Wedding photography history

Wedding photography has come a long way since it’s humble¬†origins in the 1800s. These days, from my home base in Estes Park, I manage to travel all over Colorado — to Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Breckenridge — and even abroad shooting destination weddings in a totally different style than the days of yore.

Commercial photography began to take off in 1839, when photography first became viable with French artist and chemist Louis J.M. Daguerre’s invention of the daguerreotype. That consisted of an image being exposed onto a polished silver sheet via the use of various chemicals, and it dramatically reduced the time it took to make a print. Other printing methods had existed previously, but the daguerreotype was relatively fast and efficient way to create and image, so it help propel photography into commercial viability. High-end brides and grooms embraced the idea of creating photographic memories of their big day, but back then, wedding couples didn’t receive much more than a daguerreotype portrait on a small metal sheet.

Older photographic equipment was big and bulky, so wedding photographs were primarily taken in studios — a practice that went on for decades, and which is still practiced in many parts of the world. In Norway, for instance, even now, the vast majority of wedding photographs are taken in a studio on a day other than the wedding.

In the 1880s, a New Yorker named George Eastman developed a process that allowed photographers to work on location without carrying tons of plates and chemicals, so on-location, studio-type style images began to characterize wedding photograpy.

Color film was introduced in the early 1900s, but its quality was atrocious. Colors were poor and the images would often fade, but German firm Agfa released the Neue color film in 1936, on which lots of modern films are based. This, combined with the advent of portable cameras with on-camera flashes and roll films, along with the wedding boom following World War II, caused the wedding photography industry to really begin in earnest.

Traditional wedding photography style — almost a real-life still-life — was the most popular until wedding photojournalism took hold recently, and was made popular by a number of high-powered, famous photographers

Wedding photojournalism captures the wedding day as it unfolds, with little directing from the photographer. It’s a fly-on-the-wall perspective. Photojournalism is often a stark, blunt rendition of the world, but wedding photojournalism needs an infusion of magic to stand out — otherwise the pictures can be cold and uninspiring, which doesn’t fit for a wedding. These days , the majority of weddings are shot in mixed style, with some candids and a series of traditional portraits.

Digital photography has rocked the industry yet again, as digital cameras allow deeper coverage of the event since photographers can take unlimited numbers of photographs. This means they can shoot and shoot away, and don’t have to meter their film and pass up one photography opportunity so they might be able to capture something else later in the day.

The wedding photography industry is enormous, and consists of everything form photographers to album companies to entire magazines dedicated to the craft. The WPJA and Fearless Photographers are some of the many great organizations that have sprung up to champion the work of talented photographers.

On top of that, the annual WPPI convention, held in Las Vegas, is one of the world’s largest meetings for wedding photographers. It attracts tens of thousands of aspiring wedding photographers a year and has a massive trade show exhibition hall that is attended by hundreds of companies and camera manufacturers.

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