When we left you last time, we were just finishing up at the church, shooting some cutaways, possibly some of the formal stills photo session, and the departure of the limo for the reception. While this was going on, your assistant(s) were packing up the equipment. (Well, at least they should have been.)
As soon as the limo leaves, it's time to head for the reception venue. Your goal is to beat the bridal party there, so you can get footage of them as they exit the limo.
Note that there can be variations to this. Sometimes, the bridal party will make a stop at some scenic location for some photos. If so, and if you can spare a shooter and a camcorder, have someone ride along in the limo with the bride and groom. (This is also an opportunity to get some candid footage in the limo. Use a wide-angle lens attachment, and engage your stabilizer if your camera has one.)
Think of shots that convey travel. The wheel rolling, a traveling shot along the road, the bride and groom through the back window as the limo pulls away, the road's centerline whizzing by.
In general, however, you'll be able to get to the reception location before the limo, and have enough time to set up for both the arrival of the bridal party and the grand entrance of the party. For best results here, use two manually operated cameras: one outside for the limo shot, the other inside the reception hall.
Use your wireless intercoms to communicate. While you're waiting for the action to start, get some exterior cutaway shots of the reception venue, and some interior cutaway shots of the party decorations. Don't be afraid to "pose" some of the decorations; place a couple of champagne flutes and a copy of the invitation in front of the wedding cake or a floral arrangement. Talk to the DJ or the event coordinator about the schedule of events for the evening.
For the limo shot, position yourself about twenty feet from the curbside, and try to take a position that will be just behind the rear door of the limo after it pulls up. That's hard to gauge in advance, but you can reposition as the driver is getting out to open the doors. A low camera angle is good for this shot. Also, if you are using a Steadicam or other type of stabilizer rig, this is an opportunity for a moving-camera shot.
Once you've got that shot, scoot indoors and set up for the formal entrance of the bridal party. For this event, pay attention to the "line of action," and keep both cameras on the same side of the line so that everyone walks in the same direction in all shots. You'll likely have plenty of time as the DJ or master of ceremonies takes a few moments to coordinate with the wedding party, verifying the proper order of introduction and proper pronunciation of names.
At more formal events, there may be a cocktail hour. This is a good opportunity to capture candid guest shots while your assistant sets up the gear for the rest of the evening.
Sometimes, a receiving line is held at the reception, or at the church. Either way, it's safe to say these are boring to shoot, but useful in capturing all the guests interacting with the wedding party, if that's your goal. You can get by, usually, with a select number of shots from various angles.
Equipment and Logistics
In terms of equipment, the reception calls for a slightly different setup from the wedding ceremony. We still recommend covering the event with at least two cameras. Since you're producing an upscale wedding video, you need the extra point of view for the critical events. Also, a second camera is insurance against Murphy's Law. Most of your shooting here will be handheld, but you should still have at least one tripod available for lengthy shots like the entrance of the bridal party and the toast(s).
In fact, covering all the main events with two cameras—one "on sticks" for the safety shot, and one handheld for the close-ups and more reactive shots—is ideal.
For steadier handheld shots as the evening wears on, we recommend a monopod. This can double as an impromptu crane for high-angle shots. You can also use it as a rough-and-ready stabilizer by grasping the monopod between thumb and fingers just above the balance point. Another alternative for a makeshift steadicam is to make an "OK" hand gesture, and allow the camera to rest on top of your hand. Keeping your fingers from gripping the shaft, the monopod itself will act as a counter-balance, keeping the camera relatively level. It's not perfect, but it can do in a pinch. It's also not the easiest technique in the world, but you'll get it with enough practice.
As with the coverage of the ceremony, communication between crew members is critical to avoid missed shots. Keep your wireless intercoms on . . . or if you must, use cell phones (but be careful they don't interfere with your camcorder's video—and you better hope you have reception in the reception hall).
Lighting the Way
Many receptions are very dark. We recommend adding necessary lighting. Many users of the Sony VX and PD series models like the small on-camera lights that run off the camcorder battery. A 12 V on-camera light with a dimmer and a 25-watt lamp is also a popular choice.
Soften the light with a sheet or two of diffusion paper, or use an on-camera soft box. The trick is to use enough light to get a good image, but not so much that your subjects squint and scowl at you every time you turn the lens their way. Oftentimes, however, no matter how you diffuse the light on the camera, some guests will turn away from it almost instinctively. There are a couple of ways to deal with this.
The first is to increase overall lighting in the reception venue. One method is to set up light stands in inconspicuous locations (either side of the band stand, corners of room, etc.) and use bounced light from a reflector, white walls, or ceiling. Use a dimmer to control the amount of light. There are wireless dimmer controls available so you can adjust from any point in the room. Or you may simply be able to get the reception personnel to turn up the room lights a bit.
The second is to use a smaller on-camera light, but remove it from the camera. Have your assistant light your subject from the side to add depth and dimension. Contrary to instinct, shadow is not a bad thing. You don't want the light shining along the same axis as your lens. Instead, imagine that you (the camera) and the subject form two points on a clock face, with the subject at the center and you at six o'clock. Your assistant should be at either four to five o'clock or seven to eight o'clock. For an interesting backlighting effect, your assistant could move between one and two o'clock or ten and eleven o'clock positions.
To learn more about effective and creative lighting, consider looking into a community college course on lighting for photography. If there isn't such a course near you, there are good books on the subject, and even a computer program that acts as a "virtual studio," allowing you to try out different lighting setups without moving stuff around in the real world.
Be flexible in how you capture audio. An on-camera mic, even the cam's built-in mic, can be fine for getting ambient room and crowd noise. However, getting clear audio of one individual speaking calls for a wireless mic (either a lavaliere or handheld), or a strategically placed recorder.
Another option is to close-mic the DJ's speakers, or hook a wireless or a recorder to an output of his sound board. If worse comes to worst, you can use a cable between your mic or the DJ's board, but wireless will give you valuable mobility and flexibility.
Better Safe . . .
Protect your gear! There are many stories of professional burglary rings that specialize in ripping off photographers and videographers at wedding receptions. Place your gear where you or your assistant can keep an eye on it.
You may even want to have locking cases and chain them to a table leg or chair. Keep gear that you don't need locked and out of sight in your car. While we're on the subject, keep your used tapes on your person at all times. Insurance can replace gear, but it'll never replace stolen footage.
Save the First Dance . . .
Remember that when shooting the reception, as with any part of a wedding production—even an upscale one—it's not always about capturing everything that happens, but capturing the essence of the day.
And with those words of wisdom, we'll leave you here, just before the music starts for the First Dance. Next month, we'll discuss how to cover the rest of the reception, from the First Dance to the departure of the limo. See you then!
To see Upscale Wedding Part 1, click here.
To see Upscale Wedding Part 2, click here.
To see Upscale Wedding Part 3, click here.
To see Upscale Wedding Part 4, click here.
To see Upscale Wedding Part 6, click here.