Wedding Videography | 5 Challenges And Solutions with Rob Adams
Wedding videographers have it tough. We’ve always been low on the wedding vendor totem pole. It’s gotten better in recent years as technology has allowed videographers to produce a better product, earning us a modicum of respect among planners, photographers and banquet facilities. But we still face unique challenges. Here are some of the common potential pitfalls we face, and how to deal with them.
Problem: Strict Churches
This is a problem for both videographers and photographers, but more so for videographers because we are often tasked with capturing the entire event, not just several important moments. I’ve had church clergy tell me I’m not allowed to stand near my cameras at any point except during the vows. Seriously? My cameras don’t operate themselves. I’ve been told my crew can’t film people in the audience (essential for parents’ reaction shots). I’ve even been told I’m not allowed inside the sanctuary—you know, the place where the ceremony takes place. I once filmed an entire ceremony from out on the sidewalk while zoomed in to try to get what was happening inside the church. I’ve also seen a priest completely stop a ceremony in its tracks and kick out a photographer for walking softly to get a different angle. While I understand that some rules are necessary to minimize distractions, some clergy take it too far. I guess a few bad apples have spoiled the bunch in their minds.
Research the venue. Some churches are proactive and let you know before the wedding what their rules are, but it helps to find out as soon as you can where you are allowed to be, and then adjust your plan accordingly.
I run a minimum of three cameras during a wedding ceremony, so I find out where the boundaries are and then try to stay just outside of them, using long lenses to get my tight shots. Often, because I can’t control the lighting situation, I crank up my ISO and use an extralong f/2.8 or f/4 lens to get my over-the-shoulder angle for the vows. I usually keep one camera as a wide shot, and making use of a balcony or an elevated position from the back of the church over the crowd is a good bet for this angle.
By working within the parameters of church rules and giving the proceedings slightly more space, you make a good impression on the church (you never know if you are going to work there again) and you make yourself even more invisible to your clients, which is always a plus.
In extreme cases like the ones where I’ve been told I can’t be standing with my cameras, we’ve busted out our trusty monopods and sat in the crowd with the guests. You can use the pew in front of you for stability, and use a longer lens, like a 100mm or 135mm, to get relatively close shots. Get creative and try to make it seem like the angle was meant to put the viewer in the audience. Use other audience members as foreground.
If you are told you cannot be inside the church under any circumstances, it’s best to have a clause in your service contract that covers you. I make my clients initial a line item that states we are not responsible if we are denied access to any part of the wedding day.
Lastly, always be kind and gentle when addressing clergy. The officiants who tend to be not so nice may be reminded of a certain Bible passage that talks about kindness.
Problem: Poorly Planned Schedules
This one really irks me. There’s no reason for a poorly planned wedding-day timeline. After years of allowing day-of coordinators, planners, brides’ mothers and even photographers plan the day, leaving me no time to do what I have to do, I finally took the bull by the horns and started ensuring that I get my time. I get to the ceremony about 20 minutes before the scheduled start to meet the rest of my crew and go over the plan of attack. I also request 10 to 15 minutes at the end of a photo session to get specific video shots.
Lastly, I encourage a first look before the ceremony, when the bride and groom first see each other. That allows me to knock out that important imagery up front, and leaves me time after the ceremony to get shots of cocktail hour, eye-candy of the reception room and table details, and setup time-lapses. I also have time to go over the approach plan for the reception formalities with my team. When I don’t have time to get this stuff, the film suffers and my day is far more stressful. Not having time to get prepared in each location only leads to my shooters getting in each other’s way and butting heads with the photographers.
Have a creative scheduling session with your client. Three to four weeks before the wedding, before the couple meets with the photographer and venue one last time, I like to Skype or just phone chat with them to go over a few key items. First, I ask them to remind the photographer that I will need no fewer than 10 minutes to work with the couple at some point before they hide away for the ceremony or join the cocktail reception. I lay out the importance of this time and how it will affect their film, explaining that a rushed timeline will cause me to miss certain details. I also ensure they timeline their hair and makeup people. Nothing screws up the day more than hairdressers or makeup artists taking way too long to finish up with the bridal party and bride. This all has a ripple effect that pushes everything back, and my creative time is the first thing to get cut. Encouraging clients to tell their stylists to arrive a half-hour earlier than they need to be helps minimize the imminent damage.
Lastly, communicate with the photographer. It’s important that we all get what we need. By talking ahead of time, we can carve out expectations before the stress begins. Plus, I always try to be flexible. If I’m getting great stuff while the photographer is working, then I’ll forgo my 10 to 15 minutes. But if the photographer is using a backdrop and studio lighting for all of the portraits, it’s important she knows I’m taking the bride and groom away at some point.
A smart photographer pushes the bride and groom to budget more time into the day to accommodate all of us. There are other benefits to the creative scheduling session. It gives you a chance to let the bride and groom map out expectations for the film. It helps if we know that the couple is having family come from Europe so we can be sure to capture them along the way. We can also discuss which parts of the day are more important. If a bride doesn’t care about capturing cocktail hour, that’s more time I have to focus on the reception room details.
Problem: No time for a photo session
So you got the bride and groom and the photographer to agree to your 10 to 15 minutes, and now it’s raining. Hard. There’s no way the couple is going outside, and the inside of the venue looks like a hospital waiting room. Or worse, it’s beautiful outside but the couple has been running late all day, and there’s no time for creative shooting at all.
Don’t fret. This brings us an opportunity to not only get great stuff but to make more money. I just try to sell the client on a day-after session. It doesn’t have to be the day after the wedding, but sometime when they get back from the honeymoon. My brides are more than happy to put the dress back on and do their own hair and makeup to do a short, creative shoot. Don’t worry if they don’t look exactly like they did on the wedding day. It’s subjective, fun, creative and generic footage of her and her husband to mix into the edit. For the groom, there’s no need to call up Men’s Wearhouse and rent another tux. A simple pair of black pants and a white shirt will suffice.
I block out about two hours to shoot eight to 10 great shots in a fun location—a mix of wides, medium-tights, and Glidecam or slider movements. Simple and clean. The best part is, I can command upward of $1,200 for a shoot like this. If you really want to go nuts, offer them makeup and hairstyling, and roll it into your cost. Another way to get around having zero photo-session shots is to do some night shots. Wait until after cake cutting, and then bring the bride and groom outside with a battery-powered light source and go nuts with some dramatic-lighting footage. I can usually grab five to six shots in about 10 minutes if I’m feeling motivated.
Problem: Low-light receptions
Sometimes I wish I were doing still images. Off-camera flash is an art form. But it’s so much easier to use flash at a dark reception than dealing with continuous video lighting. You have to be very careful not to blast tables with your lights or annoy guests and vendors with huge spotlights on the dance floor. It’s a delicate operation. But there really isn’t much choice. Either I light the room somehow or I have crappy footage. Here’s how I do it.
Get good lights. You want reception lights that are glass focusable and have great “throw,” the ability to pinpoint spots across long distances without spilling light everyplace. Dedolight and Lowell make decent spots. I use the ARRI 650 Fresnel Tungsten cans. They are big and run hot, but with barn doors or a snoot made of black foil, I’m practically a light surgeon.
I use two lights during a reception, and am very specific with where I aim them. Often, I’ll aim one toward the door where the introductions will take place, and then one directly onto the dance floor—all the while maintaining a tight spot of light that doesn’t hit anywhere I don’t want it to.
For goodness sake, don’t put a light on top of your camera. This is an amateur move, best saved for paparazzi trying to get an up-skirt of a socialite exiting a limo. Keep your light off-camera for the best look. If you don’t want to go crazy with lights on stands, have an assistant carry a portable spot 45 degrees off camera and stay close to you at all times. If you don’t feel like dealing with lights at all, today’s cameras have sick ISO capabilities. Crank it up and try to remove the accompanying video noise in post-production.
Lastly, make use of the DJ’s lights. You’ll often have to shoot at 1/50th or 1/100th of a second to reduce unsightly roll-line artifacts, but they can do the trick.
Problem: No access to audio at the reception
The sound from the toasts is one of the most important things I need to capture on a wedding day. It’s also one of the hardest things to capture cleanly and consistently. We use thousands of dollars’ worth of pro audio gear to accomplish this and minimize potential problems, but every so often, we are met with circumstances that don’t even give us a chance to use it at all. We’ve run into some DJs and bands that flat out refused to allow us to tap into their soundboards for an audio feed. We’ve also had best men and maids/matrons of honor decline to wear a body mic for the video. So now what?
Use ambient mics. It’s very hard to match having a strategically placed microphone as close to your source as possible, but when that’s not an option, you can always lean back on your ambient microphones to get you by. Have two or three portable audio recorders in your bag (you should have this anyway if you are doing professional wedding films). Place one right against the DJ or band’s speaker. Position it on a mic stand 3 to 4 inches away from the face of the speaker, with the pickup aimed somewhere between the woofer and the tweeter. This gives you the best sound in this situation. Place another one on a mic stand near where the person giving the speech is going to be standing.
The setup may be a bit unsightly in your shots, but it’s better than having no audio to work with. If you have to keep it low, position it about waist high and pointed up toward the person’s mouth. Once you’ve established this position as the spot for the speeches, you may be able to get the speech givers to stay in that position if you ask nicely (always ask nicely). Finally, position your optional third recorder on the bride and groom’s sweetheart table. Conceal it if possible. You’ll capture anything the couple says in response to the speeches, and it could save your butt if the speech giver heads for the sweetheart table. Have a limiter turned on to record even sound, and check to ensure the level isn’t set too high. Think strategically about where to place these mics, and you’ll save yourself some serious headaches in editing.
I’ve compiled these tips and tricks from more than 17 years of filming weddings. I hope they’ll help you avoid a major problem or two at some point. I’d love to hear some of the unique problems you may have experienced. I’ll be revisiting this topic down the road to provide solutions to other issues. Feel free to email me at email@example.com with your questions or experiences, and I’ll certainly consider discussing them next time.