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How do you shoot a cinematic wedding video?

It's not just the newlyweds making wedding promises. Before you say "I do," plan your video shoot following some tried and true tips that won't have you filing for an annulment the day after.

Wedding videographers are a bit like magicians: there's an unwritten code that we should not give away the tricks of our trade. We're going to break this code right now and tell you everything you need to know to shoot professional wedding videos. First, we have to warn you that no one but a video enthusiast will appreciate how much work you put into the project. Second, if the video is for a friend, do not do the video as a wedding present; buy them something from their registry as well. If you are a pro and know what you are doing, you should charge a fair price. If you are a friend doing someone a favour, make sure you are not getting in over your head.

The more time you spend in the videography or cinematography business, the more likely you are to see the word "cinematic" or "cinematic video." For example, you'll find it on countless wedding video websites. But it's a slippery term since it can have different meanings to different people. Some could define it as a video that has the appearance of the type of film you'd see in a movie theatre. But now that there are so many types of films using all sorts of equipment, from high-end gear to cellphone cameras, it's getting even harder to pin down a definition.

But first, how do wedding videos differ from wedding photographs. For example, while photographs capture a short segment of time and are single-dimensional representations of the wedding day, wedding videos capture much longer spans of that same day.

Video also has a more diverse media palette: For instance, you can use movement, changing lighting, music, sound effects, dialogue and more to bring much greater depth to the memory of the couple's wedding day. However, while videographers have more media to choose from, it can be challenging to produce a successful film that captures the special day.

So, it's up to the wedding videographer to effectively tell that story. What's more challenging is that often the videographer is alone. However, sometimes he or she has the assistance of a few crew members and occasionally a whole team of the support crew.

With so many Wedding Videographers out there it can be confusing to choose the right one.  Check out our top picks here. 

Filming tips for better wedding videos

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Adopt your approach

There's no 'right' or 'wrong' way of filming weddings. However, I've carefully analyzed everything about the day – the structure, the people and the details – and all this affects the way I shoot. My 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 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 terms: all your videos should contain your creative stamp

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 this can 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.

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.

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 setup.

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.

Lose the fear, lose the stigma

The general public can't seem to shake the clichéd idea from the 1990s 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 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.

Adopt simpler cinematic techniques

Although I favour a documentary approach, I still believe the results can be 'cinematic'. Here are some ideas to try.

Perspective

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 on 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 stabilize using a tripod or monopod or whether to go handheld.

Check out our list of wedding videographers to help you capture your special day.

Conversation

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.

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.

Tell the story creatively.

Great storytelling 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 setup or interviews with the 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, 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!

It's also a great idea to include B-roll footage relevant to each speaker... It's a fantastic way to introduce characters to the audience.

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.

Shoot for you

Shoot 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 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.

Wedding Videography Checklist

One Camera or Two?

Attempting to shoot a wedding with one camera is tough. A single-camera might not provide all of the angles and shots that you will need to capture. Within any given area on the day of a wedding, a number of things are happening. Your job is to record all of these things, all at once. Thus, most wedding videographers arrive at a wedding venue with more than one camera in tow.

Choose cameras with superior low-light performance.

Weddings aren't the best of the events when it comes to accommodating the vital needs and requirements of a videographer. You can't place lights wherever you want or choose to shoot from that stage from where, you think, the subjects look their best. Most of the times, it is not all really in your hands.

This limit in choices affects lighting decisions the most. Consequently, you need to contend with the prevailing low light shooting conditions that are, most often, not the best to expose your subjects. A master low-light performer camera comes to your rescue and believes me, can be one of your most valuable assets when shooting a wedding video.

Cameras such as the Sony FS7 and the Sony A7S or even the 5D Mark III are optimized for shooting in low light. Even at high ISOs, these cameras perform incredibly well, delivering nice, soft cinematic footage that has as low noise as you can achieve with modern electronics. All thanks, again, to their huge imaging sensors that capture low light so well! Great performers indeed for wedding videography!

Another great camera that we'll be purchasing soon is the Sony 6500. It doesn't have the low light capabilities of the Sony A7S, but it has better stabilization. Finally, the Black Magic Camera is also a great low-cost alternative for anyone looking to start.

Using Only the best lenses

When you're packing your equipment, preparing for a wedding videography shoot ahead, remember to choose your lenses wisely, for this one single decision can make a big difference between your wedding video looking cinematic vs. mediocre. Remember glass matters!

A lens that has the smallest minimum aperture is ideal for shooting weddings. First, it would deliver superior low-light performance, and secondly, ensure that you get an extremely shallow depth of field when the aperture is near-closed, so you succeed in getting a very cinematic wedding video that is guaranteed to delight viewers.

Lenses can get expensive, and it's not enough to rely solely on a 50mm. You'll likely need to rent more lenses if you are going to do multi-camera setups. At a minimum, you'll likely need a 24mm, a 50mm and an 85mm.

Finally, if you're budget allows it, then strongly consider getting the CANON 24-70mm ZOOM LENS. It has great versatility and perfect for run-and-gun shooting. You can stick a 50mm on a second camera in the corner and just use this bad boy as you work for the crowd and get close up shots of the action.

Lighting your shoots for a cinematic wedding video

Another aspect of wedding videography that you can use in your favour on occasions is the lighting. In the event that you are able to control and manipulate the lighting, maybe for indoor ceremonies, do take full advantage of the situation!

Assemble a small lighting kit that can meet a variety of operational conditions. The first option is to get a camera hot-shoe mounted light itself, usually a LED panel that provides sufficient light to cover the scene. This is usually ideal when you're shooting outdoors where you need just a key light source to add in a light flood.

Alternatively, a more elaborate lighting kit such as the Smith-Victor Two light umbrella kit, the Quality Focusing Flood or even the uLite kit can be used when filming interviews. The lights equipped with barn doors enable selective lighting that can help you in creating the desired effect.

The use of reflectors and bouncers cannot be overemphasized in wedding videography for they soften the source light, illuminating your bride and groom with only the softest of the light that beautifully models facial features and costumes, making them ideal for weddings!

Stabilization systems for wedding videography

Motion- the element that lends its name to the term 'Motion-Picture'. And truly, one of the most important, yet often neglected aspects of filmmaking. The way you move your camera around in the frame as you undertake wedding videography is a major thing to consider if you aim to obtain cinematic wedding video.

A nice, compact and sturdy handheld stabilizer can help you with a fluid, organic movement as you make your way, continuously recording, through the crowd. An incredible way to highlight the vibrancy of the event in the best possible manner!

When it comes to stabilization systems, a variety of options are available in the market amongst which are the Steadicams, Glide cams, etc. Then, there's always the good old tripod that can be a valuable accessory to get nice, stable cinematic shots. A monopod too can serve the purpose well, with the added advantage that it takes much lesser space, making it ideal for congested environments such as those in weddings.

Another useful tool that helps in getting cinematic wedding video is a slider, which functions in the manner of a dolly, giving you beautiful motion-laden shots that inspire awe.

Check out our post on How long does it take to edit a wedding video?

Cinematic Is In The Eye Of The Creator

It's a notion that's hard to nail down. You might say that the constant thread that runs through the production of many cinematic wedding videos doesn't seem tied to one specific technique and doesn't rely on utilizing the specific gear. Block's videos are a perfect case in point: His minimal approach still results in moving, epic stories.

For me, cinematic wedding video means that the videographer utilizes traditional storytelling effectively and concisely and produces content for their clients that tells the story of their special day in an emotionally true way that feels authentic, heartfelt and inspiring. A cinematic video can utilize drones, sliders, gimbals, and another camera movement as techniques for elevating how eye-catching the visuals appear. Still, all of those techniques are wasted if the story isn't captured well.

The best wedding videos are the ones where the camera seems to become a participant in the preparation, ceremony and celebration. Good sound is very important, as is great storytelling.

 

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