Authentic Wedding Pictures, Can We Get Over the Cliche Please?

Virtually every photographer talks about authentic wedding pictures, and every couple talks about real moments. When everyone’s using the same words, it’s difficult to sift through who’s a good fit and who isn’t.

Saying you capture authentic wedding pictures is like an NBA basketball player saying, “Look, I made a basket!” or a mechanic saying “I change oil.” It’s pretty much the job. Likewise, saying you want authentic moments capture doesn’t get you much further than saying you want wedding pictures.

Be careful of empty adjectives like authentic because they mean something different to everyone. What does authentic mean to you?

authentic wedding pictures emotionally engaging pictures tree tea lights riveredge nature center west bend
For me, faithful portraits are more important than authentic portraits. Take for example Chris and Ashley underneath the tree with the little tea lights in jars. They love the outdoors. They chose the tree to light. And they chose the lights. Lastly they’ve escaped the party to spare a moment together. Putting all of those elements together made a portrait faithful to them. But it’s totally like something you’d see in a fairy tale. Whether or not it was staged (nobody will remember 50 years from now), it’s true to them.

What are authentic wedding pictures?

Most brides would say authentic wedding pictures are those caught spontaneously, candidly, without direction. They wouldn’t be wrong, but they’re not completely correct either.

There are many definitions of the word authentic. The one I think applies best is “that which is true to the original.” In other words, is the picture faithful to you? Authentic doesn’t mean the picture must be literally original or 100% spontaneous. It just has to be faithful to someone or something.

I prefer faithful rather than authentic because it gives me a lot more leeway as an artist. It means I can create something part real and part fantasy, or total fantasy. A fairy tale that draws from reality without trying to be it. Plus, faithful isn’t as overused as authentic. Blah.

Action steps

Go out and ask a photographer what authentic moments mean to them. How do they capture them? How do they value them? If authentic wedding pictures are important to you, see if your photographer is on the same page. Look for pictures that are faithful to your aesthetic, your desired style and how you want to remember your wedding.

riveredge nature center west bend authentic wedding pictures

How do you make emotionally engaging pictures?

Everyone thinks emotionally engaging pictures only come from spontaneous photojournalism. Well, maybe not everyone.

Most couples who come to me  want a photographer with creative input. They want someone who can offer direction that looks natural, as well as capture candid moments.

If you don’t consider yourself the expressive or photogenic type, I’d be a great photographer because I have lots of ideas for gentle prompts or direction. Often I’ll create a little game or interaction to generate an expression. I also tend to use light to affect the mood and enhance the story.

Then again, I also do plenty of photojournalism at a wedding. Ceremonies and receptions are generally photojournalistic coverage regardless of photographer. I’m always looking for moments between shots. Plus, I can create emotionally engaging pictures from scratch in any environment or light.

And let’s face it. Most photojournalists do plenty of directing and prompting anyway. They just present it with a lot more pretense.


emotionally engaging pictures meadow yellow wildflowers
Emotionally engaging pictures tend to automatically register as authentic wedding pictures. They feel real, so they register as real moments, even if they’re directed. For this portrait I simply guided Ashley on where to put her hands for a romantic and flattering look. Then I instructed Chris to rub his beard on her cheek and whisper something naughty. I didn’t care what he said, but the action of rubbing his beard and whispering gave Ashley a great expression. It’s authentically Chris and Ashley, whether or not I directed it. If you’re uncomfortable with a full day of pure photojournalism, hire a photographer who has ideas and can offer direction and encouragement to put you at ease.


Both traditional and photojournalistic wedding photographers may use the word authentic. They may also both be good at making emotionally engaging portraits. It depends on what you like and what you consider authentic and emotionally engaging.

Finding the right fit will mean finding the photographer who aligns with your values, likes and needs. Working method is a part of that, but so are dozens of other things, like values, philosophy, experience, attitude, look and feel of pictures, pricing, products, reputation, personality, location, variety of services.

Figure out what emotionally engaging pictures mean to you. Do you like pictures with eye contact? Without eye contact? Are you attracted to certain lighting? Do you like a lot of smiling or would you like to see some softer, more romantic or dramatic looks?

Cut through the buzzwords and get more specific with your interviews. Prepare a list of questions that will guide you to the right photographer. Ask things like how do you make emotionally engaging pictures of shy couples? What clients do you consider a good fit? What would you do in _______?

I’d love to hear your biggest photography questions and preferences. Leave a comment below or contact me.

I’m Joel,  a Milwaukee wedding photographer for real couples having real weddings who don’t want to cut corners on photographer or get anything cheesy. Contact me today so I can serve the aesthetic and historical significance of your wedding.

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