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Wedding / Event Videography Techniques
Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...

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Old May 24th, 2013, 01:28 AM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 1,148
Meanings in images

A couple of random thoughts, because I'm procrastinating on editing...

1. A photographer I work a lot with has conscious intent behind his images. He wants to project wealth. He wants his images to say, "This is an expensive wedding."

I find that pretty interesting.

I suspect that many photographers don't have conscious intent -- they're just trying to find a few nice candids, or are going through the motions of ticking all the must-get boxes. They're not trying to say something.

Or, when they have intent, it's a somewhat different one -- for instance, to convey love, to convey happiness, or, simply, to beautify or conceal ugliness.

2. When I was being taught how to use a camera (not that I've ever properly learned), the teacher's attitude was, "Don't move the camera unless you have a reason to. Every time you move the camera you take away from the scene. It's distracting. The camera draws attention to itself."

Along related lines, Shane Hurlbut commented recently that every cinematography choice -- film stock, composition, camera move, lighting, whatever -- should be about communicating the feelings of the characters; if you follow that simple rule of thumb, you'll "hit a home run every time".

Similarly again, a DP named Tom Richmond opines in a recent interview, mentioned on No Film School:

"Once you know why you did a close up, once you know the grammar of a close up, the grammar of a wide lens… Like, a backlight is a punctuation mark. So when you change that, you’re doing it on purpose and not just because it looks cool, because if it just looks cool then you won’t ever complete your sentences, you won’t have a paragraph or any logic to your story. You’ll just have a bunch of punctuation marks."

3. In comparison, watch the camera work in basically any Discovery reality series, be it auctioning houses or rebuilding classic cars or brewing moonshine or digging for gold. The point of the camera is to follow the action, but rather than remain unobtrusive or contribute to the meaning of a scene, you're trying to shoot in as visually interesting a way as possible (sometimes, perhaps, to try to compensate for the tedium of the content).

The operator jumps on anything that is interesting to look at and makes the most of it. So the result is defamiliarising close-ups, forceful compositions, unusual angles, unusual perspectives. And often there is either movement of the frame or movement within the frame.

4. Now consider wedding "cinema". The work isn't usually handheld, so it's calmer, it's not as "dirty" as documentary, it conveys a more reflective mood -- but the conscious choice simply to add visual interest is somewhat the same as in reality/documentary, and the disconnect between camera work and scene is somewhat the same.

Consider the way people usually use sliders. They see something they think is attractive, like a dress or a view through a window, then they add slider movement -- just for the hell of it, just for icing on the cake (and, by the way, it's almost invariably some sort of reveal... arrgh!).

The shot is about the shot. It's showy, it definitely calls attention to itself. It's not a choice based on story or the emotions of characters. (I'm as guilty of this as anyone, and probably more than most.) You want to impress the client by filming in a way that consumers can't; and, in fact, it's true -- brides are impressed by slider and steadicam moves and shallow depth of field.

5. I guess all that I'm suggesting, of course, is that if you really want your work to deserve the label "cinema", and to make movies that affect people, it should be more Hurlbut and Richmond, and less Discovery. It should put ego aside and impressing the client aside, and be guided, instead, by meanings. It shouldn't be, "Look, Mummy, I can use a steadicam", or "Look, Mummy, isn't it interesting to see a reflection."

Rob Adams comes close to this idea when he says that you should select lenses for filming a sequence based on the mood you want to convey.

My photographer friend comes close to it when he shoots based on wealth. The intent might be superficial, but it does layer the photographs with something more than, "That's a nice shot of a bridesmaid laughing."

6. To what extent it's really possible, under all the pressures and uncertainties of weddings, to video the event based on meaning instead of showiness... well, I don't really know. I don't think I've even begun to make the change in mindset.

But I do think when I look back at all my dodgy films, the images I find most memorable aren't necessarily "great" shots, but rather are the "right" shot -- at that particular time in the visual narrative, set to that particular music or those particular words; and they're often a very simple thing, like a static close-up on someone's face.

I guess I shouldn't find this such a surprising discovery, though it is a surprising to me. When I think of the images in movies that are memorable to me, it really isn't always about showiness or novelty...
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