Wedding Documentary Photography in India

An edited version of this story was published on Huffing Post India titled ‘The Lie Of ‘Candid’ Wedding Photography In India.’


I always wanted to be a documentary photographer. By ‘always’ I mean since I was in my mid 20s and owned by first point and shoot canon reel camera. By the time I got my hands on DSLR photography I realized being photographer is not easy and particularly, the field of documentary photography is unknown and unpaid. In 2012, I embarked upon the field of professional candid wedding photography with my sister’s wedding and since then it has paid me well. Yet, my heart was on documentary photography.

Now four years later I am forging ahead in my preferred field but I lament the lack of networks, workshops, meets for documentary photographers. On that subject one of India’s well known wedding photographer, Mahesh Shantaram said to me, “After all, what is wedding photography but documentary?”

Not so much in the Indian candid wedding photography context though. Because you see, the key aspect of documentary photography is authenticity and not pretty. But people mostly want their wedding photographs to be pretty. So these days beautiful candid shots are being obtained by posing for them and the photo is rid of the not so pretty authentic bits.

I was surprised recently to learn that the candid shots of bridal make up are not actually candid. For eg. these photos below showcased as part of the respective photographer’s portfolios are certainly taken after the make up was already complete and the touch of the brush is merely a pose. I raised this topic on a popular wedding photographers group on Facebook and several members confirmed this.

candid makeup shot but not candid
Screenshot from one of the wedding services websites

Compare this to some of my bridal make up shots and you will see they are not always pretty, because the bride is still half dressed, the skin is not yet perfect and so on. 

bridal makeup shot-4

cropped-file_047.jpg

Rishu Nishant (22 of 247).JPG

But perhaps posing has now become a trend. Nobody is asking questions like what is the purpose of taking bridal make up shots? Why don’t we start the shoot only after make up is complete, why make up shots at all? The answer is that as candid documentary photographers we are trying to capture the bride’s feelings and emotions through the day as she prepares for the wedding alter. So what should we be focusing on?

One of my bride was a huge talker and also a perfectionist to the core. Throughout the makeup session she either kept talking or attending phone calls. It was difficult to capture her calm posture, in all frames either her lips were curled or eyes were popped or eyebrows were twisted. Those weren’t pretty but they were real. Being a perfectionist the worry that the hair do is not going to be perfect was captured in this frame.

Bridal Make up shot Astha

Another bride, a typical Punjabi from West Delhi was getting married to a Bengali boy from Kolkata. To her great worry, she couldn’t find a makeup artist who knew how to do the Bengali style kum kum on the face. Throughout her makeup session she kept trying to call different people hoping to find someone through some contacts.

bridal makeup shot-5

These images are not easy to capture. I work hard to hop around the make up artists positioning my camera, finding my frame, all the while trying my best to make myself invisible. But several photographers have told me that they wait till the end of the make up and when the artist is giving final touch that’s when they take the kind of shot I shared above. What’s the point?

I Googled for wedding documentary photographer and through first 2-3 pages I only found international names. It seems in India nobody is positioning themselves as such, they call themselves candid or artistic wedding photographers in India.

I have done only two pure documentary style wedding photography and I am immensely proud of both the work. In both cases I became part of the family. For 2-3 days I and my camera witnessed and captured various big and small events, emotions, feelings, humour etc. This is not possible if you reach the venue at a particular time with an army of photographers and do an event based coverage keeping an eye of the clock. For documentary photography you have to become invisible and yet always be there.

Weddings are happy occasion of course, but they are also the time of immense emotional ups and downs, crisis, bickering and outbursts of pent up issues held over the years. When that sort of scene happen you have to be sensitive to the people involved, you cannot take the camera in their face but these are also occasion that must be captured because these  are exactly the frames which would make the wedding album memorable.

I was hired by S to cover her younger sister’s wedding. When I met them in Kolkata I realized that the younger sister was just like a daughter to S. The two sisters had lost their mother and brother, and their father was present but of weak health. The entire responsibility of running the show was on S’s shoulders. The two sisters were often busy attending logistical issues and the scene weren’t always lovey dovey. Sometimes they fought. And at other times their eyes teared up as they perhaps remembered their mother and brother.

Aiburobhat, Gaye Halud (62 of 135)

Aiburobhat, Gaye Halud (32 of 135)

briddhi (7 of 25)

These are frames for a life time. I don’t mean to be bitchy about my fellow photographers but I do not see many such frames in their portfolios. Well, not at least among the photos they display on their websites or Facebook pages. Perhaps they are available on the wedding album in which case may be I am just blabbering, ignore me. But if I am right, maybe we should put the focus on authentic documentary style wedding photography. I know I am going to.

In my next post I would share some photos from my sister’s wedding, the first documentary style wedding photography I covered.

You might wanna stay in touch with me through my Facebook page.

Aiburobhat, Gaye Halud (10 of 135)
The Featured Photo: The bride is meeting the friends of her would be husband as they arrive with Gaye Halud tatto
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