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Wedding Photojournalism and Fine Art Portraiture by Ben Eden

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Frequent Questions and Answers (FAQ)


What exactly do you call documentary wedding photography?

There is no exact definition I'm afraid. Or there are as many as there are photographers who profess it.. I recently gave an interview on just this topic: You're welcome to read the article. To provide a brief answer here: I aim to find and capture the true emotions of the wedding day in images that are strong and beautiful enough to merit a space on the wall.

Do you only photograph weddings?

Certainly not. As a documentary photographer, I'm eager to witness other important life events as well: Maternity photography (documenting childbirth), christenings and confirmations, Brit-Mila, Bar-Mitzvah and Bat-Mitzvah celebrations, vow renewals... Please note that this list is indicative only - I welcome ethnic or religious events and ceremonies of all denominations.

What about portrait photography?

Why not? Portraits can be done in a spontaneous way, too. Recently, a Florida couple invited me to accompany them on an afternoon stroll through Paris. It was a lot of fun and an excellent idea! I also love children and am always delighted to capture a moment in life of a happy family.

Do you use digital or film cameras for weddings?

Update: I have made the move with the times and now use full-frame digital SLR cameras by default for wedding photography. On request, I do use Leica film equipment, unfortunately I have to charge a substantial premium for the considerable extra effort involved in processing and scanning film. The original text below is still mostly valid, though:

Digital cameras have made an incredible progress lately and I gladly use them these days for editorial assignments. For my style of wedding photography, however, I don't find the technology to be quite there yet, for the following reasons:

I need a camera that will allow me to shoot unobtrusively, often in low-light situations, without flash and without making a lot of noise. The only digital camera that satisfies my other requirements like a full-frame image sensor (allowing for shallow depth-of-field when I want it, as opposed to being limited to the typical "everything-in-focus" digital camera look) and very short shutter lag (the time that goes between pressing on the shutter release and the actual picture being taken) would be the new Canon 1Ds.

This camera is a huge piece of equipment. Apart from its intrusive looks, it's very noisy. Designed to capture 9 frames per second of sports action, the mirror inside makes an atrocious slam when a picture is taken. In my opinion, this really prevents the photographer from covering the intimate moments of the ceremony. (Noise and flash is in fact the reason why photography is often restricted during the ceremony.) Even if allowed, I'm sure my clients wouldn't appreciate the press conference or fashion show sound background I would be bound to generate.

Among other, harder-to-describe technical reasons: Wedding scenes are inherently very high in contrast. Both the black tuxedo and the white wedding dress have to be captured at the same time and still show detail, not be "blown out." Lighting changes quickly and is impossible to control. Professional negative film - both color and black and white - can still capture a wider image contrast ratio compared to best digital sensors on the market.

Finally, there are still archival concerns with digital: Maintaining the several gigabytes of data that a typical wedding engenders is an arduous and continuous task, if done right. CD and DVD media's archival properties are quite unclear at the moment and many anecdotal reports of the media failing - becoming unreadable - after just several years of storage exist.

With today's technology, exercising reasonable care dictates keeping at least two copies of the data, which should be duplicated on fresh media and rotated at arbitrarily set intervals. (Alternative digital storage technologies exist - using high-capacity hard drives is one of them - but they still require duplication on multiple devices and periodic recopying.) Cost of this is considerable and the continuous effort ultimately has to be passed on to the client. This fact, together with potential liability concerns, might be one of the reasons why digital photographers seem to be more willing to provide a copy of the "digital negatives" to their clients.

So what equipment do you use?

I use Leica M-series rangefinder cameras, almost exclusively. They are my cameras of choice for documentary work. In my opinion, there's no better camera for candid wedding photography. The cameras are tiny and understated in appearance and their shutter release is hardly audible. I also really like the look that Leica lenses are, quite rightly, famous for.

When the task calls for it, e.g. if a more traditional portrait session is requested, I might use an SLR camera which allows for more precision cropping of the frame with longer lenses and provides a depth-of-field preview.

How much extra is it to have you come to, say, New York?

Usually, not that much at all - especially if your wedding is in Europe or close to a major city or tourist destination elsewhere. I'm based in London, a major airline hub with copious direct flights pretty much anywhere.

As weddings are customarily planned many months if not years ahead, most of the time I can reserve my tickets for the cheapest fares available on that particular route. New York, Boston, Washington.. even Los Angeles or San Francisco flights can cost as little as $300 round trip. (Unless you gracefully insist on sending me business class, of course.)

Most European destinations are often a fraction of the above, with tickets sometimes almost being given away. I don't shun taking advantage of these offers when available. In such cases, the biggest travel item is my taxi to the airport.

Finally, I invite my clients to make travel arrangements for me should they prefer - or even obtain a ticket for me in exchange for their frequent flier miles - which, with some airlines, is an advantageous option when a last-minute booking is required.

What do you recommend for wedding photographs: Black & White or Color?

My heart is with black & white. Monochromatic images appeal to me as they eliminate the distractions of color and allow the viewer to concentrate on shapes, shades and emotions. I prefer to use black & white for my documentary projects and most other personal work. Apart from having a timeless touch to them, they last for generations - when processed properly on traditional silver-halide fibre paper. (These are also known as fine art silver-gelatine archival prints and this is how I present my museum work.)

On the other hand, weddings are often very colorful - all the elaborate dresses, flowers, even make-ups can actually contribute to the photographs. It would be a pitty to loose all that beauty. The same is often true for the wedding location: Think of flowers, fall foliage, sunsets by the sea...

I recommend an enlightened mix of color and black & white. Unless the couple has a specific preference, I will switch back and forth from black & white and color film to best suit the situation - in my judgment. For instance, an indoor ceremony will usually benefit from black & white: Ceremony locations usually are quite dimly lit, often by artificial light or a mix of artificial and daylight. This means that color photographs from such scenes probably wouldn't look very good.

On the other hand, I sometimes use color film for the before and after shots (that is when they take place outdoors) and for candid portraiture. There are no rules though: Sometimes indoors shots will actually come out beautiful in color. And outdoor locations might yield unappealing color on a bleak day. Light quality in fact is crucial for color photography and can easily make - or break the photos.

To sum it up: I will use whatever film I believe best matches the situation. Usually the majority of my photos will be in black & white - unless the client has another preference.

How about the negatives?

They remain with me, for three main reasons: I treat my wedding assignments on par with any other project I do. As an artist, I'm attached to the results of my work. Also, I need to be in control of the products that will eventually be associated with my name - the actual prints.

Which leads to the second reason: I believe I'm in a better position than most of my clients in obtaining quality prints. Most people can recall not getting the right color on their reorder prints. Scratches and smudges suddenly appear on enlargement orders while the first prints were perfect, etc... By doing this work in-studio, I eliminate these and tackle other potential problems - including my clients' privacy.

The third reason is simply preservation: I keep my negatives under controlled archival storage conditions. They get the same level of protection against theft and/or damage as all my other originals. This gives my clients the peace of mind of reprints being available for many years to come - they will be ready.

Still, why do some wedding photographers still "include" the negatives?

I can only assume here: For one, the difficulties of obtaining quality enlargements and the associated time and logistical expenditure make it quite attractive for the photographer to simply give a bag of films to the client at the end of the wedding day. Also, bridal magazines sometimes advise their readers to request the negatives from their photographer in order to save on reprint costs. It might indeed look like a good deal for both parties. That is until client receives the first (or second) set of the £0.09 prints...

Can you make us a better quote?

Please don't ask. Apart from the fact that I don't discount my work, it wouldn't be fair to my other clients. I do accept credit card payments, however. Also, the way I structure my fees makes it easy to divide up the total wedding photography expenditure. Please read below for details.

Why aren't any prints included in your packages?

First of all, I don't use the concept of "packages." My fees cover my time and effort during your event only. (They also include antecedent consultations/meetings which can run up to days of otherwise billable hours.)

Now, to paraphrase a famous line, there's no such thing as a free print. I would have to raise my fees to cover the cost of anything I'd "include." This strikes me as unelegant. By the same token, it would force my clients to spend more for something they might not like to order in first place.

The online proofs and low resolution scans I do include are in fact more practical to use (and share with others) compared to the five pounds or so of the usual 4 x 6 " proof prints. Saving the paper, energy and chemicals required is a contribution to environmental conservation.

What do the online proofs look like?

They contain all the photographs from your wedding. I edit very lightly, only taking out obvious rejects, e.g. blinks and duplicates. At your discretion, you may share the online proofs with your family or anyone else you'd like to. I'll be happy to show you actual samples upon request.

Could we review something "real" on paper, too?

Absolutely. I have an itinerant portfolio assembled just for this purpose. It contains samples of most of the different enlargement sizes and print types that I offer. Reviewing the portfolio is free, but I will ask you to cover the cost of return courier shipping as well as a security deposit.

Could we meet in person?

I hope so. It makes a lot of sense not to be complete strangers on the wedding day. With so many things to discuss - feel free to tap my experience with weddings in general - it's more enjoyable and productive to do so over coffee or lunch. If you live within the greater London area, there's really no excuse not to. I might also be able to stop by during my travels abroad. If meeting in person is not an option, I find three-way conference calls on the phone both useful and fun.

Why aren't there any lesbian or gay weddings on display in your online portfolio?

For the simple reason that I had so far not been contacted by any lesbian or gay couple - be it for a wedding or a portrait session. Rest assured I would give a same-sex inquiry the same consideration as to anybody else's. In fact, I might even positively discriminate: The resulting reportage would add yet another perspective to the book on destination weddings that I have in the works.

While I am on this topic: I am personally all for full legal recognition of same-sex unions. I consider this to count among basic, matter-of-fact natural personal rights. I can't believe / don't dare to understand why this still is such a contentious issue in the US.) I am happy to count two married gay couples and a (currently single) lesbian among my friends.


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