People often ask me what’s my approach to filming a wedding, or if I have a certain style. I usually don’t have a great answer for them, or at least not the answer they might have been looking for. Here’s what I say: “I like to keep it as simple as possible.” That’s it. Simple is better. My films are more cinematic documentary than music video. And while that may not sound simple at all, keep reading and hopefully you’ll understand. I approach wedding videography the same way I approach life. The simpler things are, the less I’ll have to worry about, and the more attention I can devote towards creating unforgettable memories.
Here’s what I mean by keeping it as simple as possible. It starts with the gear. In filmmaking there are endless amounts of gear one can acquire to get the perfect shot. From different lenses for shooting in various environments, to the myriad of options for how to rig and stabilize your camera for smooth Hollywood-style cinematic camera movements. The options are endless. And yes, they all have their place and serve a purpose, but I don’t think you need all of that to film a wedding. Trust me, I’ve gone down that road before. We jokingly refer to this in the industry as having GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I’ve bought or rented all the toys and tried them all. From motorized 3-axis gimbals and drones, to macro lenses and circular polarizers. My office and closet look like the inside of a camera shop. The more I find myself thinking about what piece of gear I should use, or what my next purchase will be to achieve a certain effect, the more I’m over-complicating it, and I almost always come back to the simple approach of one camera, one lens. But don’t get me wrong, if the situation calls for it, and time and budget allow for it, and the couple wants it, a second shooter and a drone have their place. I’ve seen weddings where there are more videographers than bridesmaids, armed with Hollywood-style cranes and gimbals making the dancefloor more like a movie set than a wedding reception. When filming a wedding, or really any kind of live event, you have to be able to be nimble, make quick decisions, stay out of people’s way, and most importantly, get the shot. It’s live, there is no option for a second take.
Less gear also forces me to make creative decisions without using the gear as a crutch, or even as an excuse. One camera, one lens, one focal length. Prime lenses rather than zoom lenses. Let me explain. One focal length forces me to make creative decisions and many times get shots I would never have thought about. If that’s the only lens I’ve got, then I had better make it work to get the shot. Having a minimal approach helps keep me focused on the action that is taking place, rather than thinking about which lens should I change to and if I should be using a slider or a gimbal for this part of the ceremony. Of course I still have my second camera positioned on a tripod during the ceremony as a safety shot and as an alternate angle to cut to in editing, but once that’s set up and recording, I never have to worry about it. The same goes for the speeches, I have my second camera on a tripod filming the couple for reaction shots. So for the most part, I’m able to shoot a wedding by myself using this method.
The simple approach also applies to how I position myself throughout the day. A wedding day is about the couple and the celebration with their family and friends. It has nothing to do with me. My whole purpose of being there is to document the day. The less attention I draw to myself the better. I don’t want anyone to know I exist. The minute someone realizes they are on camera and being filmed, they stop acting naturally. So I like to stay back and shoot from a distance, oftentimes shooting from a guest’s perspective, and many times with some foreground in the frame, like a guest’s head or shoulders.
I like to keep my editing simple as well. Shocker, I know. The viewer should be engaged in the story being told and the beauty of the visuals. A well-edited film should seamlessly move from shot to shot and scene to scene without drawing any extra attention to the cuts being made. Just like how my camera movements mirror the action taking place in front of me, my editing also reflects the mood of the day at that moment in time. Let’s take bride prep and dancing during the reception as examples. Hair and makeup and getting dressed are slow actions and usually have very small movements. A makeup artist’s hand gently applying lip gloss, or weaving flowers into the bride’s hair. Or the care with which a mother or sister helps the bride put on her wedding dress. All of these are small and gentle moments. The camera movements, the music and the cuts should reflect that. Compare that to a dance sequence where everyone finally has the chance to let loose and shake what their mamas gave them. Big and energetic movements, couples are spinning and dipping their partners, and the open bar has finally started to affect people (usually in a good way). My music choice in editing will be upbeat and fun, the cuts will be faster, my camera movements might have a little more motion to reflect this mood. The mood of the day, the music the couple has already chosen for their first dance, and the dance playlist, and what kind of energy the couple and their guests bring, all factor in to how the film will be edited. There is no cookie-cutter template I use. But I always try to keep it simple, cinematic, and true to the day.
I’m obviously over-simplifying how I shoot a wedding for the sake of keeping this blog short, which is apropo for this post, but I think you get the idea. Of course there’s so much more that goes into being a wedding videographer. Networking, planning, recording audio, contracts, marketing, etc. I’ll get into all that in future posts. But to sum this post up in one sentence: less gear, less problems, and simpler is better.