The history of recording a wedding dates back to a time long before photography came about. The bride and the groom, and at times the nearest family members, would stand painstakingly for hours posing, as the master painter would make brush strokes on canvas. The history of wedding photography, however, is a relatively new one. A bit younger than the history of photography itself.

During the 19th century

At the beginning, the major impediment for at location wedding photography was the size of the photography equipment. Additionally, there was no digital sensor or film. That made it impossible to make scores of exposures at one go. The process of preparing the photographic medium itself was a tedious and painstaking one. The photographic plates that were used to make the exposures were basically silver-plated copper with a coating of light sensitive material. The actual development of the plates involved a few delicate steps before you get a positive image that can be framed. The process involved several minutes and had to be done immediately after the exposure was made. Thus, wedding photography was always done either before or after the wedding, with the bride and the groom wearing their best clothes and posing, but inside a studio.

history of wedding photography

During the first half of the 19th century, wedding photography was mainly about shooting daguerreotypes and then developing them to create a positive image. A French chemist named Louis J.M. Daguerre invented the Daguerreotype photographic process. It involved exposing a silver coated copper plate and then with the use of some chemicals producing a positive image directly.

Cut to the end of the 19th century and George Eastman developed a process that involved producing roll film that made location shooting more viable. This brought in the much needed boost to the wedding photography genre.

Color film came about much later. During the early days of its existence color film was a novelty. Most of the photographers preferred to avoid it because of its unreliability. Years later a German company named Agfa released a new color film named Neue (which literally means new in German) and it changed the whole perspective of photographers towards the use of color film in photography.

The post war surge in wedding photography

The surge in wedding photography came about after the Second World War ended. As the beleaguered soldiers returned back to sanity and to their family, love was in the air. More and more tied the nuptials. The demand for wedding photography grew manifold. On many an occasion photographers, many of whom were retired military photographers, would arrive at the venue and make pictures of the bride and the groom using their portable film cameras and flashes. They would then try to sell those images to the newly-married.

history of wedding photography

By that time film had become the most dominating medium of photography. First black and white and then slowly and steadily color. What was once a studio only genre finally got out of the four walls of a studio.

Early Photography Processes

At the beginning when daguerreotypes were the medium of choice for photography, exposure times were really long. It was imperative that the bride and the groom and whoever else was there in the frame be absolutely during the exposure. Though the time frame was smaller than what they had for painting, the overall time frame was still nowhere near to what we have now. More often than not the wedding couple would have only one picture taken to immortalize their wedding moment. Things were about to change quickly.

At the dawn of the new century the process of daguerreotype and other processes similar to it soon became obsolete as film was introduced. With film being more sensitive than photographic plates, as well as the availability of flash bulbs, exposure times were drastically reduced. Resultantly, wedding photography became a more frequent phenomenon. Families would hire wedding photographers to shoot images at the venue of the wedding. They would gladly do so because they were no longer tied to their studios. The reliance on chemicals or the short time-frame for development of the light sensitive plates were now a part of history.

How technology brought about a change in approaches to wedding photography

Finally, digital technology came about during the penultimate decade of the 20th century. At the beginning, digital cameras were prohibitively expensive. Additionally, a noticeable amount of difference existed in quality of images between those shot by a state of the art digital camera and the ones shot by an established film camera. Dynamic range was poor too and so was resolution. However, things changed drastically over the next decade. So much so that today digital technology has replaced the very medium that revolutionized photography in the 20th century.

With digital technology, wedding photography became an elaborate managed production. Digital photographers often took hundreds even thousands of photos over the course of a wedding. Lights, triggers, reflectors, diffusers and not to mention an array of cameras and lenses made up the gear that wedding photographers would lug to every venue. Needless to say, wedding photography is now an established industry worth several billion dollars.

The Modern Photojournalistic approach to wedding photography

There has been a sea change in the approach to wedding photography over the years. Candid photojournalistic approach has become the new flavor as opposed to the traditional style which dominated the first half and even much of the second half of the 20th century. More and more couples have started to look for a fresh and unique approach to photographing their wedding day. They are not shy of trying new things either. The world of wedding photography has certainly gone a sea change. And much of it is because of the influx of digital technology in photography.

Wedding photography in the modern world is a synergy of the traditional wedding photography style as well as the new era photojournalistic style. Photographers routinely use their creativity to deviate from the established wedding photography styles in order to create something brand new.

history of wedding photography

There was a time when the most preferred aperture was a small one. A small aperture ensured a larger depth of field. These days photographers are willing to experiment with different f-numbers and focal lengths. They also have the option to experiment with different sensor sizes.

One of the fall out of this approach is the use of traditional photojournalistic lenses such as the 50mm prime for use in wedding photography. These lenses were traditionally used in street and documentary work. But they assumed the role of wedding photography lenses in the new age. These are fast and have a fixed focal length. That means there are less mechanical controls to keep you engaged. But that said, these lenses are suitable only for the hard working type photographer. For photographers who prefer to sit back and shoot from a distance, lenses such as the 24-70mm or the 70-200mm are better suited for their style of wedding photography.

Other advantages of digital technology in wedding photography

The best thing about digital photography is that you can afford to shoot a large number of frames. Memory has become dirt cheap. A wedding photographer nowadays can afford to put his camera on burst mode and fire away hundreds of frames just to get that one moment where the emotions really come through. This also means greater amount of time spent in order to go through all those extra images, culling them and picking the best ones.

With film and the limitations in terms of exposure you can get per roll, you’d have to weight in all the parameters before pressing the shutter release. You’d have to take into consideration the exposure settings, check the ambient light using a light meter and check for the composition. But with a digital camera you can be lazy. It is pertinent to mention, with the advent of digital cameras, the overall quality of imagery that we can see has gone down. Good photographs are no longer made, they are captured. That approach may bring a frown on the face of a purist who has used film all his life. For a commercial or fashion photographer or someone doing wedding photography for a living, that approach is life-saving.

The Advent of Powerful Portable Lights

Because of the availability of lighter and yet powerful studio lights it is possible to reproduce those beautiful posed studio quality images at the location. Thanks to these lightweight, portable and powerful lights wedding photographers have been able to experiment by mixing ambient light with artificial studio lights. As a result they have been able to produce those beautiful balanced exposures where the background is as much an important aspect of the photo as the bride and the groom.

history of wedding photography

Thanks to digital photography, the increased dynamic range at high ISO, it has become easier to produce images that could never be possible using film or other older processes. Photographers routinely shoot at the blue hour of the day metering for the ambient background light and then mixing artificial lights with it to produce stunning imagery.

Advantages of the RAW format

Another big advantage of digital technology is the possibility to alter the images, adjust exposures, contrast, saturation, hue as well as make a large number of local adjustments with the RAW format. This is yet another aspect that is impossible to produce using film.

The ever changing face of the wedding photography industry puts a lot of pressure on top wedding photographers. They have to keep producing work that is a step ahead of the race. That means innovative lighting, posing, clever use of background as well as intricate post-processing and retouching. So much so that wedding photographers have now started to outsource their post-processing and retouching work to third party providers. is one such source. It is a platform for professional photo editors and retouchers. It is also useful for photographers who are looking to outsource their post-processing work. This leaves a lot of free time in the hands of a wedding photographer. A rare commodity that every photographer cherishes.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

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