This is part 1 of what will be a multi-part post.
Shooting Your First Wedding Video
One of the goals of this blog is to share my experiences as they occur. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about photography and cinematography, almost exclusively from the internet. I want to share my experiences as a pay-it-forward in hopes that perhaps someone out there can gain some understanding or avoid a pit-fall. So, nervous about shooting your first wedding video?
A Photographer as Videographer
I’m a photographer, who has always inspired to do video. I find good video to be far more difficult than photography. Capturing amazing video is like shooting 30 awesome photographs per second – it’s a tall order!
This past summer I had the opportunity to shoot some video in two relatively low-stress environments. My friends Patrick and Danielle asked if I’d mind setting up a camera to video their ceremony. They didn’t want me worried about it, they simply wanted a camera setup, hit record, and walk away.
I knew up front there were going to be some challenges.
As an aspiring videographer, I thought perhaps it would be a good opportunity to put some effort into it and actually make it a good product. With this being said, I knew up front there were going to be some challenges. The first and foremost being audio, for one I didn’t own the equipment to mic them with lavaliers. I did however have a Zoom H1 recorder which I would use as an external recorder, mounted to the hot-shoe of my camera.
I also have a Konova Slider which I purchased a few years ago. I use it often when shooting video, as I find adding some motion to shots immediately improves the production value. The slider works well for the price point, but I’ll save a review of the Konova slider for another day.
The Wedding Ceremony
I got to the church early to scope it out and get a sense of the lighting and layout. I took some time to shoot some b-roll as soon as I got there. Using the slider I got some reveal shots of the church from the pews. I tried to get some shots of flowers, the programs, decorations, and anything I notice that was unique to their wedding and their day.
Having a large collection of b-roll makes this process far easier.
While this was my first wedding shoot, I’ve done a share of studio video work (see HysonMusicTV on Youtube.com) that has taught me many things. One thing I’ve learned is you can never have too much b-roll. Inevitably, there are always some shots I want to cut away from, be it a transition or something to break up a long shot. Having a large collection of b-roll makes this process far easier. I will say, in both wedding videos I shot within a few weeks of each other, despite my best efforts I found myself with not nearly enough b-roll! I should have known better, but the lesson has been learned (again!).
Get Along with Your Peers
I didn’t want to get in the way of the photographers.
After shooting b-roll, I wanted to find a good spot to setup video for the ceremony. I didn’t want to be distracting, and I didn’t want to get in the way of the photographers. Photographers and videographers can often find themselves at odds with one another, especially competing for the ‘perfect’ shot. The photographer was being paid, and I was doing a friend a favor. I introduced myself to the photography team, explained to them I respected their priority and didn’t want to get in their way. Working with them, we found a mutually beneficial spot where I had a decent angle and didn’t have to worry about interfering with their job. I think they probably respected that approach, and it made the rest of the event a pleasure. If you are a photographer or videographer, I think it’s important to take some time and introduce yourself to the other professionals you will be working with on someones wedding day. Band members, DJ’s, photographers, wedding planners, reception hall staff, etc. Aside from the benefit of having strong relations with wedding vendors, I think it’s a good professional courtesy, and you’ll find many of these people will often assist you, and I’ll come back to that shortly.
Audio is it’s own artform!
The audio was a challenge at the ceremony, as you can hear in the video I often had to significantly boost the audio in quiet parts. I used a Zoom H1 recorder mounted to the camera hot-shoe. In a real video project, I’d either purchase or rent wireless lavalier microphones to capture the bridge and groom, and I’d use the zoom as a back-up audio source. Speaking of back-up sources, I also used the camera internal mic as an audio source backup. Unfortunately, that audio proved nearly completely useless, but I think it’s good practice to double-up audio whenever possible.
Ideally, a two-camera setup would be helpful, where one camera could be stationary so I’d always have ‘safe’ footage to cut back to in post.
While I was positioned at a single point, I did want to keep movement in the footage. I utilized zoom and panning, and knew by making fast zooms and careful pans I’d find gaps I could cut in editing to keep some motion in the footage. Inevitably, by taking this approach I learned there were some ‘important’ areas where I was zooming in or out, and had to leave the zoom in the edit to avoid missing a moment. Ideally, a two-camera setup would be helpful, where one camera could be stationary so I’d always have ‘safe’ footage to cut back to in post.
I didn’t go into the shoot with a plan, which is something I’d never do as a photographer
I did throw a GoPro Hero 3 Silver (now replaced by the GoPro Hero 4 Silver) onto a light stand and put it in the corner. Unfortunately, the video quality from the GoPro is so drastically different than from the Canon 5D Mark III that I found cutting to it very difficult. It always seemed jarring to me, but I know others successfully mix GoPro with other footage, even big budget blockbusters like The Hobbit utilized GoPro footage in some shots, which admittedly I found the quality gap a bit jarring at the theater with those shots as well and was surprised they didn’t go a different route.
I didn’t go into the shoot with a plan, which is something I’d never do as a photographer, so I was a bit lost with what to capture or shoot on the way out of the church. I tried to shoot some more b-roll, but in retrospect, I could have gotten some over-the-shoulder shots of guests greeting the newly weds on their way out. It probably would of made for some nice and loving clips to weave into the final edit.
The Wedding Reception
The reception was about twenty minutes away. Again, I had no plan but when I got there I saw there was a cocktail hour in a separate room from the dining hall. This has been my experience at most weddings I’ve shot photography, so I setup in the dining hall and shot some more b-roll. I shot the DJ setup, the empty dance floor, some details of the room, some place-sets and more.
I then enjoyed a few cocktails with friends and then the party started! Another lesson learned was with audio, it’s really hard to get audio levels in an empty quiet room. I probably should of left the Zoom on AUTO level, but that makes me nervous because it has the tendency to jump inappropriately. Instead, I took the audio into my own hands, and sure enough as the wedding party was being introduced into the room, the music started blasting and I realized everything was peaking. To make matters worse, to best avoid people standing in front of the camera I had it relatively high. I panicked to get to the level buttons on the Zoom H1 and couldn’t see what I was doing, hence you’ll see some real shaky footage as the wedding party is introduced (and I nearly knock over my camera fiddling with the Zoom).
Fast forward to speeches, and once I found my spot and the speeches commence I start looking at my low-battery situation and memory card filling up. Now, with photography I shoot with two cameras, so I rarely have to worry about storage, as the photos are split between the two cards. As far as battery life goes, I can get somewhere in the realm of 1500-2000 shots out of a single charge. Again, split between two cameras I typically don’t ever have to worry. I always swap batteries after the ceremony, which is essentially the halfway point and never even come close to a slight risk of getting a low battery or low memory. The lesson learned here is that when shooting video, it would not have been any inconvenience to keep a memory card and battery in my pocket. In this case, my camera bag was across the room, it would have been distracting and embarrassing to stroll across the room during a speech to fish for a battery. I kept my fingers crossed as the speeches went on and on, and by pure luck made it through to the end.
Low-light is always a challenge, and of course in a dark-hall, shooting video it becomes even more difficult. I’m on the fence with video lights, as I’ve been to some weddings with videographers using on-camera lights or light panels and I find it a bit obnoxious. Perhaps I’m too sensitive, but watching a first dance I can’t help but be distracted buy the guy with a light running in circles through the entire thing. As a photographer I try to stay out of the way, with a 200MM lens I can stand on the edge of the dance floor and still get some nice tight shots. The video situation is a bit more tricky. Anyhow, most of the video was shot at ISO 3200, using a 24-105mm F4.0 L lens.
Wrapping it Up
(Wait, I promised to get back to the other professionals)
I mentioned the professional courtesy of befriending your professional peers. Having introduced myself to the DJ was indispensable at this event. While at the bar having a drink, I was tapped on the shoulder “Hey Justin, just want to give you a heads up I’m going to start the music and start asking people to move to the dining hall in five minutes”. An hour or so later during dinner, “Hey Justin, we’re going to do the cake cutting in about 15 minutes if you want to setup for it”. This went on and on the entire night, with the DJ often seeking me out to give me a heads up. It was like having a paid assistant on the job with me, and it was a terrific experience to work a professional. This doesn’t just apply to video, as a photographer I’ve gotten endless help, tips, and assistance from staff or professional service providers at weddings and events. It’s not that I’d have missed all of these shots without them, but it’s a much more comfortable experience when other people are looking out for you and giving the heads up!
I knew I had footage of all the key moments, I tried to get plenty of b-roll, and some video of people chatting, dancing, etc. I was pretty confident I’d have a good collection of clips to start the edit with. I’ll discuss editing in part three of this series, it was a huge learning experience and made me watch a ton of other wedding videos. Again, I setup a GoPro on a balcony so I’d have some overhead footage to cut too. I did use utilize some of this footage in the final edit.
The great wedding videos I’ve watched, just like great movies, typically aren’t linear but can jump around from scene to scene in a way that creates a cohesive story.
I edited this in a linear time-line using Adobe Premiere CC (part of the Creative Cloud Suite), in the sense that the video starts from the start of the wedding, and ends with the end of the wedding. The video I shot a few weeks later I more or less did the same thing, but the few things I cut in I feel made a huge difference. The great wedding videos I’ve watched, just like great movies, typically aren’t linear but can jump around from scene to scene in a way that creates a cohesive story. Again, a video aspect that is far more difficult than photography is creating a cohesive and entertaining story. You can get the perfect 30 shots per second all day long, and a video can still suck because a story is weak or the footage is poorly edited.
I’ll cover everything about what I learned in my second video shoot in the next part of this article soon!
In the meantime, here is the final video I presented to the bride and groom!