It wasn't until I really sat down to think about it that I realized there are patterns in almost every wedding I shoot. Honestly, there are patterns in almost every video I shoot, but weddings are a different thing entirely because they require you to capture keen details as well as fleeting moments, so you have to be sensitive to when things happen and then shoot all of the story around that single moment. Here's how I do it:
Talk to the Bride, the Groom, Officiant and the DJ
The one piece of advice I give every single bride and groom who begins to feel the stress of the day weighing down on them is this: Nothing starts or stops without you. Stick close to the bride and groom throughout the day, suggest ideas for getting a great shot when they're not wholly bombarded by friends, family, or people from the venue.
I've been in a few circumstances where I have expressly been forbidden from filming during the mass, and only allowed to capture the vows. I knew this because I spoke with the priest beforehand and had him lay out what he was comfortable with me doing. In other churches or synagogues, I've had carte blanche about setting up cameras and moving about during the ceremony. Make sure you know beforehand, which usually means showing up early.
Finally, make friends with the DJ or event coordinator. Make a point to remember their name. They keep the evening running smoothly, and it'll be invaluable to getting a great shot if they're able to give you a heads up for things like toasts, dances, and the other events that transpire.
Travel light, less is more
Every videographer will have strong opinions about the ideal gear to have with them, but let me assure you that carrying two camera bodies, four lenses, a DJI Ronin, and a shotgun mic is really only slowing you down most of the time.
For capturing the getting ready, first look, formal photos, and things of that nature, I'll have a single camera body with a small shotgun mic on it, a 50mm lens, and a 24-70mm. For making sure the shots are stable I use a monopod, nothing too fancy there. This keeps me agile and ready to move on to the next set of shots as quickly as possible.
Do not shoot handheld
Even if the bride and groom's favorite film is The Bourne Supremacy, I can guarantee they're not going to want their wedding day filmed with shaky cam. Keeping in mind what I just talked about in regards to staying light, make sure you have at least one thing on you at all times to keep your shots steady. You can buy a great, lightweight travel monopod for around $120, so there's no excuse not to have stable shots.
Anticipate awful lighting
I'm not talking about just low-light (which you'll definitely have to anticipate), I'm referring to indoor ceremonies that are either very orange (incandescent light) or very blue (fluorescent light). In an ideal world, we'd all be shooting in places like this:
But more often than not we're shooting in environments with 600 unique colors that look a little more like this:
Counteract color casts the best you can with the white balance setting on your camera. You can even bring along something like an X-Rite Color Checker if you know you'll be doing the editing/color grading of the final result. It'll make your life a LOT easier.
As for low light situations, bring along an on-camera light or two but only use them if absolutely necessary. You've never seen a truly evil look until you've witnessed an older relative of the bride or groom on the dance floor with a camera-mounted LED light pointed directly at them. (Bonus: you've captured that look on video. Remember it always)
Whenever possible, bring along fast glass—this means prime lenses, ya'll—and try to capture the moments using available light. Don't be afraid to crank your ISO up on newer full-frame cameras, as most times I've had clients comment that the noise sometimes makes it "look like film".
How many audio feeds do you capture? Triple it
That's actually a bit much, but seriously, make sure you don't miss audio, especially of the ceremony and vows. My setup throughout the ceremony like this:
- Lav on the groom
- Lav on the officiant
- If there's an audio board, I'm capturing that
- If there's an accessible speaker, I have an audio recorder in front of that too
When it comes to the reception, it's a similar setup:
- Clean feed directly from the DJ board
- I record mono with a safety track of -6dB from whatever seems balanced. The DJ will raise the volume as the night progresses
- Audio recorder positioned almost directly in front of one of the DJ's speakers
Compared to video, audio is super lightweight even when you're recording totally uncompressed WAV files, so don't skimp on it. The audio alone can make or break a wedding video.
"We got that b-roll"
In the event that reference escapes you, you should watch this video and then come on back. No one I know captures a ceremony in its entirely start to finish. It's actually pretty inefficient from a storage point of view to do it that way. However, you absolutely should capture inserts that you can use for segues between sections.
Some videographers choose timelapses for this, others use detail or macro shots, while others will use more candid moments of people unaware the camera is pointed their way. Always remember you're ultimately telling a story and while you might not be able to get all of the details, you'll want to capture as many as possible, especially the ones that are unique to the couple.