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Shots To Flatter Any Bride: Camera Angles, Depth of Field and Good Light

Shot of a bride standing by a window.

Wedding videography and, indeed, many of the jobs that deal with a couple's very special day, are some of the toughest assignments in the world.

Wedding videos can be very lucrative and rewarding, if you do it right, but disastrous if you do it wrong. A good wedding videographer is prepared going in, has spent weeks going over things with the bride and groom (and very often their parents), has a working, or even intimate knowledge of the venue, what the lighting is like, where the outlets are, has the phone numbers of important people on speed dial, and is waiting eagerly to begin. One of the things that help you become a good videographer, one of the most important, is having the skills in your toolbox to deal with common problems without thinking about it. A good videographer walks into a room and immediately, like James Bond with a Panasonic AG-HMC150, knows where the good light is, where the problem light is, identifies good camera angles, tripping hazards, and locates the most important people in the room.

What we're going to talk about today are some flattering shots for wedding videography that will make any bride happy. We'll be looking at depth of field, lighting and camera angles. The great thing about these techniques is that they'll work in other scenarios, too. 

Cameras

With the advent of DSLRs that shoot video from companies like Canon and Nikon, and lenses with very wide apertures traditionally reserved for 35mm movie cameras, wedding videography took on a new meaning. Shooting wide open with a fast “normal” lens, like the venerable 50mm f/1.8 will give you a beautiful motion-picture look with soft out of focus areas and using great camera angles will deliver an exciting wedding video. Shooting high definition can reveal makeup imperfections, lipstick smudges, pet hairs on clothes and a host of other distractions. Standard definition is a lot more forgiving but you can't upsample your footage and turn SD into HD. If you have an HD camera, shoot in HD and you can always show samples of both and offer the couple a lower resolution final product. Using a shallow depth of field and a variety of camera angles can help make your wedding video look like a movie. 

Contrast

Wedding videography often contains lots of contrasting lights and darks, black tuxedos and white dresses that reach both ends of your histogram. Is this something you should worry about? Not so much says Chris Williams, a wedding professional who divides his time between Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, who tells us that wedding video technology has changed a lot since he started, 15 years and 450 weddings ago.

When digital was new, you had to nail the exposure because if it was too light, it would be too washed out and you couldn’t recover the highlights. If it was too dark, you could not recover the shadow details. Digital has improved drastically over the past ten years and as good as camera sensors are today, you have a great deal of latitude. Balancing light is the key to proper exposure. This can be obtained with lighting that is existing in the scene and with bringing in lighting, whether on camera or off camera or a combination of the two.

Shot of a bridal couple coming out of a church.
Video that's too dark can be brightened a little in post, but video that's “blown,” meaning the whites have lost all their detail, can’t be brought back. So if in a pinch, it's typically best to under, rather than over, expose. It's ok to occasionally blow some highlights – remember, the bride’s bouquet or the groom's collar are always less important than their faces. 

 

I want to look like a magazine cover

A wedding is a collaboration of talented people working together to celebrate two others. Everybody wants to look wonderful on their wedding day and the videographer is just one in a long line of people who get to help make that happen. With lots of time going into preparing people for the screen, details like makeup can help both men and women.

Wedding magazines hire the best makeup artists, the best dress designers, the best photographers and retouchers and, of course, professional models. They provide what some people see as a blueprint, what others see as a list of ideas and possibilities, and which still other people ignore completely. Your job is to document the work of many of the people who have come before you – the makeup artist, the dress designer, the florist and many others. How much your couple wants their wedding to look like one from a magazine is something you should know long before you get there. The makeup artist will do their best to cover up moles, scars, birthmarks and acne that the bride wants covered up. But occasionally someone will see footage of themselves and wish they'd done more. There are some things you can do to further smooth out skin.

  • Soft light: Strong directional light creates sharp shadows which accentuate the surface of the skin. Softening the light diffuses the shadows and makes skin appear smoother. You can achieve this in a number of ways: using window light, using a softbox, or even bouncing hot lights off of a wall or ceiling.
  • Camera filters: You can soften the image that you record by putting a soft focus filter on the front of your camera. You can buy a commercial filter, or use the old trick of stretching a nylon over the front of your lens.
  • Post-production: You can soften video in post, but you can't really sharpen it very well. So it’s often preferable to add softening in post. Plug-in Software like Beauty Box by Digital Anarchy and Skin Touch Up by NewBlue will soften skin while attempting to keep other things sharp.

Having a “do and do not film” list can help you figure out whether or not you should dive in and “fix” people. Many people are torn between wanting what some may call “imperfections” erased or not.

“I have a scar from skin cancer surgery that I hid for years under bangs,” says actress Kelli Biggs, “The last time I had headshots done, the photographer sent back proofs with my scar erased. I asked him to put it back, since it is what I really look like. It seemed false to take it away.”

“I kick and scream too much about retouching, but I always want the scar on my face removed. I'm a hypocrite,” says bride Terri Carr who was left with a scar on her upper lip after an automobile accident.

Where does this leave the videographer? Stick to your personal style advises Chris Williams. “I try to show people looking as real as possible,” says Chris Williams, “If a bride wants to look like she stepped out of a bridal magazine, I am going to refer her to someone else. The brides that hire me tend to appreciate real moments and emotion over looking photoshopped perfect.”

The wedding planner, the makeup artist and the hair stylist are your allies. Your job is to show off what they do and their job is to make it easier for you. 

Can you make people look thinner with camera angles?

Wedding videography forums are packed with horror stories of angry couples who thought they looked too large in their video and after reading them you may be inclined to employ some camera and editing techniques to hide peoples weight. Whether or not to do this is a very tricky subject.

"A wedding videographer has a unique opportunity to capture the delighted brides and grooms exactly as they are, rather than trying to guess how they wish they were,” says Debbie Notkin, a size acceptance activist and author of Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (photography by Laurie Toby Edison). “While this applies to dozens of things about how people look, it is especially important when you're dealing with weight. Everyone's definition of 'the right weight' or 'the becoming weight' varies; a videographer who assumes that a bride or groom wants to be thinner, and wants to be photographed thinner, is putting her or his own values of weight onto someone who may feel completely differently ... and that results in images that don't make the happy couple happy." Debbie blogs about body image with Laurie at Body Impolitic.

If you do want to slim people down there are a number of ways to do it with camera angles and lighting, from the classic “stomach in, chest out, shoulders back, chin up” posing technique to stretch people out, to shooting people from above where they naturally stretch out their chin to look at the camera, to extreme examples like those employed by director Francis Ford Coppola who discovered that the star of his film, Apocalypse Now, the legendary Marlon Brando, was much heavier than he had let on and was unable to pass as someone dying of malaria. Coppola shot Brando in deep shadows, dressed in black so that only parts of his face were visible and ultimately it worked. The low point of camera-slimming was probably the 1990 video for “All I Want to do is Make Love to You” by the band Heart, which attempts to disguise the singers weight with a number of tricks. While svelte Nancy Wilson is featured on-stage in full body shots, her sister Ann is cut in briefly and mixed in with a thinner look-alike who's featured in the storyline. Apart from using more traditional techniques such as only showing part of her face at a time and employing a hair style with a vertical component, Ann is shot at the wrong aspect ratio in an attempt to make her look thinner.

Wedding planning website theknot.com recommends that couples provide people doing wedding videography and photography with a list of “Don't Takes” in advance of the ceremony; from “don't get my sister's tattoo in any footage” or “don't show that I have a cast on my foot” to “I don't like wide angle close-ups; they make us look weird.” It's a great idea to also ask your couple for a list of must-have shots at the same time so that you don't miss important people or events. Texas bride Lindsay Tuggle likes this approach and suggests creating a safe place in consultation beforehand where couples can tell you what they want; “provide examples of techniques used with other couples so if they hear one they like but would be too embarrassed to request themselves, they can say so.”

Ultimately, let your video reel speak for you, show what you can do, let people tell you what they like. Don't be afraid to practice shots with friends beforehand to show what you can do. People will hire you, and trust you, based on your vision; be honest, be kind, and capture the moment.

“I was a large bride on my wedding day,” says Robin Douglas, a bride from Salt Lake City, “nobody offered the option to make me look slimmer and I never asked. When I look at my wedding … I don't see a large bride or a groom with a hair line in full retreat. I see two people who love each other and filled with joy as they embark on the adventure of a lifetime. You capture those feelings, and nothing else matters.” 

Finding Great Light, Avoiding Bad Light

Available light can be a big variable and it's something you should figure out before you get to the venue. Typically you'll have some time set aside with the couple to shoot them alone, often to be set to a song picked by them. 

Shot of a woman sitting on a couch, illuminated by soft window light.
Choose a space for this with great light, and for this you can't beat window light, find a room with an attractive look and some large windows, set your levels for your couple's faces. Consider shooting some slow-motion as well, if you have the option with a camera like JVC's GY-HM70U. The HM70U's resolution for slow-motion at 300fps is 720x480 which means you'll have to upscale it during the editing process, so use it sparingly. It can also do 1080p at 60 frames per second, which may be enough for you to extend emotions from a captured moment. Do a variety of shots with both deep and shallow depth of field to give yourself more options in the editing room.

If window light isn't available, you can bring your own LEDs or old-school hot lights. Resist the urge to use direct light on anybody, instead, put it through the largest modifier you can. With the right light modifier you can make your own window light even when the sun is down. Things to avoid are directional overhead lights, lights with mixed color signatures and very strong directional light. For some part of your day it's likely that there will be bad light that you can't control and here you'll just have to deal with it. And nobody wants brightly lit video of themselves doing the hokey pokey at the reception after four glasses of wine. A camcorder with good low light capabilities like Sony's HDR-PJ790V will get you decent footage in bad lighting conditions. 

Dark Skin, Bright Dress

Do you need to worry about balancing light skin and dark clothes or dark skin and light clothes? No, Williams points out, your camera's exposure latitude can handle it. If you light it correctly, you can make dark versus light work well together.

“When you have a wedding situation with extremes - black tuxedo and white dress or dark skin and white dress, the first thing I know I need to do is make sure there is light behind the subject and the proper light in front of the subject. I look at the background and make sure that there is separation between the subject and the background so the details do not get lost.”

Shot of a bride and groom smiling at each other.
As always, remember while the dress is a key player in a wedding video, the people are the stars: Make sure faces are properly exposed. 

Conclusion

Having someone's wedding memories in your hands is an awesome responsibility. Mastering a few different techniques and learning to find good light and adapt on the fly are crucial skills to performing this job well. Look at every challenge as an opportunity to add to your portfolio. Remember to be kind, and have a great time.

 

Contributing editor Kyle Cassidy is a visual artist who lives in Philadelphia with his wife and cats.

Tags:  April 2013
Kyle
Cassidy
Wed, 02/12/2014 - 1:15pm

Comments

allenjay2006's picture

I really want to thank you for this article...for upcoming wedding videographers like me, this is a very crucial topic. Thank you.