The Reel Deal: Let There Be Light
Posted Dec 7, 2006

During my initial meeting with potential brides, they sometimes bring up the issue of lights. The biggest complaint I get from brides is that they "don't want a bright light in anyone's face" at the wedding. They are relieved when I tell them I don't use any on-camera lights. In fact, it's a selling feature that works quite well for me. I don't like video lights pointed at me, so I'm not comfortable pointing them at someone else. By not using lights on the camera, I can be much less obtrusive when I'm doing my job.

When it comes to the use of additional lighting at a wedding, we all have our preferences. There are so many different lights, styles, and brands to choose from! Some videographers use on-camera lights, some use lighting kits, and some don't use any lights at all. I am not suggesting that anyone's way is right or wrong. The important thing is to make sure our clients (and even the other wedding vendors) understand our lighting needs during the taping of a wedding. This is especially true when videotaping in darker reception halls.

I remember when I was shooting with the Panasonic S-VHS AG450 back in the 1990s and how much light I needed to get a good picture. The Sony VX1000 was an improvement. When I bought a Sony PD150 and VX2000, I was blown away by how great the cameras fared in low light. I have had these cameras for more than five years, and to be honest, I'm in no hurry to update them.

I may get criticized for the statement I'm about to make, but I don't plan to go high-def until they make HD cameras in my price range that perform better in low light. If I videotaped only outdoor events, I would already own an HD camera. The quality is fabulous in natural light; however, in low-light situations, it's not as good as my current cameras. I spent years waiting for cameras to work better in low light, and purchasing a camera that is a step back in low light isn't an investment I want to make.

Hands down, lighting is my biggest issue at a wedding reception. I try to avoid the use of additional lighting and will use the least amount of supplementary light necessary. Part of the agreement that all my clients sign reads as follows: "Unless Kris is given control of the lighting, Elegant Videos by Kris is not responsible for lighting conditions beyond her control." Having said that, I never leave the lighting up to chance. I always talk to the banquet manager or wedding coordinator when I arrive at the hall. We discuss lighting and how to set the lights for the evening.

Let me emphasize again that I use the least amount of light necessary to get a quality picture, yet maintain the ambience of the event. Those who shoot with the Sony PD and VX series know how great these cameras are in low light. Sometimes I repeat my lighting needs to the DJ or band, just to make sure we're all on the same page. Usually it's not an issue, but all it takes is one person to disagree with you to render your footage unusable. It's important that your bride and groom understand your lighting needs and agree with them. During one job, a DJ and I were discussing lighting and he said he wanted the lights off. He approached the bride to settle the dispute. I overheard the bride say to him, "For what I paid for the video, she gets to have the lights any way she wants."

In case I need it, I set up a standalone Lowel Rifa-Lite next to the band or DJ speakers. It blends in with their equipment. I attach a dimmer switch (custom-made by Sunrise Video Productions in Olmsted Falls, Ohio) to it, and it comes with a remote control so I can control the lighting from across the room, if necessary. So far this wedding season, I've had to use this light only once. The umbrella-style, diffused, dimmable, soft-box light gives off a nice, ambient light on the dance floor. While the light kit is an extra case to carry, I personally prefer this type of lighting over the more direct on-camera light (though I have an on-camera light in my bag just in case).

Why is it that some DJs, banquet managers, and others like the lights off? Having the lights off can be a safety issue especially if you have elderly people, pregnant women, or young children as guests. If the dance floor is packed with people dancing, why should lighting be an issue? If the DJ brings his or her own light show, then I probably don't need to use additional lighting. Photos and video will turn out better if you have decent lighting. I've videotaped afternoon tent weddings with the bright sun shining. The guests were still dancing and having a great timeā€”all you need is good friends, good music, and an open bar!

Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Don't let other wedding vendors dictate the quality of your video. State clearly what you need to produce the video they paid for. Being a professional means providing your client with a high-quality video that is not grainy or dark. Lighting is important to the overall quality of the video, and you need to find the best way to provide that to your client. Though I prefer to use ambient room light over video lights, I always have off- and on-camera lighting on-hand to use whenever necessary. Let there be light, and let the light be good!