Echoes From the Backyard
Posted Sep 8, 2004

Dear DJ,
I've been shooting weddings with two cameras: one up front, and one in the balcony. I'm thinking I can expand coverage by adding a third camera but I'm not sure about placement. I don't want to be obtrusive. What's the best camera placement? Ménage a tripod

Dear Tripod,
The "best" placement is wherever you get the best shot at the best moment. Usually this would involve moving the camera in the middle of the ceremony and unless you A) have a really cool officiant and/or B) are doing an outdoor ceremony, then chances are that you are stuck to fixed positions.

News Flash: The processional and the recessional are not part of the ceremony!

I point this out because most churches and other venues restrict movement during the ceremony. If you move only during the processional or recessional, you'll usually be okay.

Looking at Figure 1, I've illustrated a typical three-camera set-up that I use.

Camera 1 has three positions. 1C is the fixed, on-tripod position for the ceremony. 1A and 1B are handheld (or monopod) positions to capture the processional. 1A and 1B require the operator to move to 1C when the bride is 3/4 to 4/5 of the way down the aisle. 1A and 1B are definitely negotiated positions. In other words, you'll likely need to get permission first. Camera 1's primary subject is the bride, with the officiant, guests, wedding party, and readers being secondary objectives. 1C is forward of the bride and groom's position because for 90 percent of the ceremony they will be facing forward. Occasionally, you will get a ceremony where the bride and groom will face the congregation during the vows. In such a situation, you may consider placing 1C in a mirrored position to 2B.

Camera 2 also has multiple positions, but is typically not a negotiated position. After all, photographers have been in the aisle for the processional for years. 2A is for the procession. It can also be used to get a quick reaction shot of the groom. Pivot, and follow the bride as she passes, maybe panning down and capturing the detail in her train. Camera 3 will pick up the end of the procession to allow Camera 2 to move.

Camera 2 will move to the back, across the left, and back up front to a waiting tripod at 2B. From here, Camera 2 is primarily responsible for the Groom and parents with readers, officiant, soloists, and guests being secondary responsibilities.

Yes, we are crossing the center plane. Sadly, it's unavoidable. Yes, 2 will be in 1's shot. But, if 1 is doing its job and staying tight on its subjects, you will never see Camera 2.

Camera 3 is the shot from the balcony, if available. Primary responsibilities are as follows: Wide shots, full shots, 5 shots, 3 shots, and 2 shots. Also, readers and officiant as well as the soloist and musicians, depending on position.

Camera 3 is slightly to the right of center, allowing room for the photographer to get some nice shots. This is advantageous in two ways. First, it helps the photographer to not hate you immediately (what fun would the reception be otherwise?) and it gives you more of a complementary angle of the bride's face during the vows. See…That's me…Allllways thinkin'! But don't tell the photographers. You want them to think you were just being accommodating.

In the event that a balcony is not available, Camera 3 starts off to the right of center aisle, or better yet, out in the vestibule to capture the bride and her father's reaction seconds before entering. Then, during the ceremony, either maintain off-to-the-right position or reposition to a center shot looking down the aisle—just remember that the photographer is going to want shots from that angle as well. Don't be a hog.

Developing a better working relationship with photogs is a subject for a later installment.

And remember: two-way wireless communication is essential during a multiple camera shoot. For example, Camera 2 cannot move from 2A to 2B unless Cameras 1 and/or 3 have a shot.

Well, my editors are upset with me already. I've only got room for one question this month. I'll just have to remember in the future to avoid answers that require a chalkboard.

In the coming months we'll be taking a look at wireless audio, copyrights, interview techniques, and a whole lot more, so keep the cards and letters coming!