The Upscale Wedding Video, Part 4: Ceremony Tips and Tricks
Posted Sep 8, 2005

Part 4 of our series on producing upscale wedding videos, we'll follow up Part 3's overview of ceremony production by exploring tips and techniques that will get you the outstanding footage and audio your upscale productions require. We'll show you where and how to position microphones, how to communicate effectively with your camera operators, how to re-enact key moments of the ceremony to get stellar shots you might have missed, and how to do a live-switched wedding shoot.

Welcome back to our series on producing upscale wedding video. Last month, in Part 3, we covered all the major elements of the wedding ceremony and the approaches you'll need to take to elevate your work to "upscale" level. This month, we're going to talk about lots of tips and tricks for getting outstanding ceremony footage and audio. Let's go!

Get The Word
One of the basic tenets of upscale wedding production is the use of multiple cameras—preferably two or three, possibly more. You should be using not only multiple cameras, but multiple audio sources, as well. For one thing, it's vital to have a backup in case something happens to your primary audio source. For another, to get the best results, you usually need to place microphones in several widely separated locations. Besides placing a lavaliere mic on the groom, other useful locations include the following:
• The officiant (or a second backup mic on the groom), to ensure coverage of the vows
• A small mic hidden in a flower arrangement at the altar or the altar rail, for the same purpose
• The preacher's pulpit
• The reader's lectern
• The choir loft
• The church's soundboard

You can capture the audio from these microphones by using wireless mics and recording directly to your camcorders, or by using MiniDisc recorders or MP3 solid-state recorders. Or of course, you can hardwire the mics to your camcorder, although this will increase setup and teardown time and limit your mobility.

A note on capturing top-quality audio for outdoor weddings: Even a gentle breeze can produce a surprising amount of low-frequency wind rumble in your microphones. Make sure that your mics have wind screens on them. The long-haired "furry" ones work much better than ordinary foam, and you can get these for lavalieres as well as for your larger mics.

Like a Rock
Most, if not all, of your cameras should be on tripods for the ceremony. If you have any "roaming" cameras, they should be equipped with monopods to provide the steadiest shots possible. Handholding a camcorder for an entire ceremony (especially a Catholic one!) quickly ceases to be fun and soon becomes agonizing torture.

Communication without Aggravation
The upscale wedding typically involves more than one camera operator. There are exceptions, but more often than not, you will have at least one camera operator besides yourself, which brings up the question of how you will communicate with your crew.

Some teams simply have a prearranged script of who's going to be on what shot throughout the ceremony. Others have a policy that an operator does not change her shot if her teammate has his hands on his camera. Some use a system of hand signals. These are all good ideas, and certainly should be included in your bag of tricks.

The most reliable approach, however, uses some form of radio communication. The Family Radio Service (FRS) walkie-talkies can work well. However, they have two drawbacks. First, they are simplex. That is, only one person can talk at a time, and you can't break into a conversation. Second, it's awkward (and looks funny) to wear both a set of radio earphones and a set of headphones to monitor your camera audio.

One alternative is to use an ear bud with a PTT (Push To Talk) mic on your lapel. You can also use a set of full-duplex radios made especially for production crew communications, with custom headsets that let you plug one ear into your camera, and leave the other free to listen to your partner.

Whatever you do, don't use your cell phone. In fact, turn it off entirely. Cell phones can produce interference that will mess up the recorded video from your camcorder. Also—and this may be the same cause and effect—some cameras utilize electronic image stabilization, which can be affected by FRS walkie-talkies. Disabling image stabilization when you are on a tripod will make this a non-issue. If that's not possible, such as in the case of handheld coverage, route the earpiece, mic, and radio on the left side of your body. This will not eliminate interference, but it can help to minimize it.

Roll 'Em
A few minutes before the ceremony starts, roll all your cameras, and keep them rolling until the end. You may want to provide a "sync mark" for ease in editing, by setting off a photo flash where all the cameras can see it. Quite often, you can simply use any one of the photographer's flashes during the processional and recessional.

While waiting for the bridal party to enter, get some shots of guests being seated. Be alert for the entrance of the groom's party and the officiant; they usually come in from an entrance at the front of the church, between Positions 1 and 9, as shown in the traditional church setup diagram.

Be aware that everyone is probably going to stand up when the bride starts her procession (technically, they are not supposed to stand unless the bride's mother does, but people are sheep . . . they'll do it anyway). Take this into account when positioning your cameras. During the procession, don't make every shot a full pan. Let each bridesmaid walk out of frame as she approaches the camera, then snap-pan back to catch the next one.

Without question, the procession, vows, and kiss are your three most important shots. Besides those key moments, be sure to get these as well:
• The exchange of rings. Depending on your positioning, you may not have a good close-up shot of this. If necessary, the close-up can be re-created after the ceremony. A unity candle is another candidate for a re-enactment, allowing you to get camera angles impossible during the actual ceremony, such as over the shoulders of the bride and groom.
• Reaction shots of the bride and groom's families. You may want to try a depth-of-field transition for shots like this. If you can get both subjects in frame, gently shift focus from the subject in the foreground to the subject in the background, or vice versa. This is easier with a camera that has a true manual focus ring.
• The readings
• Any musical solos, especially by friends or relatives
• Signing of the marriage license. This could occur either before or after the actual ceremony . . . another good reason to attend the rehearsal.
• Other "in-camera" effects shots, such as a reveal shot created by moving smoothly from the bride's veil to her face. If there is Holy Communion, you may wish to edit it for length. Other parts of the ceremony can also be edited for length without losing the story of the day—for example, a musical solo with five verses can be cut to two; a long homily by the officiant can be edited while still highlighting the main points.

During the recessional, the back camera becomes your primary shot. If you pre-arrange it during the rehearsal, you can have the bride and groom stop just before they reach that camera for a quick kiss.

After Shots
Have one of your cameras outside the church to catch the exit of the bride and groom. Military weddings often provide an "arch of swords" for the couple to pass through, which should not be missed. You'll also want to get a shot of the couple boarding the limo or carriage for the reception.

Immediately after the ceremony, your assistants can start tearing down equipment and loading up the van, while you might try to get some coverage of the photographer's formal shoot. Note that some photographers object to video of their formal poses; be courteous and respect their wishes, but at the same time you should remember that you work for the bride and groom, not the photographer.

Pulling the photographer aside, simply say something along the lines of "Hey . . . I need to get my beauty shots, too. We can either work together or work separately. If we work together we all win. If we work separately, it's only going to slow the day down." Don't believe everything you read online. Not all photographers are prima donnas.

This is also a good time to do some re-enactments. Sometimes, you don't have the right camera angle to get the best shot of an important scene, or you just don't have a camera available to cover it at the moment it takes place. Once in a while, a technical glitch will ruin a critical shot. In these cases, a re-enactment can either save the day, or can work to enhance the quality of your final production.

Some videographers never do reenactments. They feel that their clients want them to capture the day as it really happened, not create a staged Hollywood production. Others avoid them because the bride and groom already have so many demands on their time that they're reluctant to impose. There is some merit in both of these views, but I feel that re-enactments, if they aren't overdone, are an acceptable practice. I will discuss the possibility of doing one or two "staged shots" with the couple prior to the wedding, but just in a general sense: "Most of our coverage will be completely candid and unrehearsed. But if I see an opportunity for a couple of short, staged shots, I'll ask you about them, and we can do them if you feel up to it and have the time to spare, OK?"

Usually, the couple has no objection. I did have one couple turn down my suggestion for a staged dance "down by the lake" and away from their reception guests; they didn't want to leave the party. If your couple has done a Love Story shoot with you prior to the wedding, they're already used to what's involved in staged shots, and will probably be more willing to do them.

Often, the best time to do these is right after the photographer completes a formal set of poses. Organize them so that they can be set up and shot quickly and with minimal direction to the participants. Here are some that we've done, or seen others use:
• Close-up hand shot of ring exchange
• Close-up hand shot, with rings, bride's hand over groom's (this can be a shot taken on the fly from the photographer's setup)
• Bride and groom kiss, silhouetted against sunset
• Best man pretending to search pockets for the ring, groom standing by looking more and more concerned
• Best man and groom checking watches
• Best man straightening groom's lapel or boutonniere
• Groom kneeling at altar. Closeup on soles of groom's shoes, on which some joker has written "HELP ME"
• Voiceover recital of vows, due to audio failure
• Re-enactment of cake-cutting and/or bride and groom feeding each other cake, due to missed shot (crowding, jostling guests)
• Groom (or best man) drinking champagne from bride's slipper (missed shot due to camera being elsewhere at the time)
• Unity candle lighting (floral arrangements blocked shot)

Switching Gears
Before we wrap things up, let's discuss one very different approach to ceremony coverage: the live-switched shoot. For this method, you need a video switcher, a small bank of monitors, a lot of cables, a good VTR, and a very accommodating church. Setup and teardown take considerably longer, and you may need a slightly bigger crew and a better intercom system. There are, however, some advantages, such as the following:
• You can plan and set up your shots in advance for maximum storytelling and drama: We are on Camera 1, a two-shot of the couple at the start of the vows. Director: "Camera 3, go close-up on the mother of the bride. Take Camera 3. Camera 1, close-up on the bride. Take Camera 1. Camera 2, give me a three-shot of the wedding party," etc.
• Your time in editing is greatly reduced.
• You have a back-up in case of head clogs, either in a camera or in the VTR.

You can also do what is termed the pseudo-live switch. Setup at the church is similar to a live switch except there is no switcher, and no cables are laid. The director sits in front of a monitor bank (perhaps a single monitor with four pictures on it) receiving images from the cameras via wireless video transmitters. This eliminates the cable runs.

The director calls the shoot as if it were live-switched, recording his or her directions onto a spare audio track of one of the cameras. In post, the editor simply follows the directions from this audio track using any of the multiple-camera options currently available in NLEs (Final Cut Pro, Liquid Edition, and Xpress Pro have native multi-camera capabilities; Premiere Pro and Vegas get the job done through readily available plug-ins).

Calling the Shots
Trusting directors may eliminate the monitors altogether and rely on communication from their crews, envisioning the shots in their heads. The dialogue might go as follows:

Director: "Camera 1 close-up of the bride."

Camera 1: "Head and shoulders close-up of bride—set."

Director: "Take 1—1 is live. Camera 2 medium three-shot. Camera 3 close-up of the groom."

Camera 2: "Medium three-shot from the waist—set."

Camera 3: "Head and shoulders of groom—set."

Director: "Take 3—Camera 1 stay on your shot. Take 2 . . . Take 1. Camera 2 go back to neutral shot."

Camera 2: "Full shot of wedding party—set." Director: "Camera 4 set up on the podium for the reader shot. Camera 3, follow the reader into position when they move. Take 2—Camera 2 is live."

Camera 4: "Shot of podium—set. Here comes the reader."

Camera 3: "Follow shot of reader—got it."

Director: "Take 3. Camera 2 safety shot of reader and podium."

Camera 4: "Reader has entered shot. I have the shot."

Camera 2: "Safety shot set."

Director: "Take 4. Camera 1, since the groom has turned to face the reader, give me a two-shot."

Camera 1: "Two-shot from the waist—set."

Director: "Take 2. Camera 2 is live."

Camera 3: "My reader shot is compromised—going to family shot. Family shot set."

Director: "Take 1. Camera 4, slow close pan of wedding party from left to right, ending on reader shot. Let me know when you are ready to begin. Take 3."

Camera 4: "Begin pan shot in 3, 2 . . . Take 4 . . . Stand by 1. Comin' back to you. Camera 3 you can freelance for a bit after we go to 1."

As you can see, it takes concentration and a certain level of moxie to pull it off, but it can be done, and the results can turn out much better than just letting several cameras roll and freelancing all the time.

That just about wraps it up for the ceremony. Obviously, we've focused on church ceremonies, with a slight tilt towards the Catholic flavor. But there isn't anything here that cannot be adapted for other faiths and circumstances.

Remember, attending the rehearsal is the best tool you have for planning and executing a successful production. Plan the work—work the plan And with that, we'll leave you here, heaving a big sigh of relief, and see you with our next installment, the Reception