Wedding Photography through the years

The other day I was looking for an old photo of my mother, and pulled out by accident the wrong album – the old wedding photo album from my parents. It was a fascinating time travel, obviously for me personally as well as the photography involved. Then I remembered that my mother also gave me her album with the family chronicles containing one photo of my grandaunt at her wedding day in the 1920s:

Irmgard Gehring and Arthur Wilke
Photo: E. Jörk (Archive Photo)

And so I dived into a photographic wedding journey so to say. I was surprised to see how little wedding photography actually has changed over the decades. Well, then again – why should it change? The basic formula remains unchanged: a girl meets a boy, and they decide to stay together for the rest of their lives. In the past, just the church could approve a marriage – today it’s the mayors office that does the official registration. But most couples still put the focus on the church.

Anyway, here are a couple of shots from my parents on their wedding in May 1965:

Inga und Klaus Zanzig
Photo: Helmut Bormann (Archive Photo)

Inga und Klaus Zanzig
Unknown Photographer (Archive Photo)

Inga und Klaus Zanzig
Unknown Photographer (Archive Photo)

Notice how the trend went from one (maybe two) expensive shots (1920s) to a series of b&w shots in the 1960s, enough to fill a small album. Also the first consumer color photos appear (just two in the album), and a series of nice news-style action photos of the couple arriving in a black Mercedes (and later leaving the church). Clearly, the focus was on b&w photography, but the photographic style was already quite liberated.

Then fast-forward to my own wedding with Petra in 2003. The majority of quality shots were done using film (thanks to Ina and Stefan for the great job), while we received about two hundred photos from friends who used their digital point-and-shoot cameras during the day. None of these were really exciting, though. The one element that has changed between the 1960s and the millenium is the use of color film. The majority of wedding shots (in our case, 100%) is done in color. Even if film had become better and more affordable, the number of images from weddings was still rather low, compared to todays’ standards.

Petra und Mark Zanzig
Photo: Ina Dohnke (Archive Photo)

Petra und Mark Zanzig
Photo: Stefan Kolbe/kolbefoto.de

Well, today I am shooting weddings myself quite often, and I am using the latest digital cameras and high-end lenses. This allows for extreme available-light shots, for example during the church ceremony. Also, one can shoot a series of images and just select the ones that are looking perfect. Also, you are not restricted to shooting the formals, but you can give way for a news-style photography throughout the day – which may generate up to 2,000 images of a wedding. But after selecting the very best shots, the bride and groom get an exciting recount of their wedding. So far, each and every couple has confirmed that my selection of photos was completely beyond their expectations. Which is my intention in the first place.

Michaela and Michael
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Michael und Michaela
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Michaela and Michael
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Especially the church shots show the difference between amateurs and professionals. I do not mind stepping into the main aisle to get a breathtaking shot. The guests hardly notice it (and the fact that I avoid using a flash helps tremendously). Everyone can focus on the ceremony and enjoy it. Friends and family do not need to take good photos; that’s my job. The only one who might be annoyed or irritated is the priest, because he sees me moving at the back. But my experience is that priests have become much more tolerant over time. I guess they figured out that the bride and groom are their customers, and that they deserve the best photos possible. What’s more, once the ceremony is underway, the priest can hardly interrupt it, right? ;-)

I. and S.
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

I. and S.
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Daniela und Florian
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Daniela und Florian
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Daniela und Florian
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Daniela und Florian
Photo: Mark Zanzig/zettpress

All-in-all, I think that the job for the wedding photographer has certainly changed due to digital technology. The photographer now has much more creative freedom than he ever had. The ability to see the result of a shot within a second helps tremendously, especially with the formals.

But the job has not become easier. Where in the past you had to deal with, say, 100s of photos on film, you now have to deal with 1,000s of photos on memory cards. Plus, customers demand much more today. Now they expect you to capture the most emotional moments, ideally using the available light, without destroying the mood of the ceremony. Which makes wedding photography still a remarkably hard work, both physically and mentally.

And those who think that friends or a (supposedly) cheap photographer can do the job – please think twice. If the photographer does not capture one of the most emotional moments of your life, then all you have is your memory to serve up the images. You certainly can not “re-do” this day – well, you can, but it will never be the same.

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