s meant to be very empowering and not crude at all. Boudoir is French for a woman’s bedroom or private room."

3. Contemporary Photography

Two brides embrace in a dark room with their profiles lit by natural light

Contemporary photography is one of the three main styles of photography, alongside traditional and reportage. What it means is the photographer has a modern style which often looks more like a magazine editorial shoot than traditional wedding photography. The style is artistic and creative, using dramatic backdrops, unusual angle and lighting, or focusing on more abstract shots.

If you’re looking for a quirky, creative style of wedding photography, this is ideal. It’s recommended you look through several full wedding albums to make sure you like and understand the photographer’s vision and discuss what you need.

Sometimes you’ll be required to travel away from your venue to a location like a ruin or industrial estate and this can take a lot of time out of your day. While you’ll be left with incredible photos, you need to weigh up how much time you want to spend away from the action of the day.

4. Digital

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make about your photographer is whether they are shooting in digital or with film. Digital is the most popular and common way to shoot wedding photos and has plenty of advantages, including:

  • Crisp, high-quality photos and prints
  • Quick turnaround, meaning photos can be back in a matter of days
  • Better at adjusting to very low-light conditions
  • Easy to digitally retouch to make your photos look their best
  • Possible to preview shots as the photographer is taking them to see if any adjustments are needed
  • Digital negatives are easy to store and won’t fade over time
  • Unlimited photography as digital has no extra processing fees and camera have a high storage capacity

It's becoming increasingly common for wedding photographers to offer some film or film-style options too, as the nostalgic style and feel is very popular. 

5. Engagement Shoot

A couple kiss with an engagement ring clearly visible on one hand

Veronika from Veronika Joy Photography & Film, puts it simply: "It is a photo session when you and your fiancé have professional photos taken before your wedding day. It is a way of celebrating your engagement and capturing your current stage of life. This way, you can treasure this moment before you two become married."

Pre-wedding shoots have become incredibly popular, often as part of, or an add-on to, photography packages. You’ll travel with your photographer to a location and take beautiful couple photos that can be used on save the date cards or your wedding website. An experienced photographer will have scouted out unusual locations for the shoot and may suggest using props or multiple engagement photo outfits.

An engagement shoot is a fantastic opportunity to get to know your photographer, and learn to feel comfortable in front of the camera and taking direction. If there’s anything you discover you don’t like, your photographer will know this for the day. It's also a great chance to try out some fun engagement photo shoot ideas!

6. Film Photography

Film is the alternative to digital photography. Often there’s little difference in quality, but analogue photos add grain, softness and warmth. It is likely to cost more to shoot with film – your photographer will incur higher processing and editing costs; you’ll receive fewer photos as they’ll be more judicious with their shots; and your photos will take longer to arrive.

If possible, find a photographer who is willing to shoot with both digital and film to get the best of both worlds - it's becoming increasingly common as film wedding photography is emerging as a key wedding trend.

7, First Look Photography 

You can ignore the superstition that it’s bad luck for the couple to see each other before the ceremony. A wedding first look shoot is a series of photos capturing the moment the couple first set eyes on each other. This is different from meeting at the top of the aisle and will usually be done in private or with close family and friends.

It’s a chance to get a set of photos of the couple before the wedding, meaning you need to spend less time away from your guests during the drinks reception. Veronika points out another useful advantage: "A first look provides a great photo opportunity if there is not enough time for a portrait session after the ceremony due to a tight wedding schedule."

8. Formal Photography

Bride and groom in military uniform kiss under a saber saulte

Traditional photography captures formal, posed photographs of your day. This used to be the most common type, but now even most traditional photographers will capture candid, reportage-style photos too. A traditional photographer will shoot a standard, almost formulaic set of key points in the day – like signing the register and cutting the wedding cake – as well as taking staged shots of you and your guests.

A traditional photographer will spend time directing you, so it’s worth considering how much time you want to spend away from your guests. This is a great style for anyone looking for editorial style wedding photography. 

Sophie says "I do believe wedding photography has come a long way from this very traditional form of photographing a wedding. If my client wanted formal shots from me, I would make sure to know both sides of the family, who they wanted in the images, bridesmaids and groomsmen photos, parents of the couple and even witnesses.

"It’s normally a bit of an operation, as there will be lots of family members and friends their on the day."

9. Fun Photography

Two brides kiss while holding alpacas via a leash

‘Fun photography’ usually refers to silly or slightly cheesy shots enhanced with editing in post-production. This could be anything from the wedding party jumping in the air to a lightsaber added in with editing software. Whether you want this is a matter of preference; clarify what kind of ‘fun’ shots you’d like to do with your photographer before the big day. 

If you like this style of wedding photography, it's worth asking your wedding photographer if they can do it ahead of booking them, as it's not something everyone will offer. 

10. Photo Booths

Four friends take picture in a photo booth with props

No modern wedding is complete without a photo booth. Wedding photographers may provide their own photo booth as part of an enhanced package, but more than likely they’ll be able to recommend a photo booth supplier to attend during your reception. Photo booths are a fantastic form of wedding entertainment, and you’ll be left with plenty of funny, candid photos of your guests.

You can actually DIY a photo booth or hire one – the choice is vast, from horseboxes to karaoke booths and ones that allow you to add fun GIFs to your social media right away. These print outs can also double up as wedding favours for your guests. 

11. Photography Package

Your photography package is the deal you agree with your photographer, which will cover everything from how many hours they’ll shoot on the day to what form the photos will arrive once processed. We have a comprehensive article of wedding photography prices and what to expect from each price band. You can typically expect:

  • A pre-wedding consultation in person or via Skype to meet the photographer
  • An engagement shoot
  • 9-10 hours of work on the wedding day; from the pre-wedding preparations through to the first dance
  • A USB stick of high-resolution, full-edited digital images from the day (typically around 400-500, but it varies)
  • Personal use copyright license

You can get cheaper packages by cutting down on the hours the photographer is working – meaning they also have fewer images to edit. More expensive packages will include a second shooter and extras like a bespoke album of photos.

12. Portraits

Two brides embrace each other

Portraits are close up or full-length photos that focus on one person, or the happy couple. These are often the images that end up going on the wall in your home. On the wedding day, going for a portrait session is chance for the couple to escape from the party and have their first real moments of marriage captured on film.

13. Photojournalistic Photography

Another name for reportage or documentary photography, see below.

14. Reportage Wedding Photography

Bride and groom walking through crowd of guests with sparklers

Reportage is the common name in the UK for what you might see described as photojournalistic or documentary style wedding photography elsewhere. It’s also one of the most popular wedding photography styles, characterised by natural-looking, non-posed photography that follows the day as it unfolds.

Your photographer will capture the emotions and story of the day, while being unobtrusively part of the action. If you want candid, authentic shots of your day, photojournalism style wedding photography is the style to opt for.

Veronika says "This is a common approach during some parts of weddings, such as the ceremony or speeches. Most wedding photographers will combine reportage photography with lifestyle or posed photography and give guidance to help the couple to look their best."

15. Sepia/Aged Photography

Sepia tone has been made popular by apps like Instagram. It’s a reddish-brown tint added after your photographs have been taken, giving a warm, retro feeling. If you're going for vintage style wedding photography, then this could be the effect for you. 

16. Spot Colour Photography

Spot-colour is where a selected part of the image is kept in colour and the rest is converted to monochrome, e.g. a bright red bouquet of rose in a black-and-white photo.

How to Choose a Wedding Photography Style?

Being faced with so many different wedding photography styles can seem daunting at first. When choosing your desired wedding photography style, it's important to consider your own personal likes and dislikes. Wedding photographer Veronika offers some advice: "If you have no idea what photography style you like, the best place to start is Pinterest or Instagram.

"Look through as many wedding photos as possible and save your favourites. Once you create a collection, you may start noticing a pattern. What kind of editing style do you like the most? Do you prefer light and airy or dark and moody images? 

"One of the most important factors to consider is your venue. Make sure the photography style matches your wedding venue well. For example, you can't expect light and airy photography in a dark barn venue with brick walls and minimum natural light."

Looking for a wedding photographer? Check out our top tips on how to choose a wedding photographer