The Wedding Biz

A guide to starting a wedding video business.

So you want to capture weddings on video? With the growing popularity of wedding videography and the affordability of professional video equipment, running a wedding video production business is very attainable and can be very lucrative. For years, the mention of the words “wedding video” brought flashbacks of Uncle Steve’s shaky camera work at the family wedding. But in recent years, as videographers have raised the standard, the wedding video is being seen in a new light. Though wedding videography is gaining much popularity, it’s still a wide open field, and in this article you will find everything you need to get started and avoid getting sidetracked from the path to success.

Getting the Gear

Choosing your equipment is a vital part of starting your business. You don’t want to come up short and crash before you take off. You also don’t want to go overboard and end up with unnecessary equipment and a bunch of debt.
A 3-CCD camcorder is a must. You don’t have to go all out, but you definitely want a broadcast quality camera. Remember, we’re trying to get away from the bad wedding video image. High Definition is also a good option to have in your arsenal. Most clients won’t have the ability or need for it yet, but it’s better to be ready for it when they do. Plus, it looks great on the brochure. Also look for good low light performance. Most weddings are dimly lit, and sometimes even downright dark. You want your clients to see what is going on, and night vision is never an option.

Shoulder-mounted cameras and handheld cameras both have advantages and disadvantages. A shoulder-mounted camera is very handy for getting stable shots; it’ll also save your back after a long day of shooting by distributing the weight. But a handheld camera is less obtrusive and more portable. It really comes down to personal preference. If you use two cams, they should be of the same model, or at least in the same brand and family. There will be a noticeable difference between two cameras from different manufacturers.
Sound does matter. The audio you record is important, so don’t be cheap. XLR audio inputs on your camera will make your life a lot easier. A good wireless microphone is perfect for placing in select areas to pick up clear audio while giving you the freedom to move around for the best shot. When choosing a microphone, make sure you get one with a tunable frequency so you never have to worry about interfering with the DJ. Also, an omni-directional mic (wide pick-up pattern) will give you flexibility over a cardioid mic (narrow pick-up pattern). And, don’t forget your headphones.

A sturdy, lightweight tripod is also a must. Nothing makes a wedding video look amateur faster than shaky camera work. A lightweight tripod with a fluid head will allow you to move around while maintaining stable shots and smooth pans and tilts.

Since most wedding receptions also tend to be dimly lit, a camera-mounted light comes in very handy – especially on the dance floor. It also lets people know where you are so you don’t get knocked over by an overzealous dancer. Don’t let your video look cheap by introducing gain noise or dark footage, get a light.

Get Legal

Every reputable business has a business license. They generally don’t cost that much and are easy to get. It will make your clients feel more comfortable knowing that they are dealing with a licensed professional.

Another must for every professional videographer is a legitimate sales contract. You don’t need to hire an attorney to make up a contract. A simple statement of the services you are providing and a list of instances that you won’t be held responsible for is sufficient. If you need help figuring out what to say, a Google search for “wedding video contract” brings up many examples from other videographers, or check out mine at www.bluelabmedia.com/wedding_contract.pdf. You can also find contracts, invoices and other forms for sale on Videomaker‘s website).

Take a minute to read up and get ideas for your own now, and save yourself grief later. The very first wedding I did for an actual client, rather than a friend, I got stiffed. Since I didn’t have a contract to show proof of our agreement, it was tough luck for me.

Promoting Yourself

You’ve gotten everything together, now you need to start getting clients. There are all sorts of ways to get your name out there, and believe me you’ll have advertisers beating down your door and wanting you to advertise with their product soon enough. But they don’t all work. Print advertising and the phonebook are helpful in getting your name out to the community and making yourself known to the other wedding vendors, but they don’t seem to yield a lot of results. Your best bet is to get involved with other vendors. Get out there and meet them, find out if there are any cross promotional opportunities. Other vendors, such as photographers, DJ’s, caterers, etc. will be your best marketing tool, and you can get a fair amount of business just off of recommendations.

Another good source of business is wedding expos. Almost every city or county puts on an annual wedding fair to introduce potential brides and grooms to all the vendors out there. These are perfect events to showcase your product and get your information into the hands of potential clients. It’s also a great networking opportunity, since almost every other vendor will be there, too.


Hired Help

On occasion, you might need to hire an assistant to run a second camera. As you grow, you may have a regular assistant and need to hire a third shooter. Set a base price of what you’re going to pay and set the rules of how long they’re expected to stay. Often, you will need a second camera for the ceremony only; other times you will need multiple cameras throughout the event. Point out exactly what your assistants need to shoot, so that they’re not shooting exactly what you are or at the same angle. If you have a second shooter, it’s a good idea to use radios, if you can, to communicate from across the venue.

This is your gig, so you need to shoot the most important portion of the wedding yourself; your second shooter should be the B camera. Pay your assistants up front, so you’ll be in their good graces the next time you need them.

Policies

Here are a few policies you may want to put into place now, instead of waiting until you learn the hard way like I did.

  • Always collect the money up front

    You should always collect a non-refundable deposit when the contract is signed to hold the wedding date. The remaining balance should be collected on or before the day of the wedding. The clients have to book that day way in advance, but so do you. If they back out, you’ve lost a potential booking day. It’s easy to feel like you shouldn’t get paid until the product is delivered, but you may be setting yourself up to be taken advantage of. When a couple is planning a wedding, money becomes less valuable, and often it isn’t even their money. They are in the mindset of spending. Once the wedding is over, however, all of a sudden money is scarce and buyer’s remorse sets in. It’s suddenly very easy to think, “I guess I don’t need a wedding video after all.”
  • Be very clear of your intentions
    When you agree to record a wedding, let the client know in advance exactly how long you plan on staying and what events will be covered. Let them know that any extra footage you happen to capture will be a bonus but offer no guarantees. You don’t want a phone call from the client after they’ve seen the video saying, “why didn’t you get Uncle Steve dancing on the tables?” You can have several price plan packages that include a pre-wedding video, reception coverage or not, or ones that have you staying until the last drink is downed.

Wedding Day Tips

Now that you’ve gotten the clients, it’s time to learn a little wedding day etiquette.

  • Arrive on Time

    The wedding day is the most important day for the bride, but it also tends to be one of the most stressful. Don’t add to her stress by showing up late. You should be at the location to setup at least an hour before the wedding will commence.
  • Dress Professionally

    It’s generally a good idea to check with the bride to see if there are any special dress code requirements (i.e. tie, sport coat), but, for the most part, slacks and a dress shirt will be acceptable. Most videographers wear black. And make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
  • Behave Professionally

    Remember, you are representing your business, not only to the bridal party, but also to possibly hundreds of potential clients or referrals. Don’t forget to work well with the other vendors on-site. If they don’t like working with you, it could be disastrous for your reputation. Try to be flexible with the wedding planner, and get in the good graces of the still photographer. If there isn’t a planner on hand, the still photographers will often run the show: let them. Your job is to follow along and capture what’s happening. If you’re lucky, you get a creative photographer, and you can use their poses and settings to enhance your video all the more.
  • Know What’s Going On

    The last thing you want is to miss something important because you weren’t familiar with the schedule. And you definitely don’t want to constantly be asking the bride what happens next. Make contact with the wedding planner early on and get familiar with the day’s events. At the reception, make contact with the DJ and politely ask to be informed just before anything important happens. Since DJs announce all major events at the reception, they are generally in control of the schedule. In time, after you’ve done a few of these, you’ll have the routine of cake cutting, bouquet tossing, and toasting down; it’s just a matter of knowing when they’re’ going to happen.
  • Stay Hidden

    You are being paid to capture the wedding day, not to stick a camera in the faces of each guest. If you need to conduct interviews, set up the camera on a tripod away from the main event. This puts you in an environment where you have control of lighting, sound, etc., and it gets people away from their peers where they tend to feel more comfortable and sentimental. Tape the interviews before the guests have had too much to drink, so they don’t go on a rambling tangent. It might seem funny at the time, but it could be hard to edit and embarrassing to view later.


Editing your Masterpiece

If you’re just starting out in the video business, try to use a simple editing software that you can easily master. Getting in over your head technically isn’t going to get your product delivered quickly. Remember, time is money. If it takes you 20 hours to edit a video that you earned $300 dollars for, or 30 hours for that same video, your hourly rate drops with each additional minute you scramble around.

Leave the cheesy video effects for the family dog’s day at the park. The focus should be on the couple and their family and guests, not how many star wipes you have in your FX folder. Most transitions you’ll use will be straight cuts and dissolves. As you get more comfortable, you can certainly try the fancy effects you’ve seen on some of the other wedding videos, just remember that simple elegance is the best. Experiment until you find a formula that works best for you. Once you have it honed, you’ll spend less time editing each successive video, and your profit will be greater.

When the Honeymoon’s Over

Remember to deliver your finished edited product on time, as promised. Whether it’s within a few weeks, a few days, or the next month, make sure you have a delivery date in writing, along with the number of copies and the agreed upon formats. It’s easy for a videographer to get sidetracked by other pending projects, but nothing hurts your reputation more than a bride who doesn’t receive her promised video.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few tips to getting started; as you grow, you may want to experiment with bigger occasions and fancier setups. For the basics, these tips should do fine. Nowadays, some wedding video packages rival Princess Diana’s and Prince Charles’ elaborate event. There’s a lot of money changing hands for these videos, and if you want to earn that level, you’ll need to supply all the whistles and bells to get there. Go to the Videomaker website to see some of the Short Video Contest winners over the past few years in the wedding category; these are compilations of very well-done videos. Again, check out other videographers’ websites and watch other wedding videos online to keep up with the trends.

Overall, shooting weddings is a rewarding experience. You are capturing people on one of the happiest days of their lives. Once you get a few under your belt, you will start to feel comfortable and confident, and you’ll actually be able to enjoy yourself while you work. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to build a name for yourself, but once you’re there, you will have a successful and rewarding business. Hey, it sure beats going to the office.

Brent Holland runs a successful wedding videography business.

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