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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...


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Old June 30th, 2003, 11:29 AM   #1
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first wedding rant

Last night I shot my first wedding. It was a nightmare. I've been working in film and video for several years now, but this is the first time I'd done any event work. Man, oh, man...do I have a lot to learn...

This post is a combination of a rant and a plea for advice. I warn you, it'll be long.

I agreed to do the wedding for a super-low price (at least compared to what you'd pay for a full-time pro) for two reasons: 1) I'd never shot one before, and 2) as a favor to the bride's mother, who works at my college. In terms of hardware, I was pretty well equiped. Technology really wasn't my problem. Here's what went wrong.

--The ceremony was small and outdoors. Because of threat of rain, they had to move it up under the veranda at the country club. With all the seats now up on the veranda. There was no point of elevation I could shoot from. Nor could I get into the narrow isle without interfering with the procession. Instead, I had to shoot from outside the congregation, at about a 45-degree angle on the ceremony. I knew I'd have to hold the camera high when the bride entered to shoot over everyone's head. What no one told me (and it never dawned on me to ask because I'd never seen this before) was that the congregation would be standing for the entire ceremony. It became clear pretty quick that I had to find another angle. The obvious solution would be to shoot a profile from the front side, but the large pillars on the veranda blocked that shot as well. So even though I got some good footage, most of the ceremony is of the back of people's heads with lots of vibration from having to hold the camera up over my head for almost 30 minutes. The question is this; have you ever found yourself in a situation where some very important footage was botched for reasons you had very little control over? If so, how did you break the news to the client without sounding like you were making lame excuses?

--The reception footage is much better, but I had some problems with base light. It was just too dark for most of the reception to get well-exposed shots. I was running 1/60, f2 and still had to go +9dB or +12dB gain most of the time. I had a sun gun with me, but whenever I tried to used it, it seemed very obtrusive (much more so than the photographer's flash), and I got several nasty looks from guests who clearly didn't appreciate having it shining their direction. I gave up on it pretty quickly. Any suggestions on dealing with this kind of situation, which must be pretty common for evening receptions?

I'm not interested in doing this full time, but it might be a good way to make a little change on the side. Thing is, if people are going to pay me respectably, I need to be able to give them something respectable in return.

Words of wisdom, anyone? Thanks in advance,

Stu
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Old June 30th, 2003, 12:03 PM   #2
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I have done a few weddings now. For the first couple, I would suggest using the green setting. Let the camera do the work.
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Old June 30th, 2003, 12:15 PM   #3
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Well, the only thing that I can say is next time you probably need to plan it out more. It's partly their fault for not giving you more details about the location, but then again...video angles and composition of the wedding videographer's shots is not something that the parents of the bride and groom are thinking about during the ceremony. They assume you will just take care of everything and there will be no problems.

Was there a rehearsal? If so, you really should have gone to that so you could plan out where everyone was going to be and where you could get a good angle from in advance.

Next time, you also need to communicate with the parents and let them know in order to get good video, you really need to get in there and get those shots. It sounded like you were too afraid to butt in the ceremony and remained in the background - don't be! I see wedding videographers do it all the time, they get right in the aisle behind the bride and groom. (not too close, but in the aisle, kneeling down, about 10-20 feet away. Who cares if Grandpa Joe gives you the evil eye. You were hired to do a service and you're only obligation is to get those good shots and to please the people who are paying you.


That's something you need to explain to them by saying...."look, in this situation, based on this location, if you want good shots, this is where I need to be".

Just my 2 cents.


edit - I see I misread your post a bit and it was harder than it seemed to get in the aisle. Still though, there isn't much you can do besided explain to them that you either have to be in the aisle, or you're going to get crappy video...I think upon hearing that they would have included you in the procession but who knows.

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Old June 30th, 2003, 12:29 PM   #4
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Yah I did my first one this weekend as well. I don't want to do this ever again....well I have one more that I was volunteered for. Anyways My only problem is that the audio in the chapel was crappy. How do you guys get around this?

I would always tell them that you need to goto the rehearsal. I did and it helped. Also I got a friends camera that I was able to capture some standard reaction shot of bride. I was also able to get a friend to help out as well. It was fun cerimony since it only lasted 30min. The reception was long.

Rob:D
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Old June 30th, 2003, 12:31 PM   #5
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Hi Stu,

I smiled in sympathy as I read your post. Shooting a wedding can be a nightmare even under the best of circumstances.

Have you considered explaining the problem pretty much as you told us, then giving the bride's mother your video for free? I've done two weddings now--both of them freebies because I wanted the experience. In the outdoor wedding I shot, when the darkness came I followed advice I'd read on this forum and set my XL1s to frame mode, 1/30, etc. You could see the dancing and the faces--but it looked like some sort of pagan ritual (red and "noisy"). The scene with the decorated car leaving looked like it came from the tv show COPS. I laugh now, but it wasn't anything a bride would have wanted as a keepsake if she'd paid good money.

At this same wedding, we had the misfortune of missing the bride coming down the aisle because of poor camera placement (and we had two!). We'd forgotten that everyone would stand. So, during the reception, which happened to be really dead, the bride gamely agreed to let me shoot a re-enactment of her walk down the aisle so I could edit it in later. Luckily, the lighting hadn't changed much so it worked.

If you got good close-ups of the bride and groom at any point, you may consider editing them into particularly shaky spots of the ceremony--leaving the audio intact, of course.

If I'm ever crazy enough to try a wedding as a paying gig, I've decided to follow these rules:

Sit down with the bride, the coordinator, and whoever is paying the bill, and walk through the shoot from start to finish, asking what they're expecting to see when they get their video. It seems people want it to look like the movies, but expect you to be totally out of sight.

Make sure the church, or whatever setting, knows you're coming and can/will accomodate your plans. The audio needs alone can make you tear out your hair (and spend lots of money on renting wireless stuff).

Shoot lots and lots of extra footage of the happy couple in close-ups, creative shots of their decorations, etc. It definitely comes in handy when you're editing.

I'm sure others will have better tips than these, but I hope this is helpful.
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Old June 30th, 2003, 12:40 PM   #6
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Yeah, thats why they say Weddings are the hardest gig in the video industry. One shot one take. No matter how much planning goes into it, attending the rehearsal etc...there always, ALWAYS are issues that arise during the event. Your best bet is to first assume anything that can go wrong- WILL. That way you can be better prepared if/when things don't go your way. Improvise.
I think any Wedding videographer can share your story in one way or another...that's where quick thinking on the shoot and creativity in post pay off.

Regarding low light and receptions. Thats every Wedding videographer's baine. The receptions always tend to be so incredibly dark and it seems defeating to use onboard light to brighten a mood that was specifically made to be dim.
First off the GL-1 isn't the best low-light cam...I know because I did 3 weddings with it before I got my DVX100. Granted the DVX isn't that great either but much, MUCH better than the 1/4" ccds of the GL-1. Secondly the trick is to try and stay far away from subject while your shooting with the light. I've experienced the same thing in regards to dirty looks while using blazingly bright onboard lighting. For the longest time I just stopped using lighting- but recently started experimenting using lighting but taking heed to the distance between the light and the subjects. I stay roughly 15-20ft away from subjects (if the dance floor, or what have you allows it). I've found it still lights the sceen well enough and isn't as harsh for the people on the other side of the light. Another thing to look for is an onboard light with a diffuser. The one I'm using, regretfully, does not have one and tends to be very harsh.
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Old June 30th, 2003, 12:42 PM   #7
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Re: first wedding rant

<<<-- Originally posted by Stu Minnis : Last night I shot my first wedding. It was a nightmare. I've been working in film and video for several years now, but this is the first time I'd done any event work. Man, oh, man...do I have a lot to learn...
-----------------------------
And you will never stop learning. Every one is different and everyone has the elements for a disaster inherent in it.
------------------------------
--The ceremony was small and outdoors. Because of threat of rain, they had to move it up under the veranda at the country club. With all the seats now up on the veranda. There was no point of elevation I could shoot from. Nor could I get into the narrow isle without interfering with the procession. Instead, I had to shoot from outside the congregation, at about a 45-degree angle on the ceremony. I knew I'd have to hold the camera high when the bride entered to shoot over everyone's head. What no one told me (and it never dawned on me to ask because I'd never seen this before) was that the congregation would be standing for the entire ceremony. It became clear pretty quick that I had to find another angle. The obvious solution would be to shoot a profile from the front side, but the large pillars on the veranda blocked that shot as well. So even though I got some good footage, most of the ceremony is of the back of people's heads with lots of vibration from having to hold the camera up over my head for almost 30 minutes. The question is this; have you ever found yourself in a situation where some very important footage was botched for reasons you had very little control over? If so, how did you break the news to the client without sounding like you were making lame excuses?
----------------------------------------------
I just look them in the eye and tell them that while the original layout was OK, their new choice, without involving you in the process, was impossible for video. I seem to get these locations in which to shoot and even when I know about them, the technical problems are sometimes very difficult.

I've had photographers step in front of the camera during the cake cutting, grandchildren run into the tripod and other minor disasters. I make an outtake tape and show the B&G what happened. You cannot control external events.

I don't see how anyone can cover a wedding ceremony with a single camera and show the B&G faces, etc. I always set up a locked-down camera at the back, a small one on the alter or behind the officiant if I can, and use a hand-held for cut-away shots.


--The reception footage is much better, but I had some problems with base light. It was just too dark for most of the reception to get well-exposed shots. I was running 1/60, f2 and still had to go +9dB or +12dB gain most of the time. I had a sun gun with me, but whenever I tried to used it, it seemed very obtrusive (much more so than the photographer's flash), and I got several nasty looks from guests who clearly didn't appreciate having it shining their direction. I gave up on it pretty quickly. Any suggestions on dealing with this kind of situation, which must be pretty common for evening receptions?
-----------------------------
If you have to use lights, use them unless the B&G say no. Even with Sony PD150/VX2000s, the presence of even a small light will make a big difference. Sometimes I'll find the light controls and slowly, over a few minutes, inch the light levels up. Best to find the person who controls the lights and get them to leave the lights up a bit more than normal.
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I'm not interested in doing this full time, but it might be a good way to make a little change on the side. Thing is, if people are going to pay me respectably, I need to be able to give them something respectable in return.
------------------------------
I don't like to do weddings and they take an inordinate amount of editing time compared to other jobs. But hey, what are you going to do otherwise on a weekend? Watch a car race? Mow the lawn?

To Robert: You can never never depend on house sound as picked up by your on-camera microphone. Get a feed from the music source and wire up the groom and the officiant with your equipment. No way around it.
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Old June 30th, 2003, 02:54 PM   #8
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Regarding the problem with the intrusive sun gun, I use an NRG on-camera (if I have to) and the power output is adjustable.

Of course the lamp goes yellow at the lowest levels, so that's what I white balance for. And quite often that's where it's set, at the lowest level.

Two advantages to this. First it's not nearly as annoying as a 50-watt or 100-watt light. Secondly, because it's so dim, the exposure of the subjects in the foreground is close to that of the background so you won't end up with figures floating is a black sea.

A friend who has a company that does weddings (and I always refer them to him rather than take them myself) will actually set up flood lights at the reception. They're 1000-watt lights placed on really tall stands so that they won't shine into the eyes of the guests. Of course, they make the room brighter, but that's the point. His intention is to make certain there's enough light to get the job done, even tho he's using broadcast equipment.

Shooting weddings isn't nearly as stressful for those who have done a lot of news work -- those situations are often one-shot deals and some of them are under very difficult conditions. However, with news at least the shots don't have to look pretty. With experience the stress level will go down. And, along with that, be sure to set up a second camera for a cutatway angle. It'll also provide a backup in case something should go wrong with the primary camera.

Always make sure that the second camera operator is competent. I've had experiences where I got someone who was a fine still photographer but developed the bad habit of constantly re-focusing during the shot. Doesn't matter in stills but it looks really irritating in video.

So as everyone else mentioned, the key is preparation. Knowing the venue and being ready for changes in the script. Most of all, be willing to take the additional step of doing what might seem somewhat rude to make sure you get the shot -- within reason, of course.

When I shot my brother's wedding his sister-in-law's daughter put a tall potted plant right in my sight line which was clear during the rehearsal. My solution: move the plant. I was given an annoyed look by the impromptu decorator but it was in the way and it looked just as good where I placed it. Either that or I'd have to put myself in the way of everyone else.

Dean Sensui
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Old June 30th, 2003, 03:17 PM   #9
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I do a few weddings a year (about 50) and have for a number of years. I know where you're coming from as I have been there.
1st, I always attend the rehearsal even if I just did a wedding at the venue last week. I shot in many of the same places week after week but every ceremony is different. Go to the rehearsal, saves some grief. 2nd, I was hired and paid well to document the day, and if that means using a light at the reception because it's too dark otherwise to get quality footage, so be it. My clients know that going in as I tell them that at the initial meeting and every meeting there after. If they don't want a light used, then either the reception has to lighter than midnight on a starless night or they get someone else. I don't use a 500w softlight but I do use about 20 watts of softlight on my camera.
I agree with Dean, if you've done news, weddings aren't that much different, just more artistic. Keep a cool head, be flexible, be flexible and be flexible.
I don't remember if you asked about audio or if it was in a post following yours but today, their is no excuse for poor audio only because wireless systems are so inexpensive today. At least wire the groom for the ceremony. Audio is more important than the footage. Bad audio will ruin the best footage, good audio (great) will make even mediocre footage seem better than it is.
Shoot more than you think you need until you feel comfortable enough to shoot less. I use 2 cameras at the ceremony, 1 locked down and mine, I've been working like this for many years and it works out fine. Every once in a while I get someone to shoot 2nd, my son, my daughter... but mostly I'm a one man show. You get what you get. My clients see my work before they hire me so they know what they're getting when the buy it. If they don't like it, they don't hire me. Simple!
Learn something from every one you do, you never know it all. I learned something on my last wedding that I'm going to incorporate into everyone I do from now on. More an error of ommission on my part that no one ever noticed before. You always learn.
Have fun, relax keep focused!

Don
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Old June 30th, 2003, 07:33 PM   #10
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Rule one should be "Always scout the location ahead of time". Find out what the schedule will be, and stake your spot early.

Since it is too late for that, go through your footage, and see what is useable. Dump the trash. If need be, use photos as filler. Nobody wants to sit through an hour of wdding tape, not even the newly weds. About a half hour is the most. You may find that a little creative cutting and filling may save the day.
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Old June 30th, 2003, 10:38 PM   #11
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a few more notes

Just for the record, there was no rehearsal, and even if there had been, I still would have had the problems because the location was moved unexpectedly. Also, my impression from talking to both the DJ and the photographer (both full-time pros) was that they both also felt uninformed. They tried to get answers to important questions but never really got them. I'm thinking I got the Murphy's Law of first weddings. Anyway, thanks for all the replies. They are definitely worth noting.

Stu
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Old July 1st, 2003, 08:30 AM   #12
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Guys, how long is your finished wedding video, I'm just starting out in this game and I feel that anything more than 45 mins people really lose interest. I spoke to one wedding videographer a few weeks ago and he said his finished products are usually about 2 hrs long, I don't see how people would watch this more than once. I just want to get a feel for what people usually want, personally I want a wedding video to capture the highlights of the day, everytime I watch it I don't want to sit through an entire wedding service, just the best bits. What do you guys do?

John.
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Old July 1st, 2003, 08:43 AM   #13
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Welcome to the club of horrific first wedding videos.

I am on my third wedding video and I am still learning from mistakes and adjusting my workflow to do a better job.

At my last wedding, I got a great shot of the Brides procession... that is until the photographer stood up and all I got was her butt. LOL.

If at all possible... Go to the rehersal. Its a great way to get a feel for the event and it also helps the bride get a feel for how intrusive you will be to the ceremony.

PLAN PLAN PLAN. And then have person by your side whose only job is to make sure you get shots.

No shakie No shakie. You don't have two takes to get it right... just one.

Hope that helps,
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Old July 1st, 2003, 09:31 AM   #14
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For me, the final product length depends on the wedding itself. My shortest one has been about 45 minutes. However, I have had several at 2 hours. If you have a 1 hour ceremony and LOTS of special dances/toasts, it can easily be 2 hours. With a 30 minute ceremony, I shoot for between 1 and 1.5 hours.
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Old July 1st, 2003, 09:37 AM   #15
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Yeah it also depends on the style the couple prefers. Obviously a couple that prefers musical montages over long drawn out natural audio seqences their video will be much shorter. My shortes wedding video was 35 minutes- my longest 54 minutes. However that's just me- if I ever had a couple that requested less editing and more natural, drawn out, footage- the video could easily aproach the 2 hour mark...however you'll find most clients don't choose to go that route. Even if they did- I wouldn't mind...even though it's 2 hours compared to 30-50 minutes it's still a whole lot less work in editing!
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