Like the technology of photography itself, the practice of wedding photography has evolved and grown since the invention of the art form in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. In fact, an early photograph, recorded some 14 years after the fact, may be a recreation for the camera of the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. However in the early days of photography, most couples of more humble means did not hire a photographer to record the actual wedding itself. Until the later half of the 19th century, most people didn’t pose for formal wedding photos during the wedding. Rather they might pose for a formal photo in their best clothes before or after a wedding. In the late 1860s, more couples started posing in their wedding clothes or sometimes hired a photographer to come to the wedding venue. (See the gallery at White wedding.)
Due to the nature of the bulky equipment and lighting issues, wedding photography was largely a studio practice for most of the late 1800s. Over time, technology improved, but many couples still might only pose for a single wedding portrait. Wedding albums started becoming more commonplace towards the 1880s. By then, the photographer would start including the wedding party in the photographs. Often the wedding gifts would be laid out and recorded in the photographs as well.
In the beginning of the 20th century, color photography became available, but color photography was still too unreliable and expensive so most wedding photography was still practiced in black and white. The concept of capturing the wedding "event" came about after the Second World War. Using film roll technology and improved lighting techniques available with the invention of the compact flash bulb, often photographers would simply show up at a wedding and try to sell the photos later. Despite the initial low quality photographs that often resulted, the competition forced the studio photographers to start working on location.
Initially, professional studio photographers might bring a lot of bulky equipment, thus limiting their ability to record the entire event. Even candid photos were more often staged after the ceremony. In the 1970s the more modern approach to recording the entire wedding event started evolving into the practice as we know it today.
In spite of diminishing film use, some photographers continue to shoot with film as they prefer the film aesthetic, while others are of the opinion that negative film captures more information than digital technology, with less margin for exposure error. Certainly true in some cases, it should be noted that exposure latitude inherent in a camera's native RAW image format (which allows for more under- and over- exposure than JPEG) varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. All forms of RAW have a degree of exposure latitude which exceeds slide film - to which digital capture is commonly compared.
Currently however, it is fair to say that many professional labs have a greater capacity to provide services in post-production for film compared with digital, such as quickly generate adequate prints in the event of some over- or under- exposure. This should change over time, with manufacturers like Kodak announcing a commitment to further develop streamlined services in the area of professional digital lab output.
Technology has evolved with the use of remote triggers and flashes. Wedding photographers are now able to take advantage of travelling light and having the ability to use creative lighting.
There are two primary approaches to wedding photography that are recognized today: Traditional and Photojournalistic. Traditional wedding photography provides for more classically posed images and a great deal of photographer control and interaction on the day of the wedding. Photojournalistic wedding photography takes its cue from editorial reporting styles and focuses more on candid and unposed images with little photographer interaction. These are two extremes and many of today's photographers will fall somewhere in the middle of these two styles.
A third style that is becoming more and more in demand is a fashion-based approach. In contemporary/fashion-based wedding photography, photojournalistic images of the events of the day are combined with posed images that are inspired by editorial fashion photography as would be found in magazines like Vogue or Vanity Fair.
A fourth style that is popular in Asian countries, especially in China, is wedding studio photography(Chinese: 婚纱摄影; pinyin: hūn shā shè yǐng). Typically,couples will select a studio in a similar manner as western couples select a wedding photographer. They will then make an appointment with the studio for either in-studio or location shoot, which is becoming ever so popular in recent years, to do "glamour wedding shots". In attendance will be a hair stylist and make-up artist in addition to the photographer and the couple. The couple will go through many changes of clothing and backgrounds in a similar manner to the fashion based approach.
The term contemporary wedding photography is used to describe wedding photography that is not of a traditional nature. The emphasis in contemporary photography is to capture the story and atmosphere from the day, so the viewer has an appreciation of what the wedding was like, rather than a series of pre-determined poses. However, this term can be mistaken for meaning any photograph that is not posed or formal. The advent and advancement of digital cameras and increased use of the internet mean that many people can offer their services as a wedding photographer. However, contemporary wedding photography is more than just not taking very formal photographs and involves the use of composition, lighting and timing to capture photographs that have a strong visual appeal.
There is some uncertainty over what constitutes contemporary and how this differs from other forms of wedding photography. The PSA Journal, March 1994, records a debate on this subject.. This highlights the difficulty with the word contemporary when defining photographic expression, as some feel this term is not sufficiently defined. For example, is photojournalism contemporary or are they different? Photojournalism is easier to define, as the term infers the photography is by its nature similar to journalism, where the emphasis is upon reporting and recording events in a newsworthy manner, whereas contemporary may include an element of photojournalism but is not exclusively that style of photography.
The range of deliverables that a wedding photographer presents is varied. There is no standard as to what is included in a wedding coverage or package, so products vary regionally and from photographer to photographer, as do the number of images provided.
Most photographers provide a set of proofs (usually unretouched, edited images) for the clients to view. Photographers may provide hard copy proofs in the form of 4x5 or 4x6 prints, a "magazine" of images with thumbnail sized pictures on multiple pages, an online proof gallery, images on CD or DVD in the form of a gallery or a slideshow, or a combination of the above. Some photographers provide these proofs for the client to keep, and some photographers require the client to make final print choices from the proofs and then return them or purchase them at an additional cost.
There are a wide variety of albums and manufacturers available and photographers may provide traditional matted albums, digitally designed "coffee table" albums, contemporary flush mount albums, hardbound books, scrapbook style albums or a combination of any of the above. Albums may be included as part of a pre-purchased package, or they may be added as an after-wedding purchase. Not all photographers provide albums; some may prefer to provide prints and/or files and let clients make their own albums.
Most photographers allow clients to purchase additional prints for themselves or their families. Many photographers now provide online sales either through galleries located on their own websites or through partnerships with other vendors. Those vendors typically host the images and provide the back end sales mechanism for the photographer; the photographer sets his or her own prices and the vendor takes a commission or charges a flat fee.
With the increased ability of consumers to scan images and get high quality prints with inexpensive scanners and printers, some photographers are also including high resolution files in their packages. These photographers allow their clients limited rights to reproduce the images for their personal use, while retaining the copyright. Not all photographers release files and those who do will most likely charge a premium for them, since releasing files means giving up any after wedding print or album sales for the most part.
Photographers who do not retain copyright of the images often charge more for their services. In these cases the photographer provides the client with the digital images as part of the wedding package. The client then has unrestricted use of the images and can print any they may desire.
The wedding photography industry is home to some of the most respected names within the photography industry, including celebrity wedding photographer Joe Buissink, New York based Christian Oth, California's Mike Colon, Canada's Jesh De Rox, The Bebb's and Denis Reggie. Some of these figures were recently listed in PopPhoto's Top 10 Wedding Photographers in the World. These figures represent the historical rise of wedding photojournalism, fashion, couture-style portraits and all digital work-flow.
As a wedding is a one-time event, the photographer must be prepared for the unexpected. Shooting a wedding is both exhausting and invigorating as the photographer is constantly looking for good angles and opportunities for candid shots. Communication and planning time lines before the event will alleviate many of the stresses associated with photographing a wedding. An ability to tactfully take charge also helps - particularly when photographing large groups or families - a common expectation after the ceremony. Having a run list with all of the expected shots is also a useful tool. A photographer may work with an assistant who can carry equipment, arrange guests and assist in the shooting through clothing adjustments or the holding up of reflectors.
Wedding photographers usually have an office or studio which can double as a retail photography studio. In bigger cities you might find dedicated wedding studios that only shoot weddings and may have large studios equipped with make-up and hair and gowns ready for the bride to wear. Some studios also have arrangements with bridal shops allowing the bride to try several gowns during her portrait session.