Meet Bob and John.

Bob owns a camcorder; for that reason alone his best friend asked him to shoot his upcoming wedding. Not wanting to let his friend down, Bob responded “Sure, I’d love to do it.” And why not, Bob thought, how hard could it be?

The day of the wedding dawns. There’s Bob, video gear in hand, standing in the church on Confusion Street. Sure, he exercises good command of his camcorder and knows how to capture stable, eye-pleasing images; his audio experience, however, is limited.

Meanwhile, across town on Happyface Lane, John prepares to shoot a wedding as well. But the experienced John knows exactly what to do; he and his long-time partner complete their mike placements in record time. John even enjoys some free time to relax before the ceremony kicks off.

Back on Confusion Street, the ceremony is about to begin. Unfortunately, Bob is fumbling around trying to pick the best spot for his mike stand.

As John already knows and Bob is about to find out, there are dozens of potential mistakes a videomaker can make when recording audio for weddings. Without guidance, the beginner will usually make all of them. One way to learn about proper wedding audio recording: compare the typical mistakes of an amateur (Bob) to the savvy techniques of a pro (John).

The Eventful Morning

Before the wedding ceremony began, John appeared at the bride’s house to shoot her preparations for the big day. (His partner did the same at the groom’s house.) He recorded all of the audio with the built-in camcorder mike.

John knew that this was the simplest part of the day’s shooting. His plan: to mix music over most of the shots captured that morning. The audio John recorded with the built-in mike had a natural sound quality with good editing possibilities. The combination of music mixed over natural sound works well for him. And why not–it’s the standard for the wedding video industry. The simplest audio to record in the field, this technique allows for continuity in the scenes while using cut-aways to compress time.

Shooting the bride and groom getting ready is essential to a successful wedding video. Unfortunately, Bob spent his morning with his pals watching football at the local caf. It didn’t occur to him that he should shoot the bride or groom getting ready until the ceremony had almost started.

The Main Event

Not surprisingly, Bob wanders into the church after half the guests have arrived. Unfamiliar with this particular church, Bob has no “game plan” for shooting the ceremony. He’s asking himself the most rudimentary of questions, like “Where should I place the mike for the best possible sound?”

Bob sets up his mike stand next to the podium and trails his mike cable off to the side pews where he can sit and shoot. Bob may be lucky enough to capture usable sound from the pastor, groom and bride; but music or any other activity away from the podium will sound weak and tinny. To his horror, Bob’s mike setup becomes academic, anyway, when the pastor moves his mike stand out of the way moments before the ceremony.

Our professional videomaker, in contrast, visited the church a few days before the wedding and sketched a setup for the shoot. John even asked permission from the pastor to hook into the church P.A. system.

Because many churches have extremely limited budgets for sound hardware, some clergy may seem overly worried about damage to their church’s equipment.

But John knows his business; he assured the pastor that as a pro he would take care of the church’s gear.

After obtaining permission to use the P.A. system, John checked the equipment out. Most churches use P.A.-type mixers, which generally have a line level output. John found the output jack and looked closely at its line level connector.

Church P.A. mixers, especially in older churches, can have one of many possible output jacks: a 1/4-inch phone jack, an XLR 3-pin jack, an outdated screw-on mike jack or a RCA-type jack. (There are even some other possibilities, as John says, “the older, the odder.”) John wants to have the correct cable ready for the wedding.

Had the pastor refused to allow him access to the church’s equipment, John would have had two options. The first is a split input, where part of the signal is “stolen” from the pastor’s mike using a splitter at the point where the mike plugs into the floor (or board, or at any point where tapping is possible). The second: to tie a wireless lavalier onto the pastor’s podium mike, as close to the pastor’s mike as possible. Finally, if none of these options is available, John knows he could mike the P.A. speakers, but only as a last resort.


Wireless Worries

If the church provided no P.A. system at all, John would ask the pastor if he would wear a wireless lav. This is a common way to record the pastor giving the service; most clergy have experience wearing “a wire.”

John owns a wireless system with a range of 500 to 1000 feet. He knows that even in “adverse” conditions, these mikes will transmit safely at least 100 feet, and John plans his setup accordingly.

Traditionally, videomakers place the wireless lavalier on the groom. The groom’s dark tux effectively hides the mike and its associated wiring. The bride, because of her customary white gown, rarely wears a mike.

Some churches include a wireless lavalier for the clergy as part of the sound system. If that’s the case, John will check with the church’s audio person to determine the frequency of the church’s wireless system. John has suffered the embarrassing experience of listening with the whole congregation to derogatory comments of all types made by the unwitting groom in the bathroom and broadcast over the church P.A. system.

If the church system uses the same frequency as John’s system, John will provide the pastor with a hard-wired mike; he’ll also place a hard-wired mike on the podium. But these are emergency situations; John’s normal set up is a wireless on the groom and on the podium. John arrives early to mike those who’ll wear lavs; he’s determined which side the bride and groom will stand on, and moved the groom’s lav as close to the middle of the couple as possible.

Occasionally, John must shoot weddings where he’s unable to tap into the church’s P.A. system and the pastor refuses to wear a lapel mike. As a result, John clips the groom’s lav mike as far down on his lapel as possible. By moving the mike away from the groom’s dominating voice, John can raise the gain on the mike, achieving a better balance between the groom, the bride and the preacher. When the pastor does agrees to wear a lav, John will still mount the lav low on the groom’s lapel and as close to the bride as is feasible.

When mounting lavalier mikes to the groom and pastor, John gives them cheerful instructions not to play with the mike and to try to ignore the mike altogether. He also makes sure that the transmitting antenna wires lay straight up and down, not sideways or curled up into a ball of wire: this improves the mike’s transmission considerably. He then replaces the battery and makes sure that the transmitters are on. Fresh batteries will generally power a wireless lav far longer than most services run. Finally, John places a hard-wired condensor mike on a stand at the back of the hall facing toward the service, to record ambient sound.

Who’s in Control

While Bob stands there as the organ begins to play, trying to figure out where his mike stand went, John cables the wireless receiver outputs into a small portable mixer which features a mix of line-level and mike-level inputs. He has two wireless line-level inputs from the groom and pastor, and the mike-level input from his ambient mike. Finally, a mike-level input from a hard-wired unidirectional mike on a stand will capture any music performed during the ceremony.

John mounts the mixer to his tripod low enough to avoid any radio frequency emissions that can radiate from his camcorder. The last thing John considers: setting levels. But he has a copy of the program, so he knows about when each person will speak. He starts each mike input at the “mid” setting, which he’ll adjust as necessary during the ceremony.

There are several portable mixers with automatic level control on the market; John, the consummate professional, plans to purchase one as soon as possible.

Off to the Reception

Over on Confusion Street, Bob starts packing up for the reception. He spots his mike cable lying on the ground. Turns out the cable from his cheap dynamic mike has slipped out of the external mike input. Oops. Because he did not bring earphones to check the sound, Bob has no idea what he just recorded.

John, in contrast, walks to his car confident of what’s on tape. John learned a long time ago to never go to a shoot without earphones to monitor the audio. He automatically assumes that if he’s not getting audio in his earphones, something’s wrong.

Bob packs up his gear with a shrug, following the wedding procession to the reception site. But first, there’s the traditional stop off for photographs. Suddenly, it occurs to Bob that he should pull out his camcorder and shoot some of the photo session. Unfortunately, Bob manages to annoy the photographer; they both spent more time arguing then shooting.

Back at Happyface Lane, however, there are no flaring tempers. John sent his assistant ahead before the wedding ceremony came to a close. His assistant captured shots of the limo arriving at both the outdoor photo spot and the reception site.

John does most of his outdoor shooting with a directional condenser mike, mounted on his camcorder. This mike can pick out conversations in whichever direction John points the camera. John knows he can use the built-in camcorder mike as a backup if the external mike fails.


Shooting the Reception

At both wedding receptions, Bob and John each plan to capture the important events: close-up interviews with the wedding party, major speeches, the bride and groom dancing, cake cutting, the garter throwing and so on.

You can do most of this with the camcorder’s built-in mike; that’s exactly what Bob does. He launches right into his reception shots trusting the camcorder mike to catch all the audio. It does just that, recording every last noise, laugh and creaking chair with aplomb.

Because most camcorder mikes are omnidirectional, they pick up sound from all directions equally. This is fine for some events, like limo arrivals, garter throws and dances. However, this “catch-all” nature of camcorder mikes usually records washed out voices during interviews or conversations. Throw in a band, and you virtually guarantee unintelligible audio. Like Bob’s.

Now to be fair, John also uses his camcorder mike a lot during receptions. But when he’s shooting interviews, he’ll generally escort the individual(s) outside, where quiet prevails.

For some interviews, John switches to his camcorder-mounted unidirectional mike (favors sound coming from directly in front). John may even ask the interviewee to wear a lapel mike, if necessary. Of course, he bases his decisions on what he hears through his earphones. John will also switch to the camcorder-mounted directional mike to pick up speeches. Or, if he has time, he’ll mount a mike on a stand near the podium.

Wanted: New Best Friend

John consistently captures good audio which needs little editing or fixing in post production.

He knows before he leaves the reception that he has not only good images, but clean audio as well.

Things aren’t so rosy over on Confusion Street, however.

Bob managed to trip the pastor with a mike cable during the ceremony; later during the reception he pulled over a table trying to snare a special shot at the reception.

The bride and groom might have overlooked these mishaps, had he ended up with good audio.

However, as you might guess, Bob produced very little usable audio.

In fact, there goes Bob now…running away from the reception…chased by his ex-best friend.

Doug Polk is Videomaker‘s technical editor. Send e-mail to 71161, 1722@cserve.com.

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