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History of Wedding Photography

Prior to the mid 50's wedding photography would typically take place in the photographer's studio due to the size and weight of the film and equipment required.  Photographs would be taken on glass plates or metal sheets and in black and white.  Large flash lighting units were required to create enough light to expose the film and subjects had to remain still during the relatively long exposure.  Whilst colour film photography had been invented, it was not reliable enough for professional use.   Constrained by technology and social trends, this portrait style of photography continued until the 1950's when the first eye level viewfinder Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera was invented;  The Hungarian made Duflex camera.  This was also the first camera to have an instant return mirror meaning that the viewfinder only blanked out for an instant as the photograph was taken.  Film technology had become more reliable and portable flash lighting was available.

These new cameras became popular with amateur photographers during the 1950's and this coincided with a post war wedding boom.  Post war military photographers and keen amateurs would turn up at weddings and speculatively take photographs which recorded the events of the day and then offer to sell them to the couple afterwards.   This forced professional photographers to move out of the studio to the venue to capture photographs on the day.

Audrey Hepburn's wedding to Mel Ferrer was featured in a celebrity magazine in 1954 and showed a more relaxed and natural style of photography which was to become popular amongst the rich and famous.  For most however, the cost of film restricted the number of photographs taken and most shots were artistically posed by the photographer; sometimes in a mock candid style.   This style of heavily posed wedding photography was prevalent until the 70's when the cost and performance of film improved to make the documentary style affordable and practical.

This new style of relaxed photography led to many amateurs and weekend photographers believing that they could capture a wedding well provided they had a good camera.  The invention of the digital SLR added to this as it significantly reduced the cost of each image. During this era the quality of wedding photography suffered as a result.  Weekend photographers, or as I call them "Uncle Bob" photographers are still out there.  See my guide on choosing the right wedding photographer for some ways to spot them!

Thankfully a good professional photographer will now combine years of training and experience with the latest technology to create a blend of well composed, artistic documentary style images which record of the events of the day as they unfold and capturing real emotions and moments.

Read more interesting articles on the world of wedding and family photography here.


Clive Hawes, Profound Image Photography, August 2017

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