Expert wedding video shooting techniques by Philip White
Acclaimed as one of the world’s Top Event Film Makers, Philip White has worked around the globe with clients including royalty and stars of film, TV and sport. Here are Philip’s expert hints on cameras, kit and shooting techniques – to ensure your own wedding videos really stand out from the crowd.
I find myself asked almost daily for professional advice from newcomers to wedding videography. In this article I’m going to give you some tips and insight into the job, based on my own experiences. Just as importantly, I’ll be encouraging you to discover a way of working as a videographer that’s right for you.
Compared with some other videographers, you might be surprised that I don’t carry a van load of equipment to every wedding. I have a small bag, usually containing my Sony α7S II digital camera, a handful of small Sony voice recorders and recently I’ve had the chance to borrow a PXW-FS5. Along with a monopod and tiny travel tripods, that’s often all I need. Right, let’s get down to business...
1) Adopt your own approach
There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of filming weddings. However I’ve carefully analysed everything about the day – the structure, the people and the details – and all this affects the way I shoot. My own approach is based on four key concepts:
• Simplicity: Keep everything simple as possible: processes, communication, filming and editing.
• Discretion: Ideally, I believe that no-one should really know that you’re shooting a video: more on this later.
• Speed: You need the ability to move around freely and capture footage creatively.
• Fearlessness: Also, you need the confidence to work on your own terms: all your videos should contain your own creative stamp.
2) Don’t try to make a Hollywood movie
Real movies are all about control. Characters and locations are chosen, scripts are written and everything’s carefully rehearsed. If something doesn’t work, it’s filmed again.
But as a wedding videographer you have almost no control over these key aspects: characters, locations and lighting are all chosen for you. And in fact this can actually be used to your advantage. Treat it as if you’re making a documentary rather than a blockbuster movie – and remember that it's someone’s special day, not a film set.
3) Strip it back
A minimalist approach lets me move freely wherever I need to. I’ve got more time to compose shots. And best of all I don’t draw attention to myself.
4) Familiarity is key
You sometimes see videographers turn up at a wedding with six or more lenses, including huge zooms. But I’m using just a couple of lenses (85mm for 95% of the day, plus a 24mm wide angle), and I am hugely familiar with this set-up.
By using just one focal length for pretty much the entire day, I instinctively know what my image will be like before I've even lined up the camera. Master just a few lenses and your work will improve. You'll speed things up, and find yourself forced to make more interesting compositional choices.
5) Lose the gear, lose the stigma
The general public can’t seem to shake the clichéd idea from the 1990’s of somebody with the huge video camera at weddings. There’s some fantastic technology around, from drones to Steadicams: but stop and think for a minute. Don’t be that guy getting in the way, doing circles around the dance floor… or the guy with the annoying buzzing helicopter, or the massive fluffy microphone that’s obviously recording everything you say. Try stripping it back to just your camera. Master how to use it properly: it could be the best decision you make.
6) Adopt simpler cinematic techniques
Although I favour a documentary approach, I still believe the results can be ‘cinematic’. Here are some ideas to try.
When you’re filming ceremonies or speeches, think about the perspective of the guests. When we watch a movie conversation, we see camera positions that represent the viewpoint of the person listening. During a wedding our listeners are almost always sitting down – yet most videographers position their tripods high up and far away. Try replicating a guest’s perspective: pull up a seat, get close and shoot from low down.
Movement that represents the moment
See in movies how the camera movements echo what’s happening. A conversation seated in a cafe is virtually static, while a fight scene is often shot in quite a messy style with lots of camera movement. It helps to bring the audience into a scene, and we can incorporate the same techniques into a wedding.
Think about the scenes in a typical wedding day. The Preparations (some movement), Speeches (virtually none) Confetti and post ceremony hugs (lots of movement) Dancing (again, lots of movement). It’s a cinematic technique that involves just the camera and doesn’t draw any additional attention to yourself. It's just about deciding whether to stabilise using a tripod or monopod or whether to go handheld.
If you’re filming with two or more cameras during the speeches, try and place your subjects in a position that represents a conversation between the different angles. For example the subject in camera one is placed to the left in conversation with camera two who's subject is framed on the right. It’s another simple ‘cinematic’ technique.
7) Add a fresh dimension with sound
Capturing great sound doesn’t need to be complicated. I don’t favour a big mic on top of the camera – it just draws attention to you and makes people nervous.
For ceremonies and speeches keep it simple. I drop a tiny Sony audio recorder into the pocket of whoever’s speaking, with a lavalier microphone clipped to their jacket. It’s small, easy and produces great results.
Take a different approach to sound. Listen out for things on the day like wind, cars on gravel drives, bird calls or traffic. Rather than trying to record them, make a mental note of these sounds and add them in later with selections from stock audio sites online. It costs next to nothing and will shave 30 minutes work off your day. And it usually sounds better, too.
8) Tell the story creatively
Great story-telling is an essential skill for improving your craft. Think about going ‘non-linear’, with a film that doesn’t simply run in order from start to finish. Many videographers intersperse snippets from the ceremony and speeches throughout the film, which helps to tell the story of the day. Be as dynamic as you like in terms of where you place footage. Try starting and ending your video with dancing. Or include footage of the venue set-up, or interviews with bride and groom from the day before. There are no set rules!
It’s also a great idea to include B-roll footage relevant to each speaker. For example, while the Father of the Bride talks about his beautiful Grandchildren, show some footage of them at the same time. It’s a fantastic way to introduce characters to the audience.
I also love capturing items for posterity. It may seem odd showing newspaper headlines, mobile phones or Uncle Bob’s car: however in twenty years’ time these are the things that will bring your wedding video to life.
Try to pretend you and the couple are visiting a country for the very first time. When we shoot overseas, our eyes are drawn to the uniqueness of the architecture and the area around us – I call this ‘picture postcard theory’. But when we film in our own country we take everyday things for granted. Look for the beauty in everything and capture it creatively!
9) Think about your business
Remember there are other opportunities for videographers to boost their earnings, while ensuring that everyone has an unforgettable day. Today’s powerful editing tools make it easier than ever to compile an on-the-spot video highlights package for screening to the happy couple and guests while they’re still at the reception. You can offer upgrades to 4K delivery or even a digital download link for family and friends to use.
10) Shoot for youShoot weddings for you, and not just the couple. Sounds strange? Well yes: but remember you’re an artist who’s been commissioned because they like what you do.
If you just work from a list – or walk around thinking ‘Did I get enough of the bride’s family?’ You’re on the road to boring footage. You can’t paint a masterpiece handcuffed. Your aim should be to compile your own well-composed, creative shots that are easy to edit together.
Don’t worry about what your competitors are doing. As Albert Einstein said, ‘be a voice, not an echo’. If you want inspiration, watch some real films and incorporate those techniques into your work, rather than copying what the videographer in the next town is doing.