Once in a while, you'll get a couple that can dance really well. (You should learn this in your final consultation with them before the wedding.) For them, be sure one camera is back far enough to keep them in frame no matter what they do. A third camera on a high-angle shot is a nice bonus if you can arrange it. For most couples, you can bring both cameras in closer, and concentrate more on facial expressions than on dancing ability. If you can do a steady moving shot, you may want to sidle around the dancers to hold a shot on a face longer. Not-so-steady shooters may want to use the tripod. If you have one still and one moving camera, try to coordinate to minimize the time that the cameras can see each other.
Around the World in a Day (Or 10-15 Seconds)
One move that you can use to get a really dynamic view of the dance is to circle the dancers, especially if they are dancing in a tight area. Let's call this the "Around the World" move. Thinking of your shooting space as the face of a clock, if the dancers are turning in a clockwise rotation, start at the six o'clock position with your "steadicam" and move towards them. Then go around to the right, moving counter-clockwise, and do a complete circle around the dancers, then back out of it, and end at the twelve o'clock position.
With a wide-angle lens, and slow motion in post, this move adds a dynamic element (a moving background) to otherwise static shots. You'll have to use your judgment in how much movement you can do (or for how long) without intruding on the action, but usually the photographers are flitting all around getting the best angles, so for you to take 10-15 seconds to accomplish this move shouldn't be distracting at all.
In fact, if the song length allows it, you could even do this twice. During the move, do not be afraid to get within arm's reach of the dancers, at full-wide on the zoom.
More Dance Moves
Following the First Dance, there will probably be some general dancing. Shoot a bit of this, and get any additional "specialty" dances. However, most of your best dance footage will come later in the party, when people have loosened up. Of course, an open bar versus a cash bar may play a significant role here.
"Specialty" dances fall into either the romantic or humorous categories. There's often a Father-Daughter dance, and it can be one of the most emotional parts of the evening. The Mother-Son dance is equally important. Both can be ideally suited to the Around the World move. (See, that's why we gave it a name.)
The DJ or band may warm up the crowd with a conga line, the "electric slide," the "chicken dance," the "cha cha slide," or the "hokey pokey," etc. Be aware of any ritual dances specific to religion or ethnicity (e.g., "chair dance," or Hora; "bread dance"; etc.) or even just family fun ("hog trough dance"). These will be dramatic highlights of any reception.
There may be shots to be had outside the main ballroom. For example, get some shots of people signing the guestbook. If it's sunset and there's a pretty setting outdoors, get some footage of the guests there. Or better yet, get a staged silhouette shot of the bride and groom kissing; that's always a good stock shot for your video.
Making Toasts Pop
Once the food is served, either by buffet or as a sit-down dinner, you can relax a bit. Don't shoot folks while they're eating; such shots are nearly always unattractive. You may get a chance to eat as well (either your own brown bag, a "vendor meal," or from the guests' bill of fare, depending on the terms of your contract). If you're going to eat, try to do so at the same time as the bride and groom so that you'll finish at about the same time they do. In any case, keep an eye on what's happening, especially at the head table, and be ready to start shooting again at a moment's notice.
The best man's toast often occurs after the meal. For this, one camera should cover the best man (and should be on a tripod or a monopod). This can be a one-shot or a three-shot, but should be steady and held throughout the toast. Another camera should get a reaction shot of the bride and groom, audience, and even cutaways of the best man. (If you can't do this with two cameras, your main shot should include both the best man and the happy couple.)
Getting good audio can be tricky; you may want to discuss things in advance with the best man, and possibly outfit him with a wireless mic or a recorder. Ideally, all the guests who are making toasts will be provided with a mic hooked into the PA system of the venue or the entertainment's sound system. If so, it's usually better if you can patch into the system in advance.
When you're speaking to the best man early in the day (or preferably at the rehearsal), ask him if there are any "surprises" planned for the bride and groom that you should know about. Such intelligence can get you amusing footage of bridal party members decorating the getaway car or other pranks.
Don't let down your guard when the toast is finished. There may be other toasts and speeches from the maid of honor, the fathers of the bride and groom, or other relatives. As if we haven't said it enough times already, plan ahead. Talk to those in the know and find out what's going to happen before it happens.
Taking the Cake
The cake cutting generally comes next. It's often hard to get a shot because everyone wants to crowd around close to the action. Try to stake out a position early, possibly by placing a tripod nearby. Your second camera, on a monopod used as a makeshift crane, can be used to get nice overhead shots, including reaction shots of the guests.
The next major events, when held, are the bouquet and garter toss. These are generally easier to cover, as the guests give the bride and groom room to throw things. Just be sure you have a clear field to pan from the bride to the scrambling bridesmaids when the bouquet is thrown, or use two cameras. (Sometimes the garter sequence will involve a joke on the bride—for instance, the groom reaches up under her skirt to remove the garter and pulls out a huge pair of lacy bloomers or a rubber chicken.)
An idea for a two-camera setup could be your primary in front of the bride or groom, with the guests in the background. At full-wide, capture the windup and release, stepping forward or zooming in to show the catch. Meanwhile, your second camera could be at either 90 degrees to your primary, catching the arc of the bouquet in the air, or immediately behind the guests, offering their POV as the bouquet comes flying towards them.
If you're showing a Photo Montage or Love Story video or doing a Wedding-Day Edit, your presentation will probably take place somewhere amid these events. Don't forget to add audience reaction shots to your presentation; they can be a very effective marketing tool. Just don't try too hard to light those reaction shots. The impact of the video you're showing is most important at that moment, and lighting should be optimum for that presentation rather than anything you might want to shoot as it plays.
The dancing that follows these events is generally when you'll get shots of the best (or most energetic) dancers. Often, you'll be able to get a shot of the bride dancing with her bridesmaids. During circle dances, don't be afraid to get inside the ring of dancers.
Sometimes, warming up to the crowd may involve a little more than just shooting what's going on in front of you. Taking five seconds to offer your hand to that reluctant, camera-shy bridesmaid may be all you need to get her to relax and have fun in front of the lens. Speaking of taking hands, you can stage a special-effects dance shot. With that shy bridesmaid at arm's length, and the camera on your shoulder, dance a few steps with her. Then do the same thing with her date. Finally, have them dance together. In post, you now have the dancers' points-of-view to edit into the sequence.
Tired of shooting dancers? What about guest interviews? Many videographers won't do them because they consider them boring or cheesy. Often they are; the results you get will depend a lot on your interviewing technique. One way is to circulate among the guests during dinner. Tell them that you'll be back later, and ask them to be thinking of a funny or touching story about the bride or groom. Or assign a different job to each table, such as, "When I come back, I'd like you all to give the groom one piece of advice for a happy marriage." (Do not, of course, include the shot of the wit who advises, "Call your lawyer.")
Another option is to confine the interviews to key people, such as the parents. Tell them in advance what you'll be doing; you may also want to take them aside, away from the noise and bustle of the ballroom to a quieter location.
If the party runs unreasonably long, you may simply run out of steam. We suggest having a supply of energy bars in your bags, and keeping well-hydrated throughout the day. Avoid caffeine, both on the day of the shoot and the day before. Your contract may call for only a certain period of coverage, in which case you could legitimately call it a day, pack up, and go home.
But producing the upscale wedding video generally means staying to shoot the exit of the bride and groom, so be prepared for a long night. Hang in there! When the limo drives off—even if other guests are still lingering—it's a wrap. Pack up all the gear (and make darn sure you do have it all!). It's time to head home for some sack time before sitting down and starting postproduction. We'll have some tips on that for you next time, in Part 7 of our series.
If you want to read Part 5 in the series, click here.