Remember that American Express commercial with Martin Scorsese from five or six years ago? You know the one where he’s standing at the one-hour photo counter and critiquing his recently developed shots? He looks up at the associate and says "What was I thinking? It’s just not working." He looks at another photo, "This one… interesting. It’s far too nostalgic." "Unavoidable," he finally says, "got to re-shoot." Then he turns and pulls out his cell phone: "Hey Timmy, it’s your uncle Marty. How would you like to turn five again?"
Events can’t be duplicated. You only have one shot to get it right. That’s what makes filming an event such hard work. You have to be quick on your feet and super responsive. Weddings are the most nerve-wracking because it’s a day that’s treasured very dearly by the bride, groom and their close family and friends. Making mistakes on a wedding video can be both devastating and insulting to the newlyweds.
Below we’ll cover five best practices that should help you shoot better wedding videos. Be sure to read our other articles about videography aesthetics, rules of composition, lighting and camera placement.
1. Plan Ahead — Talk to The Bride & Groom
You don’t necessarily need to have a coffee meeting or a consultation in order to plan the video. A simple email or phone call will do. However, it’s a good idea to get the bride and groom’s opinion on what they think looks good. Be careful not to ask technical questions, as they will be meaningless to most people. Just present them with examples (filmed by you or others) and ask them what they think. This will give you some idea of what they’re expecting.
Their feedback will also allow for you to ask more detailed questions about camera placement or style. Many couples will request that the video crew keep out of view, which inhibits your ability to film the event in the best way possible. If they love an example in which the videographer was right there in the action, then they need to realize that placing you in the corner of the room won’t provide the same results. Bottom line; no matter where they want you, they need to know what that will look like. You need to manage their expectations and make suggestions that will provide them a better product.
In addition to managing their expectations, you’ll also want to manage your own. Get as much information about the wedding day as possible. How many readings will there be during the ceremony? Will it be a band or DJ at the reception? Is there an itinerary? The more info you have, the more you’ll understand about what you’ll need and the better equipped you’ll be on the day.
2. Get to the Venue Early — Scope it Out & Set-up
Even after you square everything with the couple, you need to scope out the venue before you shoot. If they’re comfortable with you being near the wedding party during the ceremony or out on the dance floor during the reception, you need to make sure they don’t regret that decision. Permission to be close to the action doesn’t give you permission to be obnoxious or get in the way of guests.
You don’t need to necessarily head to the venue days in advance, just make sure you arrive early enough to scope the place out and set-up your equipment. The only circumstance in which you may have to check out the venue prior to the big day is if the ceremony and reception are in two separate locations (which is common) and the second venue is non-traditional. By non-traditional I mean something other than your standard banquet hall. Most banquet halls are pretty straight-forward. Even if you need to start filming immediately on arrival, your placement will be self-explanatory. However, the grace period between a ceremony and reception might not be long enough to scope out or set-up at a non-traditional venue. Check out the venue’s website. Maybe they have a gallery of photos. That will give you an idea of what you’re getting into and what kind of equipment you’ll need.
Set-up time also depends on what sort of services you’re providing. Keep in mind that if you have a more complex production, such as conducting interviews with staged lighting or coordination between two or more cameras, then you probably need more set-up time. This may force you to set-up at the reception’s venue before you run over to the ceremony (if the room isn’t being used). That way, when you arrive at the reception, you’re good to go.
3. DJs and Photographers are Your Friends
In my experience with weddings, the DJs and photographers are usually better informed than the videographer. It might be because people misunderstand videography as merely "coverage." They expect that you’ll just show up and get the perfect footage. To some extent that’s true, but us video guys (and girls) know that planning ahead of time is extraordinarily beneficial.
Informing the DJs and photographers is a little more obvious, which is why they’re usually "in-the-know." Since most of the music is planned, the band or DJ need to know exactly when to cue each song. And since most photos are staged, the photographer needs to know ahead of time where he has to be. Even if you did your homework by asking the right questions and getting a copy of the itinerary, the DJ and photographer still might have more info than you.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself to the DJ and photographer before the event starts. The DJ usually knows everything that’s going on (even more-so than the photographer). And remember: as with any big event, nothing ever goes as planned. Changes happen on the spot and the DJ is usually first to be informed. If you make friends with the DJ, he’ll let you know if things change. He might also let you know the moment before he starts the introductions or cues the first dance. As the guy with the camera, you know how important it is that you’re rolling when the action starts. I’ve been lucky enough to work with bands and DJs that are so helpful, they wait for my signal that the camera is rolling before they begin.
The photographer will also appreciate the introduction; because he/she will want to make sure you stay out of his/her way. And you’ll want the same, there’s nothing worse than the photographer in the way of all your footage. Coordination with the photographer is better for the both of you. You’ll both capture better stuff.
4. Be Aggressive, Yet Polite.
You can’t get great footage by standing behind a crowd. When the bride and groom are about to cut the cake, you better be there with a nice close-up. Sometimes this means finding your way through a crowd. Don’t hesitate, just go. The bride and groom want their memories captured so they can cherish this day forever. The guests should and will respect that. You don’t have to shove or be rude. You’ll find that your vocabulary for the whole night is limited to "excuse me" and "sorry." That’s OK. Just get where you need to be. Yes, be mindful of where you are and whose view you’re blocking. If it’s mom or grandma, take a step to the side. But the newlyweds aren’t going to care too much if drunken cousin Ralph didn’t get the best view of their cake-cutting as long as you came out with a stellar shot.
If space is tight and you don’t want to block too many guests, then get to the front and crouch down on one knee. You won’t be blocking views and you’ll be right where the action is. But remember to only use this technique sparingly. You don’t want all of your wedding footage to be from a low-angle.
5. Bring Energy, and Get Into It.
This is, by far, the most important thing to remember. For you, this might be your second gig of the weekend or just a favor you’re doing for a friend. But for the bride and groom, this is one of the best days of their life. You need to treat it as such. If you don’t, it will show. It’s easy to get jaded if you’ve filmed a lot of weddings. In truth, most of them are cookie-cutter, standard operation. After two or three, they all pretty much blend together. I’ve been to dozens. I know the feeling.
Don’t roll your eyes at the reading from Corinthians 13:4. Don’t sigh when the bride stumbles on her vows through joyful tears. Don’t make bets on "how long this one will last" with the DJ or photographer. These disrespectful gestures will just make your night worse. Trust me: If you let it show, it will show in the footage. You’ll start to cut it together in post and it will suddenly hit you. It will all look boring and you’ll hate yourself for it. You’ll see what’s happening right at the edge of the frame. "Why didn’t I get that? Why does this look so dull?"
Don’t let that happen. Guests love a videographer that’s upbeat, polite and full of energy. It’s not just another job, it’s a celebration. Be a part of the event, not just an observer. It may sound cheesy, but if you don’t film with your whole heart, the passion won’t read. Get worked up in the emotions and let those emotions guide your lens. If you let that happen, it will all come naturally. And who knows, you might actually have fun too.