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Ben Creighton October 13th, 2011 10:01 PM

Tips for solo shooters
It looks like, at least for a while, I'll need to shoot my weddings solo. And while I have some basic ideas of how I plan to go about it, I can always use the tips from the experts on this board. I mean, I know of course that I'll have to lock down 1 or 2 cameras and run another myself. But beyond the obvious, I am curious about, among other things:

After the ceremony, how do you shut down all your cameras, retrieve your lav mic(s), pack everything up, and get to the reception without missing key moments? (Do you leave the groom mic'ed?) I am a bit paranoid about security/theft, so I can see myself lugging a camera and tripod to the car, unlocking it, putting the stuff away, locking the car, and then having to do that again! I'd be lucky to make it in time for the first dance...

If you have to lock down 2 cams, do you use one wide from the back, and another aimed at... the parents? Or close up on the bride?

Do you couple your lav mic with your handheld cam, so you can monitor sound?

Okay, etc. etc., you see what I am getting at here, no need to ask every question I can think of. I'd just like to get the "ebb and flow" logic, so to speak, from those of you who do, and have done, weddings solo.

Gregory Lee October 13th, 2011 10:56 PM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
Yes, I have to make multiple trips to the car (usually 4-5 trips) to put everything away. If there are photo shoots after the ceremony, it means having to miss some of that to put my equipment away. That way I can get to the reception before they make their entrance.

Joe Thompson October 14th, 2011 02:38 AM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
Hi Ben,

As a solo shooter myself, with just one wedding under my belt, I'm not exactly sure If I "qualify" to respond really, but I'll jump in here, seeing as the rest of the world is either asleep, capturing weddings, or out drinking..

Reaching that comfort zone with your clients before their wedding is KEY. You'll be much more relaxed, and so will they. Know the running order in advance, agreeing the coverage in advance, and visiting the venues in advance, will help you avoid "missing key moments".

As a solo shooter, you need to realise that moments will be missed, but seeing as you emphasised "key moments" below, the only way to avoid this entirely is stay as close as possible to the bride, capture their story without gaps, and get back to the venue before them, but watch those speeding tickets enroute:-).

As above, if you keep good comms with your couple leading up to the event, you can determine if they want you there for their photo shoot, or if they'd prefer you back at the reception before them, capturing guest arrivals, and the scenes that they'll miss themselves. (One area where having a second shooter adds further production value.)

The lav mic's must be returned after the ceremony, so perhaps just give the groom a heads up on this, during pre-event planning. Some can be bulky, but other devices can go off with the groom, so just catch him at a good time afterwards. (The last thing you want, is them sneaking off for funny business, after their photo shoot, with your G3 still recording ....that would be a disaster to edit haha)

They is no easy solution regarding gear for a solo shooter. I'm in the process of trying to pack & organise myself better for up coming weddings, and have just got a shootsac for starters. I'm also training a couple of monkeys up from the local zoo, but keep it to one trip if you can. Just make sure you get there an hour beforehand, to set up, and take any shots that you need from the slider etc. Just bring along what you need to tell the story, the bare essentials, and leave the creativity for a few weddings until it becomes second nature. I made that mistake during first wedding.

Lastly, I'd keep your bread and butter camera at the back, possible with a 70 - 200 f/2.8 if you have one. You should possible position Camera B on the grooms side, focusing over the grooms shoulder at the start, to capture processional, but moved back as soon as the exchange is over. The brides face is always more attractive to look at than the grooms, and with a 3rd camera in time, you can cover both sides. Just my opinion.

Best of luck with it Ben. It's all fun and games really!!!!

Don Bloom October 14th, 2011 05:24 AM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
I've been solo forever. The first thing I can tell you is SLOW DOWN!!!!! While a wedding moves along it isn't lightning and doesn't run at 200mph. Take a breath, slow down.
As for camera placement I can't say. Every church, every venue is different. Every officiant is different. Get to the venue early enough to get your B footage and then figure out where you need and want to place your cameras. Have a game plan in your head but also have a plan B and a plan C. I know some here say, don't talk to the officiant just do your thing. Others give the officiant the courtesey of telling me what I can and can't do. I've been around far too long to get thrown out of a church. I've seen it happen. One guy goes in to the church does what he wants, pisses off the officiant and next week when I go in he takes it out on me. I'm just sayin'.
I never have a handheld camera. No one can run a Catholic full mass ceremony start to finish handheld. Get a tripod. Monitor your lav which means it goes to your A camera. If you don't monirtor how do you know it's working properly. I know some say that if it isn't working right you can't fix it anyway. Well that's not entirely true. You might have forgotten to turn on the receiver, or even plug into the camera. At worst if the mic pak goes out then at least you know.
As for getting my gear after, the photog always does pics at the church after the ceremony and by the time the guests get out of the church (I leave my A camera running and go and get my B/C cameras and my 2nd mic pak which is on the pulpit-I just put the tripods by my bags and leave it until I get to them later) I grab the lav off the groom before they do a walkout of the church (which takes all of 5 seconds) get the walk out then back in for pics. I set up 1 or 2 shots for myself then pack my gear while the photog is still working the groups of family. It takes about 3 minutes to pack up. Maybe I'm faster than most maybe it's my routine, maybe it's just not that hard to do. 2 or 3 tripods to collapse, pack 2 cameras into bags (grab tapes first) pack audio gear in A cam bag (takes the longest since I want to pak the mic paks and lavs carefully about 1 minute total). I still have 1 camera out and am ready to shoot whatever then into the bag when the photog is done and everyone is leaving. I load out to my car and off to the reception. Cocktail time is generally out of the actual room so I have plenty of time to get my B footage, from escort cards to exteriors to menu boards to the uncut cake to details of the tables and lots of people during the pre-party time.
Guys, it really isn't that hard, it's time managament and knowing in your head what you need to shoot. the slower you go the faster you work, IOW, a steady pace keeping your head in the game means fewer if any mistakes. No gear left behind and all the footage you need. When you run at 100 mph with your hair on fire thats when things happen, none of them good. Gears gets lost, shots get missed.
One last thing. I'm 5'6"...165 pounds (give or take a couple) smoke like a chimney, not in the best shape at all (not like when I was 22, in the US Army, jumped out of airplanes and could catch a bullet in my teeth ---I'm kidding about the last thing) and oh yeah, I'm 65! I use soft bags for my cameras, I carry 3 tripods, 3 cameras and generally a set of dolly wheels all at once for ceremonys. I hate making 2 trips. I am also concerned about theft, however, even in Chicago most churches are fairly safe and if they're not then I wouldn't be there anyway. In all my time I have never had anything stolen. Close but....
Relax, take a breath, it's not as hard as we all want to make it out to be. I'm not saying it's not hard but folks, it ain't rocket science.
Just my $.03 worth (adjusted for inflation)

Chris Harding October 14th, 2011 05:39 AM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
Ummm nowdays Don it's probably closer to your dollar's worth !!! When we started you could actually buy something with 2 cents!! Over here our smallest is 5 cents and programmed to be scrapped soon too!!

I shoot solo except when I have groom and bride prep at the same time ..then I have a 2nd shooter (a lady) do the girls for me! The rest is my baby.

For me the number one skill is planning and getting the bride to stick to your schedule!! I arrive at the Church 30 mins (absolute minimum!!!) if I'm also doing the bridal prep...if the bride isn't in her dress when I have to leave then "tough luck" it doesn't get included...I make sure that I tell her ...I want you in your dress by 2pm cos I'm outa here at 2:15pm whether you are finished or not!!!
If I start from the Church, I'm there an hour early!!! Before the big day the bride MUST know your schedule!! Tell her exactly what you will be doing and when so she knows your schedule!!

What I do after the ceremony is leave the fixed cam on the tripod and go straight out and film the couple being congratulated ...the groom's lav is still on his jacket. Once congrats is over, I pull off the lav and transmitter and hand the couple over to the photog for formal photos...this gives me enough time to pack up the camera in the Church, remove the lav and transmitter from the lectern and put it all in the car.

Then it's onto the photoshoot where I'm using just the stedicam and one camera on it!!!

I built myself a neat custom trolley so I can take everything from the car to the Church or car to the Reception in one load...It's basically an aluminium square tube frame on wheels and has two levels...cameras go into custom cutouts in foam on the top ...cases go on the bottom shelf and I have two "U" brackets under the top shelf for tripods and stands!! It really does save me a HUGE amount of time!!!!


Ben Creighton October 14th, 2011 09:55 AM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
Don, when I said "handheld", I guess I really meant with a monopod. I want to become proficient with my 7D and move about with it. No way I would do that handheld - especially with a non-IS lens. (I am leaning towards the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 for about $700, versus the Canon L series IS for $2,300!) I am on a first name basis with virtually every clergy in this town, so I don't expect to clash with anyone; although I don't plan to limit myself to working only in this town. But for the most part, I get along pretty good with these guys so I don't expect to ruffle any feathers. I'll behave. :)

Chris, I like your thought of "getting the bride to stick to your schedule", although I'm not sure if you meant that tongue-in-cheek or not! My biggest concern is not having someone, preferably a lady, to shoot the bridal prep stuff. I did it by myself successfully once, but that was when the B&G were getting ready in the same hotel, just a few doors away from each other. Anyway, I'll jump off that bridge when I get to it. As I said before, I have a pretty good idea in my head of how I hope to make things flow, but all these tips are invaluable. There's no substitute for experience. I love learning from yours, and I can't wait to get some more under my belt.

Anything else??

Don Bloom October 14th, 2011 10:03 AM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
Hey Ben,
Wow, I really butchered my spelling. Sorry. I didn't think you meant handheld and with the DSLR the monopod can work. I agree knowing the clergy helps big time but when you don't know them use their names when talking to a clergy you don't know. It's really a small community of people and many know one another and even if they don't throwing a couple of names out can't hurt.
I agree with Chris about the schedule. If I'm not doing prep I tell the bride when I'll be at the venue and what my plan is for that part of the day and in just about every case they tell me "great, someone with a plan, let's stick to it". Of course it's a wedding and rarely does it go totally as planned but if you're within 5 to 10 minutes of the "timeline" you're golden.
Anyway it seems like you have a game plan so stick to it, try it a couple of times and be ready to make "adjustments" in your game plan and you should be fine.

Noa Put October 14th, 2011 10:29 AM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
Like Don said; "slow down" :) it's very easy to make mistakes when you operate alone under pressure, in my country there is no prep time when you go to church, you unload your stuff and arrive in the church at the same time that the couple is waiting outside, ready to enter.
I always ask them to wait for me as I have to mic the groom before he enters, In church I always use my main camera on a tripod, a second unmanned camera on a tripod, a zoom h1, h4 and a iriver.

First thing I do is set up my main camera and point that one to the church entrance and let it record, then I start setting up the second tripod/camera (a small sony xr520 and a light tripod) which I place beside my main camera and point that one to the priest and let that one record, in that way I can always monitor what that camera "sees".

Then I place a zoom h1 on the altar, I attached a iriver with clipon mic (using a verlcro tape) to the reading chair (don't know the right name for it but it's the place (beside the altar) where the priest and guests read.)
And when there are people singing I use my zoom h4 with a mini tripod.

The reason why I point my main camera towards the entrance is if I don't manage to get everything ready in time I at least have the groom entering the church.

For me the church is the most stressfull part of the day but I always take my time to double check that everything is recording, even if they "forget" about me and just enter the church while I'm still stetting up, I need to be 100% sure at start that everything is set up right because once teh ceremony starts I"m not able to do that anymore.

After that I switch to dslr's for the reception, one dslr stays permanent on a blackbird steadicam and one dslr is on a tripod. In that way I can quickly switch between wideangle or close shots (I have a 14mm and a 85mm for that)

Preparation in the morning depends if I use a regular camera or dslr, if it starts real early at the hairdresser I use a dslr for fancy shots but if it starts at their parents place I just take the regular cam, because the groom sees his bride there for the first time I don't like taking the risk of missing that shot with a dslr when light conditions are though. The groom always arrives at the front door, rings the bell and the bride gets out, if you have sun and shade where they stand it's virtually impossible to get the exposure right in realtime with a dslr.

I avoid mixing dslr and "regular" camera as much a possible because the look is too different, that's why I do the church completely with a regular cam and from reception on completely with a dslr, th edifferent parts of the day will have a different look but that doesn't show that much as when you would mix constantly.

And if you operate 2 camera's, ALWAYS operate your main camera as if it was your only one, the second unmanned camera could have a wrong frame or you might bump into it or whatever, I just turn it to the priest and leave it alone so I have a safety.

When the chruch ceremony is over I take the xr520 from it's tripod and put it in a small bag the size of that camera which is attached to my belt, I never leave it behind when I follow the couple outside, I also take the h1 and h4 which I place in my pocket. All the rest I leave inside and pick that up after the couple has left the church. I have the most valuable gear with me so theft risk is minimal.

Ben Creighton October 14th, 2011 10:51 AM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
There are so many good tips and thoughts here, now I have a question which merits starting another thread, rather than go off topic here!

As far as using a DSLR on a tripod; I believe the 7D is limited to 12 minutes of continuous recording so you certainly can't use that camera as a lock down.

Of course every church is different, but most have an upstairs seating area or choir loft. Do you guys like the footage you get from a locked down camera at that high angle? Do you zoom in to just get, say, the wedding party, as opposed to a full wide view? Am I annoying the crap out of you with all these questions? ;)

I plan to run 3 cameras, 1 or 2 lav mics and at least 1 zoom h4. Remind me to make a checklist so I don't leave anything behind!

Long Truong October 14th, 2011 01:16 PM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
What style of wedding coverage are you going for? This will give a fair idea of how you will most likely operate your cameras.

I personally make short form cinematic wedding films a so I normally need to move around alot to get many short clips from different angles as opposed to the traditional documentary style which generally involves filming longer continuous clips and fewer filming angles.

When I shoot preps, I have my 7D on monopod and basically move around a lot. I shoot short 2-4 seconds clips and move around to get wide, medium tight shots and try to capture the same action from many different angles. In post, when I put the clips together, it will seem like there were many cameras shooting the same action from different position but it's basically just me changing position between each shot.

If I have no assistant, I will have to make sure that the bride and groom don't get ready at the same time to give myself enough time to cover both sides. For example, I would be at the groom's house in the morning to cover his preps (putting on tux, shoes, ties, etc.) and then go to the bride's house to capture the rest (makeup, hair, dress, etc.)

During the ceremony, if I'm shooting solo, I will have 3 cameras on 3 tripods.

Camera A will be locked down in the aisle with a 70-200mm 2.8 and will be my main camera for pretty much the entire ceremony.

Camera B and C will be on each sides at pretty much the same distance to cover the bride and groom's reactions during the vows.

If it's a long ceremony with a lot of readings, I will also bring a set of different lenses with me and change it on camera B or C once in a while to get creative and capture wider shots that will include the crowd as well.

When shooting solo, I basically keep all 3 cameras rolling and run around to check on them to make sure they're running properly. I would also stop and start the recording between readings to make sure the clips aren't too long. When I need to stop one camera, I will make sure that the 2 others are running so I don't lose any coverage.

Don Bloom October 14th, 2011 05:48 PM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
The balconey can be a very nice dramatic shot be it wide or medium. Gotta use some descretion on that. As for moving around there are a lot of churchs here in my area where you simply can't do that and frankly it's been my experience that if you are center aisle with your A camera and stay on the action (B&G-reader at pulpit-B&G and officiant when doing vows) you really can't miss. You've got all the important parties in the shot. However, if you have a 2nd and even a 3rd operator and have the ability to move around and still have the proper coverage why not. For me, I'm old school so I tend to keep middle aisle on the B&G with my 2nd, 3rd cams giving me cover shots. Placement depends on the church and officiant.

Lance Watts October 16th, 2011 12:34 AM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
I usually shoot solo and it's not uncommon for me to shoot for more than 12 hours. I like to cover everything from prep to the end of the reception. During the ceremony, I shoot with 3 7D's and 1 60D. Everything is on a tripod during the ceremony. At the reception, I'm usually only using two of the 7D's.

My advice is to get in shape. You're going to be moving around alot and, if you're properly equipped, you're going to be carrying around alot of stuff.

It's also very helpful to require the couple (or wedding planner) to provide you with a very detailed itinerary of the entire wedding day, so you can anticipate where you'll need to be at any given time.

If possible, familiarize yourself with the venues before the wedding day, making mental notes of where to place lights and cameras.

Also, make fast friends with the wedding planner, photographer, DJ, even the caterer. These people are your lifeline and they need to understand the importance of letting you know what's happening next and keeping you abreast of any schedule changes.

Finally, don't be afraid to gently manipulate certain aspects of the reception. For example, during the toasts I like to have one camera on the couple and another on the person toasting. I put both cameras on tripods and then use a third camera for crowd reaction shots and alternate angles. The problem, of course, is that toasters like to wander and they rarely have good microphone technique. My solution is to bring my own microphone stand with a small lav mic attached to it. I then take the DJ's wireless handheld and place it in the mic stand. I then TAPE IT DOWN so it can't be removed. This forces the toaster to remain in the same position and I don't have to worry about following them around the room. Plus, my small lav mic picks up perfect audio and I don't have to screw with a field mic or (god forbid) pulling a feed from the DJ's board.

Shooting solo can be tricky, but it's not impossible. And if you're well prepared, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to capture all the big moments, and most of the little one, too.

Michael Simons October 16th, 2011 12:09 PM

Re: Tips for solo shooters

Originally Posted by Ben Creighton (Post 1688659)
There are so many good tips and thoughts here, now I have a question which merits starting another thread, rather than go off topic here!

As far as using a DSLR on a tripod; I believe the 7D is limited to 12 minutes of continuous recording so you certainly can't use that camera as a lock down.

Of course every church is different, but most have an upstairs seating area or choir loft. Do you guys like the footage you get from a locked down camera at that high angle? Do you zoom in to just get, say, the wedding party, as opposed to a full wide view? Am I annoying the crap out of you with all these questions? ;)

I plan to run 3 cameras, 1 or 2 lav mics and at least 1 zoom h4. Remind me to make a checklist so I don't leave anything behind!

Ben, I shoot the ceremony with 3 cams. During communion, I start breaking down 1 or 2 of the cams and even load that gear into my car. I'll even move my car from the parking lot to behind the limo during communion. I'm back in the church before communion is over and now most of my gear is packed away. During the receiving line, I'll grab the mic from the groom. The photographer usually does some family photos at the church and I'm sitting in my car eating a protein bar.

Thomas E. Smith October 16th, 2011 04:58 PM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
I was just about to make a thread about this topic, but this one answered most of my questions. :)

Waldemar Winkler October 16th, 2011 05:45 PM

Re: Tips for solo shooters
I shoot with four cameras, if I have an assistant. Three, if I do not have an assistant. The most complicated shoot is the ceremony. After that, I use only one camera or two.

Most of the weddings I shoot are outdoors. Alone, I manage two on tripods with a mobile camera (currently DSLR) for quick takes as I move between static cameras to adjust angle and focus. Basically, one camera is always wide, the other is closer. The third camera hanging from a neck strap is for the quick takes that may or may not be useful. Knowing the event sequence of the ceremony is paramount! Without this knowledge, moving from one camera to another is frightening!
Ultimately, you must capture the event from as many angles as you can. If you plan the shoot, step by step, you can not only know how to proceed, but also define a backup procedure if what you thought would happen takes a decidedly different direction.

Audio is a bit more complicated, but far more important:

I use four wireless microphones during receptions. I'd use H1's tomorrow, but I have too much invested in wireless gear to switch. Wireless Mic 1 (WM1) is pinned to the Groom with a Shure 837 Omni-Directional Mic attached to the transmitter. WM2 is with the Officiant. WM3 is a condenser drum mic attached to a VHF transmitter. I like drum mics because they can manage ungodly sound pressure levels and make vocal levels very even. It is on a mic floor stand and is dedicated for family/friend commentary during the ceremony. WM4 is usually reserved for musicians, but in their absense, is available for any other assigned task. I have two receivers for each wireless microphone. Signals from WM1 and WM2 go to Camera 1. Signals from WM3 & WM4 go to Camera 2. Camera 3 gets a shotgun mic, which is primarily to record a reference signal for syncing in post, but also captures ambient audio that may be useful in post. All four audio signals are also routed through an audio mixer to a two channel recording device as additional backup.

IF a DJ or Church PA is being used, I attach an iRiver (excellent old MP3 audio recorder) to the system's REC out RCA ports or, clip to a hall loudspeaker. The primary reason for this recording device is back-up.

Lastly, because I insist on all three cameras being permanently attached to tripods during the ceremony, I have an additional shotgun mic attached to a DSLR. This camera is for quick shots from mobile angles that may or may not make the cut. The audio is primarily for syncing.

Great. The event is recorded. Now it has to go to post. Which is where the fun begins.

I edit the video in four passes. Pass one is devoted to selecting the video clips I want to use. Pass 2 is color correction. Pass 3 is devoted to audio, which almost always means sending selected audio clips to an external audio application for adjustment. This is my least favorite editing process. Much easier now because of the method I have described. Pass 4 is adding audio special effects and titles.

I hope this information is useful.

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