The Upscale Wedding Video, Part 3: Producing the Ceremony
Posted Aug 5, 2005

Welcome back to our series on producing upscale wedding videos. In Part 1, we covered shooting venues and ideas for features that can be produced prior to the actual day of the event, like the Love Story video. In Part 2, we discussed things that you could cover, such as the bridal party's preparations, or features you could offer, such as a Same-Day Edit presentation, on the day itself. Here in Part 3, we'll talk about the real heart of the matter: how to cover the ceremony itself.

First of all, remember that this is an "upscale" wedding, so it merits multiple-camera ceremony coverage. In fact, we'll assume that you plan to use a minimum of three cameras at the ceremony: a primary, or altar camera; a secondary camera; and a third, or "safety shot" camera. Depending on the venue, and your budget, you may need additional cameras. We know of some videographers who cover a ceremony with up to five!

PRE-PRODUCTION

You probably know the expression, "Failure to plan is a plan for failure." Unless entirely infeasible, you should make arrangements to attend the rehearsal, especially if you've never shot in the venue before. This will serve a multitude of purposes, not the least of which is that you can plan your coverage of the events.

A good idea is to make a rough floor plan and mark where you will be positioning cameras, microphones, equipment bags, and the like. Go over this floor plan with the officiant or church coordinator and make sure it's within the rules of the church or other venue (more on that later). Also go over the floor plan with the bride and groom. Make sure they are comfortable with where you want and need to be.

TEAM EFFORT

Additionally, attending the rehearsal allows you the opportunity to get to know the players—namely, the officiant and church staff and the wedding party and family. Once you have the floor plan approved, you should get the wedding party together and let them know who you are and what you will be doing. Make sure you also let them know what you expect from them, e.g., "Don't look directly at the camera!"

Build a rapport with them. Put them at ease. Ask, "Who's the Best man?" Tell them you want to chat with the Maid of Honor, and ask, "Who is she?" As you survey the wedding party, your next question might be, "Okay, now who is the class clown of the group—the joker?" If no one says so explicitly, you should be able to figure it out from watching the group interact. Single out the one you're looking for and say, "Yeah, I saw something in your eye. I'm gonna be watchin' you."

These aren't hard and fast rules, but identifying the major players one way or another at the rehearsal is important to covering the ceremony effectively. Do whatever works for you. Besides making the group familiar to you, this also lets people know that you aren't some prima donna ogre coming in to boss them around and make their life a living hell. You want them relaxed and comfortable with you and (more importantly) in front of your camera.

Next, pull the Best Man and Maid of Honor aside and ask them if they are planning any surprises for the bride and groom during the course of the day. For example, Best Men have been known to "lose" the rings, with a cascade effect of the groomsmen searching their pockets for them . . . Fun shot if you can get it. Better shot if you are ready for it.

The rehearsal is held for a reason. You plan the work—you work the plan.

We've seen ceremony coverage go seriously awry, and almost 100% of the time it's because of someone who wasn't at the rehearsal. From the photographer who's not aware of something special happening scrambling to cover and ruining your shot to the ever-dependable florist who put a 10-foot-tall arrangement between your primary camera and the bride, or even an officiant who has decided to change the position of the players on the fly—when people don't learn their cues at the rehearsal and stick to them at the ceremony, things go wrong and the work inevitably suffers.

Back at the studio, make sure your batteries are charged and your gear is neatly packed. Test everything. Make sure it's in working order. Clean lenses. Pack extra tape and batteries. Pack chargers for emergency charging on location. Make sure you plan for Murphy to visit, his law in tow. Specific equipment needs are an article in and of themselves; we'll detail and explain your equipment inventory in a future installment.

GET THEE TO THE CHURCH ON TIME (OR EARLIER)

Allow yourself plenty of time to set up your cameras and audio equipment, as well as to get some of the exterior "B-roll" footage of the church we told you about in Part 2. Be sure that all of your equipment has fresh batteries. Scout the venue if you haven't already, testing the light and the acoustics. Make sure that your cameras are properly white-balanced, and that your audio levels are checked.

If you have any power or audio cables run, be sure to tape them down securely anywhere a guest could step over them. You don't want to have someone trip on one of your cables! And be sure to use gaffer's tape, available from any photographic or stage supply store. A word to the wise: duct tape is the worst thing you can even consider putting in your equipment bag.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The floor plan shown here is a diagram of a traditional church layout. You may find yourself shooting in a modern church, set up more like theater in the round, or in a much smaller church without some of these features. We'll use this diagram for purposes of discussion, but be aware that the individual venues you shoot in may force you to re-think your camera placements.

Your main camera should go at Position 1, 3, or 4 for the majority of the ceremony. Which position you use depends on the size of the sanctuary area, any restrictions the church has on camera placement, and the number and size of the decorations. Your goal is to get a clear shot of the bride and groom, positioning yourself so that your shot isn't blocked by a groomsman on your left or the officiant or his assistant on your right. This will be your main shot of the wedding vows.

If the church allows you to move, you might want to start with a camera at Position 5 for the processional. This will generally give you a better shot of the bride as she comes down the aisle. Then, as the processional ends, move to Position 2 by going to the back of the church, and back up the left aisle, being as unobtrusive and discreet as possible. On the way, stop a couple times to get 10 seconds from different vantage points.

Some churches won't allow you to operate a camera at any position inside the altar rail. If this is the case, ask if you can set up an unmanned camera at this location. Even better, you could get a remote control rig and control the camera from an unobtrusive location.

For the processional and recessional, a camera should be placed out in the nave, at Position 5 or 11. Position 5, nearer the front, gives you a better shot at the groom and his party, and may give a good angle if there is a unity candle-lighting ceremony.

Position 11, on the bride's side of the aisle and about halfway back, gives a better angle on the processional and recessional, and may also give a slightly better angle on the bride when she is turned to the groom to recite her vows.

Note that the altar camera positions (1-4) are on opposite sides of the "line of action"—the eyeline between the bride and groom—compared to the other camera positions in the nave and transepts. "Crossing the line" is generally a no-no in film and video, because of the confusion it can create (this is also known as the "180-degree rule"—i.e., you have that 180 degrees of a circle in which to maneuver, but go beyond that, and you've essentially repositioned everyone in your shot). In one shot, the bride is on the right of the screen. Then we cut to Camera 5, and suddenly she's on the left side of the screen! This is almost unavoidable in wedding work, because these are the best camera locations. You can greatly lessen the impact of "crossing the line" by making sure that the framing of your cameras' shots is significantly different. For example, your shot from the altar might be a medium closeup of the bride and groom, while the nave camera is on a full three-shot of the bride, the groom, and the officiant.

Of course, getting in the right position to shoot the action on the altar doesn't always guarantee a good shot, especially if your subjects act unpredictably. A collapsible whip antenna and a laser pointer can be your friends. You are on the front camera, shooting between the groom and the officiant for a great shot of the bride's face. All of a sudden the best man, behind the groom, decides he's going to sneak a peek around the right side of the groom (instead of the left), blocking your shot. What do you do? Well, short of an electric canine shock collar (which is always our first choice), if you're close enough, you can surreptitiously extend the antenna and tap him on the shoulder. If you're not close enough, well that's a job for your laser pointer. Target his back where the next groomsman will see it and make him move for you. The pointer can also be used to get the attention of the photographer who has camped out in the middle of your shot. Just fight the urge to make laser gun sounds while doing this.

Position 6 is a good place for a "roaming" camera during the entrance of the bridal party, especially if the rear door is strongly back-lit. Positions 8 and 9, in the transepts, are also good places for an additional camera, and may be especially useful if there is a reader podium or solo singer that is best seen from this angle. Positions 7 and 10, out in the narthex (or "lobby") can provide good opportunities for candid moments just before the bridal party's entrance. You can achieve a beautiful special effects shot here, using a stationary camcorder by dissolving from a shot of the empty narthex to a shot of the bride, just as she starts through the door.

The church may also have a balcony, usually across the rear of the nave. This may allow for actual guest seating, or may be solely for the organ and choir, but either way, a balcony provides an excellent location for an additional camera. Not only can you get close-ups of the choir, soloists, and instrumental performers, but you can get a beautiful high-angle "aerial" shot of the whole ceremony. Ideally, you want to be centered on the aisle, but you'll be fighting the photographer for this position as well.

An excellent compromise is to go to the right and frame your processional shot so the center aisle runs diagonally from lower left, to upper right of your screen. This composition makes the procession take on a subliminal feeling that the bride is climbing a hill to reach her goal.

For the recessional, it's just the opposite—downhill. Easy trek. Mission accomplished. (Yes. When composing your shots, you really should be thinking of these things. That's what separates the good and great from the average and pedestrian.) From here, with a long enough lens, you now have two angles on the bride's face as she faces the groom, instead of a flat profile shot down the center aisle.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

If you're covering an outdoor wedding, your positioning should be roughly similar to the suggestions we've discussed. The most common problem encountered when shooting an outdoor ceremony is too much light. The bride and groom may be strongly backlit by a low sun. If you can't position your cameras to avoid this, then make more of your shots closeups, filling as much of the frame as possible with your subjects. Expose for the subjects, and let the background be overexposed.

On the other hand, if the sun is high and the sky is clear, you may need to deal with very harsh and unflattering shadows. Hopefully, the wedding organizers will have some sort of canopy to shade the bridal party. Alternatively, you could possibly position a couple of reflectors to cast some fill light into the worst of the shadows. However, the wedding planners may not appreciate your decorating the scene to resemble a movie lot, and you may simply have to live with the existing conditions.

The other problem with outdoor weddings is weather. Make sure you know what the backup plan is in the event of rain, and be prepared for this alternative.

HONOR AND OBEY

Remember that you are (most likely) working in a place of worship, not your studio. As such, you do not get to make the rules. While some churches and synagogues may have overly strict rules, it's often because they've had bad experiences in the past with videographers who didn't respect the wishes of the church personnel or the sanctity of the venue and the occasion.

Be very sure that you don't spoil things for the videographers who follow you! If the church's restrictions are so onerous that they'll seriously compromise the video, try to get the bride and the officiant together in private to discuss the matter, and politely suggest some compromises.

We'll leave you here to work on your people skills to deal with draconian site restrictions, testy officiants, and churlish church coordinators. But we'll be back next month to talk about what to shoot and how to shoot it, how to get upscale audio coverage, and give you some other ceremony tips and tricks in Part 4.