A Complete Guide to Shooting Wedding Video

It's not just the newlyweds making wedding promises. Before you say “I do,” plan your video shoot following some tried and true tips that won't have you filing for an annulment the day after.

Wedding videographers are a bit like magicians: there's an unwritten code that we should not give away the tricks of our trade. We're going to break this code right now and tell you everything you need to know to shoot professional wedding videos. First, we have to warn you that no one but a video enthusiast will appreciate how much work you put into the project. Second, if the video is for a friend, do not do the video as a wedding present; buy them something from their registry as well. If you are a pro and know what you are doing, you should charge a fair price. If you are a friend doing someone a favor, make sure you are not getting in over your head.

Promises and Plans

You cannot be in the wedding and shoot it at the same time. Shooting a wedding video will take up all of your time during the wedding ceremony and reception. Still, you are an essential part of the wedding party and it is your job to capture the event so family, friends and future generations can watch the beautiful memories. Make sure not to promise to get every part of the wedding. Explain that you will be there for the entire wedding and reception, but it is impossible to get everything. Tell them that you will do your best to capture all the wedding highlights. Most wedding videos will be from 45 minutes to 2 hours in length, depending on the duration of the ceremony and the number of events they have at the reception.

Essential Equipment Advice

There are several pieces of equipment that are essential for any wedding shoot, including a camera, tripod, microphone, headphones, batteries and videotape. Nonessential but desirable items include a wireless microphone, a half-bowl tripod and on-camera lights. Sometimes a lighting kit might help, but in most cases, it'll be more intrusive and troublesome than it is worth. Weddings are largely run-and-gun affairs.

If you don't have a wireless microphone (and many people do not), you might want to rent a good one. The audio is just as important as the video at an event like this. It is the most important non-essential piece of equipment you can have at a wedding, but a good system starts at around $500.

An on-camera light is also important. We sometimes use an inexpensive light that attaches to the shoe on top of the camera and uses power from a big battery belt. The belt only cost $60 dollars and will last all night. Lights that run off the camera battery suck up electricity quickly and you can run out of power in a matter of minutes, so test everything before the big day.

Preparations: Rehearsing the Shoot

Going to the rehearsal is not necessary to shoot a good wedding, but if you have the time and think it will be fun, then by all means, go. It will give you a good idea where to stand and point your camera. While you are there, why not get some video of the rehearsal? Don't be surprised, however, if the wedding ceremony ends up quite different.

On the day of the wedding, arrive at least a half-hour before the ceremony. You should wear semiformal clothes, such as cotton khakis, a cotton dress shirt and tie. Wear comfortable rubber soled shoes, because you will be running around quite a lot.

The first thing you do when you get to the location is find the officiant or wedding planner. Go over the ceremony step-by-step, even if you went to the rehearsal. Make sure you know where the groom and bride will enter, which way they will face and if they are doing anything special during the ceremony. Decide where you want to be at different times during the ceremony.

Then get video of the groom preparing. He might be a bit nervous, so try not to get too close to him while shooting. Make sure to get a close-up of his face and a wide shot as well.

If the bride is already at the site, you should get her preparing as well. Get a long, medium and close-up shot of the bride. Use a tripod and try to stay out of the way; some people get upset around cameras and you want everything to be as natural as possible.

The Ceremony: Out of Sight

You should be waiting with camera ready at least five minutes ahead of the ceremony. Get some shots of the altar and guests while you are waiting. Make sure to shoot a few 20-second close-up shots of the flowers and decorations. You can use them later in editing to cover up bad camera movements.

When the ceremony begins, try to stay hidden as much as possible. You normally want to begin behind the altar with your camera on a tripod. You shoot the wedding party walking down the aisle. Do not follow each person, but rather find a fixed position, hold a medium shot, and allow everyone to walk in and out of the shot.

Before the wedding march begins, you should already be focused on the bride's entrance. Follow her as she walks down the aisle. Hold a wide to medium shot of her. After she gets to the altar, greets the groom and walks to the officiant, you should move to the right or left side of the altar. You should go to the side where you can get the best shot of the bride. It is much more important to videotape the bride than the groom. You should stay in one place (unless someone moves in front of your shot), keep the camera rolling and hold each shot for several minutes, getting a wide shot at first, then a medium and then a close-up. Make your zooms very slow and your camera movements very slight. You want people to concentrate on the bride and groom and not the camera movement.

Do not get close-ups of the officiant or wedding party at this point. You might miss an important expression on the bride's face if you shoot the best man. After the couple are announced, you want to run to the end of the aisle to get them walking out.

Follow that Photographer

Most weddings will already include a professional still photographer. In between the wedding and the reception, the photographer will often take posed snapshots at the church or take the wedding party to another beautiful place for photos. This is a great opportunity for you to get candid video of the wedding party and romantic shots of the newlyweds.

Still photographers usually have years of experience, so why not use that to your advantage? Allow them to take charge of the photo session and play a game of follow the leader. Just make sure you stay out of their way, smile a lot and thank them. Get ten second shots of each pose. Keep the wireless microphone on the groom so you can get good audio. Once the photographer is done with the bride and groom I usually ask for 5 minutes with them alone. I have them stand or sit in a nice setting and have them be "kissy face" for a few minutes. Make sure to get a medium, close-up and wide shot of the couple.

The Reception: Don't Shoot With Your Mouth Full

The reception is far more casual and you can get much closer than you were at the ceremony. We still recommend that you use your tripod as much as possible. Make sure to shoot all of the highlights like the newlyweds walking into the reception, the toasts, cutting the cake, first dances and the garter and bouquet toss. You should also get some ambient shots of the reception hall, such as the cake before it's cut, the registration book, wedding invitations, the table setting, the centerpiece and anything else that looks especially nice. Make sure to videotape the wedding party getting its food during a buffet. Also, do not miss what I like to call the meet and greet, when the bride and groom get up during dinner and talk to the guests.

I never get video of the bride, groom or guests while they are eating. There is nothing worse than watching people shove food in their mouths and dribbling red wine on their best clothes.

Make sure you don't drink with the other guests–it's hard enough to shoot steady video without alcohol. You'll probably already be woozy enough from remembering all of these tips. Don't get overwhelmed–just remember: stay alert, keep the camera steady and capture the magic.

Brian Schaller is a former wedding photographer now traveling worldwide while working on his documentary.

[Sidebar: Hear this advice]

Audio is just as important as video, so make sure you capture it well. I advise you to turn off the auto gain on your camera (if you can) and adjust the volume input manually. The auto gain can put a hiss in your audio track during quiet parts, and there are many in the ceremony. Don't forget to wear headphones throughout the wedding and reception so you know the audio sounds good.

[Sidebar: Shot Sheet Requirements]

  • Bride walking down the aisle
  • "I do"
  • The kiss
  • Walking into the reception
  • The toasts
  • Cutting the cake
  • First dances
  • Garter and bouquet toss
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