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


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Old July 22nd, 2005, 07:24 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Wilmington NC
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Wedding weekend, last minute audio ?s

This weekend is my first professional wedding. I'm a little nervous, but now I will be using much more than a single camera with on board mic and a crappy tripod. I've read lots of threads concerning audio, but I just want to make sure I'm doing the right thing. Below is a list of equipment that I will be using.

Main camera:
Sony HDR-FX1
Sennheiser G2 wireless lav
Shure handheld mic, Sennheiser wireless plug transmitter
Beachtek DXA-4 mixer
Bogen 525MVB legs/Bogen 503 head
Bogen Lanc controller
Bogen monopod

Second camera (for ceremony):
Sony 3CCD DV (borrowed)
Sony intelligent shoe mounted shotgun/zoom mic
Unknown brand, but decent quality tripod

Rehearsal:
I don't really know what to do with audio here, but I will only be using the FX1. I will likely have the tripod setup and just switch to the monopod for when I run and gun.

Rehearsal Dinner:
No house audio here, so it's either the G2 lav or handheld mic with wireless XLR. I could use a 25' XLR cable and have both the lav and wired handheld mic.

Ceremony:
I plan to plug into the sound board of the house system into one of the cameras. It will probably have to go into the Beachtek, which will be on the FX1. The FX1 doesn't have an intelligent accessory shoe, so I can't use the shotgun from the second camera setup. The FX1 will be the manned camera and I will be set up in the front, opposite the bride. The second camera will be in the back, unmanned, and set for wide angle view. It may be sufficient for ambient sound. I have room on the Beachtek for one more source. Should I use the G2 wireless lav or Shure handheld/XLR transmitter in addition to house sound?

Reception:
Probably will be using the FX1 again here with tripod and monopod. I won't be able to use the monopod if I have a wired handheld mic and 25' cable tethering me down. There will be a DJ, so I may be able to plug into his sound board. I don't know if he'll have enough mics or how it will sound, but this would be my first choice. If not, I'm in the same position as the rehearsal dinner where audio is concerned.

Had I bought a shotgun mic, I don't think I'd be having any audio problems. However, I ran out of money. That will certainly be my next purchase when I get paid for this wedding. Any help I can get from the Grand Pubas would be greatly appreciated.
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Old July 23rd, 2005, 10:12 AM   #2
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Lessons Learned

The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner was a textbook case of Murphy's Law. Earlier this week, the guys at the church reconfigured the sound board. This was the first event since the changes were made. House audio was terrible! None of the levels were anywhere near acceptable. They gave me a feed from the tape deck headphone jack, which was 1/8" TRS to RCA to 1/8" TRS (unbalanced). At one point, I was even picking up a jazz radio station through my camera headphones. I finally asked to get a balanced XLR output from the mixer and finally got decent quality audio. Now, we just have to show up early to set the levels. I knew I shouldn't rely on house audio anyway, but I didn't have a shotgun and no one wanted to pass around a wireless mic or lav that wasn't going through the PA. I ended up only getting about 10 minutes of the rehearsal, because most of my attention was focused on finding the right camera locations and getting a quality sound feed. I wish I had bought that shotgun mic! The B&G didn't seem to mind, but I told them that I was rehearsing just as they were.

At the rehearsal dinner I was squeezed up with the tripod between huge ferns, a baker's rack, and a wall. I realized very quickly that the Bogen 525MVB tripod, 503 head, and 522 Lanc controller were way too bulky for this small, cluttered banquet room. The room was L shaped and I couldn't get shots of everyone from my designated location. I tried using the Shure wired mic on top of the baker's rack for ambience, but that was all I had. The groom agreed to wear the wireless lav, but asked that I leave it off until the speaches and giving out of the presents because he didn't want to slip up and say something that everyone shouldn't hear. Both the B&G were up and about, so a mic at their table would have done no good. I wish I had bought that shotgun mic! So I ended up pulling out the monopod and ditching the wired mic in favor of the on camera mic. I made sure to keep the headphones on as to monitor the mic levels. It wasn't great, but it was better to be mobile and actually hear the audio of the people that the camera was pointing at.

Ok, so here's the kicker! I had just about enough video from the rehearsal dinner and decided to take a stroll down to the beach level. The guests had just ordered their entres and were being served their salads. The only remaining item that was a must have for the B&G was passing out the gifts and speaches. I got back just in time! Perfect.....wrong! I only had 15 minutes of battery and 12 minutes of tape left and they had already started! I was sweating bullets the whole time. I seriously considered motioning to the B&G to move it along quickly, but thought better of it. They keep going and going and going. After closing the LCD and turning off the record lamps, I was able to squeeze a little more life from the battery. The tape, however, was a different story! I got down to less than three minutes remaining. The father of the bride came up and told a story that had no real relevance at about the same time that I was going to run out of tape. So I turned everything off, replaced the battery, rewound the tape to the beginning, and quickly picked up as soon as he finished. Thank God that man was long winded! Murphy's Law... I didn't really care about the early footage anyways. Everyone was being shy and not really participating very well at the beginning. After they had had a few drinks, everyone loosened up and began talking to the camera. I'll take my time getting set up for the rehearsal dinner next time, as long as there's nothing planned in the beginning.

Lessons learned:

1) Buy and damn shotgun mic first and foremost. It would have saved my butt on several occasions last night, when better audio was not available. Anything beats the on board mic.
2) Don't waste too much footage (and battery in this case) at the beginning of the rehearsal, unless there's something specifically planned. After a few drinks, everyone will loosen up a bit and it will make for better footage.
3) Be sure to have a smaller tripod, in case the room is small and cluttered. If there's no great vantage point in the room, there's no need for a tripod at all. Monopod worked great for mobile shooting.
4) Become intimate with your camera and camera controls before the event. I didn't get my camera until a couple days ago and was caught under the learning curve. Now I'll have to do more work in post.
5) Get to the rehearsal atleast two hours before it begins to get set up, determine camera locations, and work out any audio issues. You never know what the status of the house equipment will be.

Ok guys, so I hope you aren't laughing too hard. I've been reading this board for a couple months now and you guys are great. I've read all about experiences like this and what to do to avoid them. I'll guarantee that I have learned the HARD way and will not soon forget! I hope this post might help other novices like myself. At the very least, I hope it has provided a little bit of entertainment. Off to the wedding....
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Old July 23rd, 2005, 12:19 PM   #3
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being a one man band is not easy.. believe me..
but i think your trying too hard.. let me rephrase that..
i think your doing too much too soon without the experience...
Personally i think you should start simple.. this leaves less to error and more to your own skills and experience.. ill explain..

you mention having issues with the mixing desk.. this is teh baen of my existance as mixing consoels are configured for PA output, not wireless mics or feeds. If you must connect, use the record output, which usually bypasses any EQ and levelling of the output.. youll get a flat mix of each channel. This is far safer than trusting that ur audio wont be blown out by an overenthusiastic soudn controller who you know nothign about.
Personally, i mic the groom and ONLY the groom.. i then run a sennheiser K6 and ME64.
This works well for me and its discrete and i can literally set up a ceremony shoot in less than 5 minutes.

Rehearsals.. well, persoanlly i dont atend them anymore (reasons detailed in other threads) but to me, rehearsals was for me to know where to be at what moment and what my environment will be on the day. I have never gone to as much trouble as you have for a rehearsa. To me thats jstu a little too much in your face and you dont want the couple to have a preconceived impression of the service they will get from you on the actual wedding day..

1) Buy and damn shotgun mic first and foremost. It would have saved my butt on several occasions last night, when better audio was not available. Anything beats the on board mic.

((Not anything.. onboard stereo mics come in handy.. shotguns have their uses, but people have misconceptins about onboard mics. Also dont be afraid to use the AGC, many people say dont touch it, but i have never tuned it off... then again, i use DVX100's and the envelope is damn fast and tight. Ive shot some incredible afghan weddings where the music was insanely percussive and ive had no choice but to set the cam near a speaker due to the room size.. and the sound is just incredible.. and this is from using the onboard stereo mic, with AGC on.. levels were cut all the way down to about -18, but i got a good clean mix.. i was surprised i didnt overdrive the mic diaphragm... yes shotguns have their purposes, interviews, the vows, and pretty much anythign spoken, however for loud environments, dont be afraid to go with the onboard. The FX1 has been refined muchly since the VX2001. Another option is to hook up to the DJs mixer. Jsut set up ur transmitter from his record out.. again this should offer a flat EQ free feed..

2) Don't waste too much footage (and battery in this case) at the beginning of the rehearsal, unless there's something specifically planned. After a few drinks, everyone will loosen up a bit and it will make for better footage.

((Id only shoot a rehearsal if it was a part of their package. On top of that, its more for my own research, not the clients vanity. i wouldnt shoot more than an hour... and thats if they actually want me to shoot.. its not needed. I would however shoot moving tracking shots, various positions of the aisle <pretending the bride is walking down> speed in which i can move from A to B, level of discretion i can assure the client, size of the location, audio reverberation characteristics of the actual room, the list goes on..

3) Be sure to have a smaller tripod, in case the room is small and cluttered. If there's no great vantage point in the room, there's no need for a tripod at all. Monopod worked great for mobile shooting.

((Sometimes you cant shoot everyone during the ceremony. Dont be afraid to let a shot go if it means sacrificing a previously set shot which was working. If you cant see a good shot with the naked eye (or your minds eye), your camera wont either. In my early days, i made the mistake of hunting for a shot. This came from learning bad habits from stupid camera operators who felt obliged to make sure that every one was included in the ceremony footage. Sometimes this cant be helped, so sticking wiht the safe shots can save ur ass.. theres no point in hunting for a shot if your unsure if it will work.))

4) Become intimate with your camera and camera controls before the event. I didn't get my camera until a couple days ago and was caught under the learning curve. Now I'll have to do more work in post.

))Definaltey.. practice practice practice.. when someone is paying you to shoot, you should have the ability to know, configure, focus and set the camera for any shot in a matter of seconds (to some, im being extreme, but it takes me about 10 seconds or so to white balance, set the iris, focus and adjsut shutter on a DVX. This comes with practice and the intuitive nature of your camera. Doing events like this however, pretty much dictates that your camera setup time on the fly is just as important as anything else you do on the day. You really dont want your client seeing you fumble your way around the camera settings taking minutes to set up for one shot... one minute to the client seems like an eternity.. ive seen still photographers and other cameramen do this and its a massive waste of time.

5) Get to the rehearsal atleast two hours before it begins to get set up, determine camera locations, and work out any audio issues. You never know what the status of the house equipment will be.
((Thats why you should only use it if you know that the setup will be that way on the day.. which brings up another element, being that on the day itself, you can only be in one place at one time, so dont leave urself short.. especially if your shooting the brides prep then heading to the church... most of the time, you WONT have 2 hours to set up ...
Weddings are very intense when you get into the thick of them.. be aware that everythgn you WANT to do may not happen, but that doesnt necessarily mean your doing a disservice to the client.
You do the best you can and the client will see this. Theres no room for error so to begin, play it safe, work out your own style of shooting on the day and work out what u can and cant do physically and artistically. The next job will be easier as you would have already learnt from this one.. and each job after that even easier.. the easier it gets, the more envelopes u can push within yourself and with what you do for the client.
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Old July 24th, 2005, 05:04 PM   #4
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Thanks for the words of advice and encouragement Peter. Unfortunately, I left out dinner in rehearsal dinner when I was talking about everyone feeling more comfortable after a few drinks. I wasted too much tape and battery at the beginning. After a few drinks, everyone was talking to the camera wishing the couple the best. I'll keep that, but I probably won't use the crazy "get away from me with that camera" looks I got early during the rehearsal dinner. I completely agree about not shooting much, if any of the rehearsal. I told the B&G that it was rehearsal for me as much as it was for them. Looking back on things now, I doubt I'll even use that footage in the DVD. There's much more meaningful footage during the rehearsal dinner, bridal prep, ceremony, and reception.

You will be happy to know that the ceremony went off without a hitch. I had to get a helper to run the other camera. We were both in the balcony and she was at the front. I had a discussion with her before the ceremony, telling her exactly what I wanted. I told her to get the wedding party as they enter, the B&G closeups when they are facing away from my camera, and some spectator reaction footage. I also told her to look at me to make sure I was not moving the camera before she started a pan. I made sure to look at her before I started a pan. We had great communication with only hand gestures. I also told her that this was important because it would give me a safe shot to cut to in post if either of our shots were not very good. The audio turned out great from the sound board! The audio guy showed up a couple hours early and we set the levels together. Although the right channel of audio has a 5-10mS delay from the left channel. I'm not sure what to do about that in post. If I could do a slight shift on the right channel, it would sound perfect. I think this was caused by the minister and groom having a wireless lav or the mics picking up the PA.

The reception went extremely well as a single camera event using the on board mic. I'll have a shotgun mic next time, but the on board mic may not be as bad as I originally thought.

This has been a learning experience and the B&G were fully aware that I am just starting out. I still think they'll be amazed when I'm done.
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