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The Precepts and Practices of WPJA Competition

November 10, 2018 |

1. Authenticity

As wedding photojournalists, we measure ourselves against our ability to capture moments in space and time. It therefore follows that we do not create such moments nor stage tableaux to reenact them. WPJA winning photographs are candid portrayals of actual people participating in an actual event expressing genuine emotion — or, at times, the internal struggle to avoid too much emotion.

In our business, such moments often get referred to, naturally enough, as "moments" (in contrast to camera-aware "portraits" or still-life "details" shots). Starting in 2018, only such "moments" images were deemed eligible for entry in WPJA contests, with the goal of more clearly promoting the photojournalistic ethos in wedding photography through thousands of the best examples each year.

"I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don't like to arrange things. If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself."
— Diane Arbus

Of course, nearly all wedding photojournalists will also be taking portraits and details shots for their clients. Recognizing this, WPJA members can also compete in the association's less rigorous contests for engagement portraits and for artistic expression.

But as the photojournalist Dorothea Lange once said: "It is not enough to photograph the obviously picturesque." Our primary goal is verity and personality in wedding photojournalism ... not stock photography.

2. Originality

Certain domains — such as sports, press conferences, and, yes, weddings — bear a set of repeating patterns and positions. Yet it is in these more restricted venues that creativity and originality can shine. Just as some of English's finest poetry was written to follow a strict meter and rhyming scheme, so also can great wedding photojournalism occur as the father of the bride lets go of his daughter's hand, or the flower girl develops an impish contrary notion. Each wedding is different and each photographer is different, leading to unlimited possibilities of composition, mood, and subject matter.

“You know you are seeing such a photograph if you say to yourself, 'I could have taken that picture. I’ve seen such a scene before, but never like that.' It is the kind of photography that relies for its strengths not on special equipment or effects but on the intensity of the photographer’s seeing. It is the kind of photography in which the raw materials – light, space, and shape – are arranged in a meaningful and even universal way that gives grace to ordinary objects.”
– Sam Abell

As amateurs, we may have honed our avocation by studying great and successful photographers to mimic their styles and ape their shots. Now, as we practice the vocation of wedding photojournalism, we abjure following trends and copying our colleagues. Each of the winning photographs in WPJA competitions breaks some new ground in some way, large or small.

Nor do we rest on our own success. Competitors in our contests may not enter images that have already won previous WPJA competitions, nor may they offer up a set of images in sequence, depicting the same subjects or actions with little change to the content.

“If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.”
— Garry Winogrand

3. Immediacy

The paradox of photojournalism is that only by being timely and attuned to the moment can photographers expect their work to withstand the test of time.

Just as our winning photographs record a particular moment in time, our contests are designed to demonstrate the state of the art in wedding photojournalism today. Which is why, to enter the primary WPJA competitions, members may only submit images taken within the current calendar year and they must have been taken on the day of the actual wedding.

“The moment always dictates in my work. What I feel, I do. This is the most important thing for me. Everybody can look, but they don’t necessarily see. I never calculate or consider; I see a situation and I know that it’s right, even if I have to go back to get the proper lighting.” — André Kertész

A look through our winners galleries shows how people around the world in our time are joining in marriage through traditions older than some languages and in ways as unique as their DNA. The world has changed dramatically even since the advent of wedding photography; yet the immediacy of each new couple's wedding day as shown among our contest winners demonstrates that family, friends, and celebration continue to delight and sustain us humans in our own time.

“Which of the photographs is my favorite? The one I'm going to take tomorrow.” — Imogen Cunningham

4. Serendipity

Call it a coincidence, synchronicity, or the invisible hand of Providence, but among the wedding photojournalist's greatest talents is the ability to capture the ephemeral confluence of expressions, environment, atmosphere, accoutrements, relationships, and light that occurs sometimes in just a 1/60 of a second or less — and thereby produce art that tells a story or recounts a mood.

“Sometimes they are a matter of luck; the photographer could not expect or hope for them. Sometimes they are a matter of patience, waiting for an effect to be repeated that he has seen and lost or for one that he anticipates.” – Bill Brandt

Visually interesting juxtapositions, backstories, implications, and contexts arise spontaneously among the participants and bystanders … but the beauty and the honesty of each such a moment will be lost forever, unless the photographer opens his shutter for a fraction of a heartbeat.

5. Fidelity

Respect for the subject and respect for the craft informs the rationale for our association of wedding photojournalists and dictates the terms upon which we compete for professional recognition. WPJA contest entries must not exhibit overt manipulation, either through the use of in-camera tactics (such as filters, lens effects, or double exposures) or in post-production. Images which reflect the use of visible toning, increased saturation or desaturation, selective sharpening or blurring, heavy dodging or burning, and cloning are not eligible for entry in WPJA's primary competitions. (Such techniques, however, may be awarded in the association's contests for artistic expression.) Exceptions are made for cropping, color to black-and-white conversions (but not sepia-toned or tinted images), and slight adjustments to color levels and curves.

This same attention to fidelity requires that only a WPJA member's photograph may be entered into a competition by that member. It can be very helpful to have an assistant or second-camera working on an assignment, but that other person's photographs may not be entered into these competitions.

Fidelity to the photographer's own vision and practice is also encouraged and rewarded, representing the difference between a snapshot and a photograph.

“A photographer must always work with the greatest respect for his subject and in terms of his own point of view.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson

6. Probity

We hold ourselves to a standard of skill and talent and to an ethical standard for our business as photography professionals. We also conduct our contests with a probity that ensures winning is a recognition of excellence and not favor. Our contests are judged, not juried, because while we have the utmost respect for our peers, we also realize that their vision may not be our own. We also seek to avoid any favoritism or prejudice among friends and competitors. To that end, our contests are never judged by fellow WPJA members but by professional photojournalists — often Pulitzer Prize winners — and by photo editors, whose regular job is to assess the visual quality and reportage utility of thousands of images each week.

"Those who want to be serious photographers, you're really going to have to edit your work. You're going to have to understand what you're doing. You're going to have to not just shoot, shoot, shoot. To stop and look at your work is the most important thing you can do." — Annie Leibovitz

The WPJA also accepts no fees for contest entries. Each photographer may submit up to 100 images, gratis, during the calendar year's primary competitions. This ensures that less established photographers are on an equal footing with their more financially advanced peers when it comes to having their work assessed and their talents recognized.