There is a first time for everything, and if you have your mind set on producing a wedding video, you will encounter plenty of “firsts” within that initial wedding weekend. There is a first kiss, a first dance and a first slice of cake. Where will you have your cameras set up for each of these memorable moments? Will you need lights for every shot? How will you manage the audio? When the bride says “I do,” you will want everything in place to ensure that you capture every word and angle. This guide will address equipment needs, event priorities, and typical expectations of the bride and groom and their families.
Remember that each ceremony is unique, every ballroom and reception hall is different, no two events unfold in quite the same way and, above all, every wedding party—from groomsmen to flower girl to the father of the bride—will bring their own personalities, special needs and last-minute requests. The first bit of advice for all prospective wedding videographers is a quote from human performance expert and author Denis Waitley: “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised!”
Traditionally, the family of the bride has paid for photography and videography. In recent years, some of the “who pays for what” has changed, but whoever is footing the bill will be your client. Keep in mind that they will set the tone for what is expected of you, what you will cover and what will be included in your final product. If a wedding planner is involved, it is likely you will have more than one boss. You may come to the table with a package or perhaps several to choose from, but it is recommended that you be open and flexible to the needs of the family. They might request airport arrival video of international guests or underwater coverage of a scuba wedding ceremony. Saying yes to an unusual request might land you the job and secure the shoot of a lifetime.
Of course, most typical weddings will have fixed parameters around time, events, equipment and personnel. Will you be covering the rehearsal dinner? Do they want video of the bride and groom in their respective dressing rooms, readying themselves for the big day? Will they want you to stay for the complete reception or do they only need coverage of the ceremony, the cutting of the cake and the first dance? The length of the day and the location of each event are important factors to consider as you create your equipment checklist and assemble your crew. If you are working within a limited budget, this will dictate some of your choices. Be very clear with your client about what you will capture and how much you will be paid to do it properly. After all details and contingencies have been discussed, an agreement signed by both parties becomes the document to formulate your plan.
It is possible to shoot a wedding by yourself, but a capable assistant can make all the difference. He or she can handle a second camera when needed, keep batteries charged and ready, oversee recording media, and be available to deal with any unforeseen tasks. There will also be location changes, strikes and setups to deal with. A larger crew and a third or even fourth camera might be required. Having someone to upload and back up captured video is an important consideration. They might also be tasked with logging the clips as they save them. Retaining a responsible and well-trained crew allows you to concentrate on being a videographer. And knowing you have all the critical shots covered from at least one other angle will keep you calm and focused.
Along with the proper personnel, you will want the correct equipment to do the job right. While there is no perfect number when it comes to cameras, the recommended minimum is two of the same or very similar camcorders on lightweight, sturdy tripods. Check out our article on choosing a camera.
A third, handheld camcorder is an excellent addition if you have the crew and budget to justify the extra expense. Since you will be editing the final product using video from all available sources, it is very helpful to have cameras that capture the same format, are well matched and properly balanced.
Lighting is a critical component of any video production. A small light kit like the Impact Qualite 300 2 Light Kit, the Tota-light Two-Light Kit or the uLite 3 Light Lighting Kit will cover you for most situations. However, a wedding ceremony and reception are not typical shoots. Therefore, most lights you utilize will have to be subtly placed. Bouncing your lights off walls and ceilings where possible, and using soft boxes or diffusion when direct lighting is required, will provide you with ample light. In many cases, you will not want to use any lights at all, since they can have a major impact on the desired ambience of the event. Another option is having a small camera-mounted light such as the K-120 On-Camera LED Video Light Kit to use in certain situations, such as interviews during the cocktail hour. This is definitely something to discuss with the client before the wedding date. Scouting locations ahead of time will provide invaluable information for basing decisions on lighting, as well as other factors.
Coming up with a comprehensive plan for recording audio will likely be the most thought-provoking element of your wedding shoot. You will want to capture good ambient sound of the guests as they “ooh” and “ah” the bride walking down the aisle, or clink their glasses in a toast to the newlyweds. Your onboard shotgun microphone will likely provide adequate coverage of the crowd noise, but a well-placed digital recorder such as a Zoom H4n or Tascam DR-40 is another good option. In fact, a digital recorder will come in handy in many instances. You can place it on the altar or lectern during the recitation of the vows or on the bride and groom’s table during the reception dinner to capture candid remarks. A wireless microphone, such as the Audio-Technica PRO 88W-830, the Sony WCS-999 or the Sony UWP-V1, placed low on the groom’s jacket, will pick up the voices of both his bride and him during the wedding ceremony.
Following the ceremony, the reception presents you with a variety of options for recording audio. There will be toasts and speeches, so a handheld wireless microphone, such as the Samson UM1 or a Sennheiser ew 135-p G3 System with an 835 Handheld Mic, can be a very useful piece of equipment. The Azden WMS-PRO VHF Wireless Lavalier Handheld Mic System is a versatile system that includes a wireless lavalier and a handheld microphone, both of which can be used with the same receiver, but not simultaneously.
Taking a line out from the PA system will often be your cleanest and most reliable audio feed, but a backup of some sort, even if it’s the shotgun microphone on one of your cameras, is essential. Be sure to have audio cables of various lengths and a variety of adapters, such as XLR, 1/4”, RCA and 1/8” mini connectors. Monitoring your audio with a good pair of headphones, like the Sony MDR-7506, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20 or the Senal SMH-1000, is essential.
Once all of your equipment needs have been met, create a checklist for each wedding you book and go over it thoroughly the night before the shoot. In addition to cameras, lights, audio gear and hardware, make sure to have an adequate supply of cables, adapters, batteries, chargers, power strips and cords, and recording media. Other essential items include gaffer tape and a tool kit.
In addition to your own crew, you will need to make contact with and coordinate your shoot around the other professionals working the wedding. The wedding planner, if there is one, can assist you. There will most certainly be a photographer whose needs will almost mirror yours. Contact that person ahead of time, if possible, or early on the day of the wedding at the latest. Ask about their schedule and shot list to discuss how you can best coordinate your efforts.
The DJ is also someone you will need to touch base with as early as you can. Besides the toasts and the cutting of the cake, you will need to be in position to capture the tossing of the bouquet and garter belt. Have at least two cameras ready for the first dance, which you can easily set up for if you’ve coordinated with the DJ.
Personal contact with the musicians is also a good idea. Though you may already be aware of a live band or a soloist, checking in with them ahead of time is a courtesy that will not go unnoticed, and you can ask them to cue you when they are ready to begin.
There is often much to do even hours before the guests arrive. Have at least one camera ready to roll as flowers arrive and are arranged on tables. There will be programs and guest books, trays of champagne glasses and platters of food. Get as many beauty shots as possible for cutaways and a montage.
If you are to cover the bride and groom getting ready, one handheld camera in each location is best. Be sure to catch as many details as you can. Shoot the hair and makeup, the ribbons and shoes for the bride and her entourage. The tying of bow ties and the last-minute nerves of the groom and groomsmen will help build the visual momentum of the occasion. You will only need background sound, so your onboard shotgun microphone will suffice for this.
As the guests begin to arrive and the events start to unfold, be ready to capture anything “special” or out of the ordinary. The arrival of a twelve-door stretch limo or a military contingent in full dress uniforms will be wonderful additions to a video that will stand alone in its uniqueness.
With time, you will develop your own methods and style of capturing the wedding day. There are some basic rules, though, that will help you get off to a good start. Early in the day, set and secure any light stands you will be using. After checking the lights and taping down any power cords, remove the heads for safety and keep them nearby for easy setup when you need them. Claim your ceremony spaces by setting up your tripods well in advance. Be sure to have a wide cover shot, high enough to shoot over the audience members when they stand up. Make sure you can always see the bride’s face from at least one camera from the time she enters the ceremony until she leaves. Be certain to get cutaways of the parents of the bride and groom as well as any important relatives or dignitaries. Set up an interview area in the reception space. The parents, best man, and maid of honor are a must!
If you need additional help choosing equipment for an especially high-profile wedding or event, visit the B&H NYC SuperStore, chat with our sale professionals online via Live Chat or contact us by phone at 1-800-606-6969.