iPhone Wedding Filmmaking with Joe Switzer
How could a mobile phone provide satisfactory results for a wedding? This is not a joke. I’ve always believed it was inevitable that the day would come when the iPhone is taken seriously as a professional filmmaking tool. That day is today and the time is now. There is no barrier to entry for both photography and filmmaking. Everyone you know has a mobile phone or iPhone. It’s a Hollywood film and photography studio in their pocket. In this article, you will learn how you can remain a relevant filmmaker or start your video company today with little more than your iPhone.
Apple sells about 35,000 phones an hour. Since the inception of the iPhone, the company has sold almost 1 billion units, and they keep innovating with faster and better devices. If you’d asked people if a phone could film in 4K just a few years ago, few would have believed you. Innovation isn’t about to stop with mobile phones, especially at Apple.
Planning the iPhone Wedding
We have been planning the iPhone wedding for about 12 months. Waiting for the perfect couple in the right location was crucial. An outdoor wedding in Colorado with superb lighting and epic backdrops sounded like the best opportunity.
We planned to create a compelling music film of the wedding event. We wanted to show sizzling candy shots with a great song. The two- to three-minute music video concept is no different than what we create for all our wedding films. We were curious to see if there’d be a big difference if we used all our same tools and style that we use for standard shoots.
We normally shoot with only two filmmakers per project, but for this, we brought one extra person because we had never done this before. We also wanted three to four aerial video shots, so we hired Charles King for the day after the wedding. The final video ended up having five aerials, and every other shot in the video was taken with an iPhone. Next time we will have to duct-tape the iPhone to the drone so it’s 100 percent iPhone.
The tools we used were a Ronin-M, Manfrotto tripod/monopod and Rhino motorized track. The three of us used 501 plates attached to Mefoto Sidekick 360’s plus mounts that allowed us to swivel and attach our iPhone to all the tools. We used two iPhone 6S Pluses and one iPhone 6 Plus. For aerials, we used the DJI Phantom 4. The lenses were all made by Olloclip. For two shots, we used the Olloclip macro lens. All the other shots for the video were captured using the iPhone lens itself and the Olloclip Telephoto + Wide-Angle lens.
To get the most out of our iPhones, we used a $10 app called Ultrakam. It allowed us to record with more flexibility than just using our iPhone camera app. It let us choose our focus areas, ISO and shutter speed. We shot in 24 fps/H.264/16:9 mode. To help save space on our iPhone, we didn’t record any audio. Our music videos rarely have audio, so it was no big deal. When the bride was reading a letter, we did turn the audio back on to record just in case we wanted to use the sound in the final edit. It’s simple to quickly turn the sound off and on.
One of the coolest modes on the app was for time-lapses. It gives you options of taking a photo every second and up to one photo per hour. After you stop your time-lapse, it’s ready to go. It combines all the photos in a video file similar to what our time-lapse app does on our Sony A7s cameras.
But we had some problems with this app that we will discuss as I take you through the wedding day.
Wedding Day: Estes Park, Colorado
We were concerned with having plenty of time on the wedding day, so we showed up hours before hair and makeup to get a few time-lapses. Just like on a typical wedding day, we started early to position ourselves for success. TJ, Kristin and I captured a few establishing shots and found a good location for groom prep. We were struggling to find some good natural light for him, and eventually found an area outside the hotel on a deck.
Never hesitate to ask your bride or groom to move to the good natural light. When you have conversations before the wedding with the couple, tell them you want their hair and makeup as close to natural light as possible. They trust you and want great photos and video, so they will do what they can to keep near natural light for you. Guys are usually super flexible, so you can always move them to find good light in any situation. Just ask.
For wedding preparation with iPhones, we used our Fiilex lighting when working with the bride. Normally we just use natural light, but one thing about iPhones is that they don’t work well without plentiful light. Unfortunately for this wedding, the bride was trapped in a small room with mixed artificial lighting. After filming for about 30 minutes, we decided to just scrap our shots and have her and the makeup artist do the final touches in the bride’s hotel suite, where we actually had room to move. We tried using the tripod, monopod, track and Ronin-M to get some variety for preparations.
After working a while, we realized the track and the monopod were the best tools for prep. You can move quickly and get variety. We used the Ronin-M for a few shots, but not necessarily for bride and groom iPhone prep. We were fortunate to have a first look for the bride and groom before the ceremony. Weather conditions were perfect, with plenty of shade, sun and clouds. The first look was about an hour before the wedding. After we finished this scene, we realized we were going to have two serious problems: battery life and hard-drive space.
Problem #1: Battery Life
About an hour before the wedding, two of our phones were down to almost 5 percent battery. The third iPhone had less than 60 percent power. We quickly started charging our phones. Thank goodness the day before we bought some portable battery chargers. For the rest of the day, we could shoot and charge our iPhones at the same time. You will need a portable charger if you’re going to use your iPhone professionally for weddings.
Problem #2: Hard-Drive Space
The three of us started with 80 gigs of available space on our phones. After filming bride and groom prep, we had only about 30 gigs per person. We hadn’t anticipated using up that much space. We didn’t even know how to get our video clips off the phone, back them up or delete them, but thankfully, with a few minutes to spare before the ceremony, we found out how to transfer the footage from the iPhones to another hard drive so we could free up some space. We were able to film all the ceremony video clips we wanted, but when it was over, we were all down about 10 gigs of free space again. We had to quickly transfer our iPhone footage from the ceremony to the hard drive to prepare for the reception. We had time to free up only one phone because of transfer speed.
For both the ceremony and reception, we used the Ronin-M, tripod, track and monopod. Of those tools, our least favorite was the tripod. The monopod was stable and did anything the tripod could do. We filmed the post-ceremony creative shots just like we would any other wedding.
One fun surprise were the rams that jumped up on the rock by the bride and groom. We filmed the animals jumping off and running away in slow motion. It was simple to change to 240 fps in the app. A glitch in the app was that it either overheated or couldn’t handle the frame rates. It crashed every time we tried to film slow motion. Later in the night at the reception, even recording at a normal frame rate, the app crashed a few times. It was crucial that we’d brought our lights and had them on full power at the reception. IPhones cannot film in low-light conditions. Bring your lights. We are obsessed with the portable battery-powered, water-resistant Fiilex lights.
The next day, we took the bride and groom out for a rock-the-dress session. This is where we spend a few hours with them in their wedding attire getting some epic creative video shots that we normally couldn’t get on a wedding day due to time constraints.
This is the day we brought the Phantom 4 drone with Charles to get the beautiful establishing shots. We went to a beautiful mountaintop for one of the best backdrops I’ve ever seen in my life. The post-wedding video shoot could not have gone any better. We had so much variety: mountains, golf courses, rivers, snow and elk. If you don’t offer rock-the-dress sessions, you should start. We all got to see the beauty of Colorado and bond with the bride and groom during moments we will cherish forever.
On the way home from the shoot at the airport, I started to get organized and go through the footage. This was when I found the last issue we were going to have to deal with. A big issue.
Problem #3: Inconsistent Frame Rate Recording
Almost all the video clips had dropped frames and random frame rate recording. Sure, the app recorded in 4K and gave us flexibility with ISO, frame rate, focus and shutter speed, but even though we thought we were recording at 24 frames per second, we were actually recording anywhere from 12 to 24 frames per second. This caused severe damage to motion video shots and just about all of our video clips. Every 1.5 seconds or so, the footage had a dropped frame in addition to these random inconsistent frames. I reached out to the app company for solutions. No response. No solution. Do we go home and cry to our mommy? Was the entire iPhone wedding video shoot ruined? No.
It would’ve been easy to give up and call this a failure. As catastrophic as it was to see the footage with the unacceptable frame rates, we are not the kind of people to throw in the towel. We believe there is always a way to make anything work.
The video and project files were over 542 gigs. This took way more time, hard-drive space and tweaking than originally planned, but we were able to produce a compelling edit. The workaround for the video files was to use shorter clips and a fast-paced song. Many of the video clips in the final edit had dropped frames and were recorded at about 16 fps. This is noticeable to the professional, but with the music and timing of the editing cuts, the average person viewing this on YouTube or Facebook is not going to notice the flaws.
If we had to film this iPhone wedding again, we would use the normal camera app, an Olloclip and a Mefoto Sidekick 360 adapter. You can use all the standard video tools, like the Ronin-M, Monopod and track.
After watching the film, I’m sure you’ll agree that the iPhone can be taken seriously as a filmmaking solution for professionals. At the end of the day, I’m still thankful to have our Sony A7s cameras and lenses. Filming this wedding with the iPhone made me appreciate what we have.
We won’t be filming with our phones professionally this year, but now we know that anyone with an iPhone can make a product comparable to our traditional shoots. That’s incredibly scary—and exciting.