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Wedding Videos:
When Memories aren’t Enough

By: Jack Wolcott (Vide Occasions, Bellevue WA)

© 2000 by the author

Since the 1860’s, when photography first became possible, still’s photographers have recorded weddings.  Most brides and grooms today have looked at the photo albums, which preserve the memory of their parent’s wedding. Unanswered by the photos are questions such as “how did Mom manage that huge train as she walked down the aisle?” “Was Dad able to bend over in his stiffly starched shirt?”  “Was their first dance as graceful as their dancing today?” 

What’s missing from these frozen moments of the wedding are the sights, the sounds and the bustle of activity that only moving images can capture.  Videography has given today’s bride and grooms the opportunity to have a memoir of their wedding created, complete with all the sights and sounds of that most important event in their lives, a memory which can be revisited for years to come.

Creating a video record of a wedding is a job best left to professionals. “Why would we want a professionally made wedding video?” ask many brides and grooms.  “Uncle Charlie offered to do it for us for free.”  As we’ll see in the rest of this article, there is a lot to wedding Videography that Uncle Charlie probably doesn’t know about.

Wedding Video Styles

Wedding videos tend to fall into either the documentary/journalistic or what might be called the MTV style.  Neither is better than the other; they’re just different.

Unlike the still photographer, who carefully poses each picture, the documentary style videographer records things as they happen. The activities of the wedding day are captured candidly, and often include moments the bride and groom never see on their wedding day, being occupied elsewhere. Videographers who work in the documentary style shoot as much of the wedding day activities as they can, then select the footage that best tells the story of the wedding.

Videographers who work in the MTV style are more likely to “stage” couples, like a movie director arranging a scene.  In this regard, the MTV style videographer is somewhat like the still photographer.  Videographers who specialize in the MTV style are excellent choices for couples who want a “how we met” Love Story, and who do not mind having the natural flow of the wedding day interrupted from time to time by requests to pose or perform for the videographer.  Like documentary style videographers, the MTV style professional will also carefully select – “edit” – footage to tell the wedding story.

“Long Form” or “Short Form?”

For many years, wedding videos have documented virtually all of the wedding day. Often from ninety minutes to two hours in length, so-called “long form” wedding videos faithfully record every moment of the wedding service and, in addition to such traditional events as the toasts, garter and bouquet toss and cake cutting ceremonies, record a great deal of the dancing that goes on at the reception.

Recently, brides have been asking about more abbreviated wedding day coverage.  The focus of the “short form” videotape is the emotional content of the wedding day. Videographers working in the format emphasize those “special moments” which are the signature of the wedding day:  the moments shared with the bride and members of her family, the exchange of vows, the intimacy of the first dance, and the parent’s dance at the reception.  “Short form” videos are often only thirty to forty minutes in length.

Which form the bride chooses is a matter of personal taste.  Discuss these forms with your wedding videographer.  Decide what’s right for you.


What cost to expect:

Once you’ve decided what style of video you want, and what form, you can consider costs. In budgeting for your wedding, a good rule of thumb is to be prepared to pay at least as much for your wedding videographer as you pay for your wedding photographer. Prices can vary from as little as £300 to as much as £5,000 or more, depending on the options you choose.

Location, length of coverage and the amount of editing involved, and the reputation of the videographer determine wedding video costs.  Just like housing and food, wedding videos are apt to cost much more in City’s such as London than they do in places like Thaxted

The length and nature of coverage plays an important role in price:  how many cameras and camera operators will be at your wedding and reception, how long will they stay and how much editing will be done.

The least expensive coverage usually provides one camera and operator recording the Wedding and handing you the tape at the end of the ceremony.  More expensive packages include two or more cameras and operators at the wedding and reception, with editing, titles and music included.  Videographers often use three or four cameras to cover a wedding: two or more manned cameras, plus static or remotely controlled cameras focused on the choir, lectern and congregation, and some may use even more, depending on the circumstances.  The advantage of multiple cameras and editing is that the videographer is able to combine footage from each camera into a single visually interesting and exciting record of the service and reception.

Finally, wedding videographers in great demand because of the quality of their work are able to charge higher prices than those who aren’t.  Expect to pay more to get the very best.

Additional Video Coverage

Many wedding packages include features well beyond the basic coverage of the wedding and reception. These may include a limited number of still photos of your courtship -- the photo-montage -- and the option to include photos and video footage from the honeymoon. They may also include coverage of events prior to the wedding, such as the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner and activities such as the bride and groom dressing, and perhaps a wedding day brunch. Videographers may include some of these services in their basic package, while others bill these supplemental offerings by the hour, so be sure to ask.

Love Stories are almost always arranged for separately.  They can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish, but expect them to be relatively expensive, as they require a great deal of shooting and editing time.  For many brides and grooms, the Love Story, which encapsulates the romance of the courtship, and provides an opportunity for the couple to speak freely of their love for each other, becomes perhaps even more important than the wedding video. 

Finally, some videographers are offering a wonderful new service, a first-year retrospective.  Roughly a year after the wedding, the bride and groom, after reviewing their wedding video, speaks on camera of their first year together, and what married life has meant to them.  This is then edited and placed on the wedding videotape, a reminder in later years of the start of a long life together.


What to ask about:

In buying the services of a wedding videographer it’s important to ask the right questions.

The wedding rehearsal:  Start with whether or not the videographer will attend the rehearsal.  If your wedding is to be complicated or non–traditional, it’s important that the videographer knows where everything will be taking place, and who’s doing what. If you feel it’s important that the videographer be at your rehearsal, insist on it.  If you feel strongly about it, and he refuses, find another videographer.

Audio:  How will the videographer pick up what is being said by the bride, groom, readers and musicians?  Most videographers use wireless microphones placed on the groom.  An increasing number of videographers are making use of minidisk recorders placed on the groom and at other appropriate locations.

Whatever the equipment, make certain that the videographer is using microphones located very near where you and your fiancée will be standing:  the nearer the better.  No video professional worth hiring will tell you that he relies on the camera microphone alone to pick up the wedding ceremony.

Cameras:  Find out how many manned cameras will be used to record your ceremony.  A “manned camera” may be a remotely controlled camera, as well as one behind, which an operator stands.  The corollary to a manned camera is a stationary camera, a camera set up on a tripod, focused on a particular part of the venue, and left unattended.  The footage from a stationary camera may be excellent, but will provide little variety since it can’t be repositioned during the ceremony. Manned cameras make for rich visual imagery.

Lights:  Does the videographer want to use supplemental lighting during the wedding ceremony?  Documentary style videographers use ambient (available) light, while some MTV style videographers make use of lights to enhance the lighting in a dimly lit venue. Here you have to decide whether you think bright studio-type lights, or lights on the video cameras themselves, will spoil the mood of your ceremony.  Many officiates will not allow supplemental lighting, so check this out thoroughly.  The downside of ambient light is that the quality of the video may suffer a bit:  it may look grainy; although today’s high-end cameras are pretty good at delivering good video in low-light conditions.

Most videographers use supplemental lighting of some sort at the reception to insure good coverage of the toasts, cake cutting and family dances.  Here again, discuss this thoroughly with the videographer, and be comfortable with the answers you get before deciding to hire him. 

Turn-around time:  How long will it take to get your finished videotape back?  During the summer, 12-16 weeks is not unreasonable.  Each wedding takes the videographer 20-30 hours to edit, and it’s in the editing that the video receives its final artistic form.  So don’t be too impatient.  It’s worth a reasonable wait to get a superb video.

And remember:  your videographer can’t begin editing your wedding video until you have provided the still photos, music, invitations and programs, and anything else you wish to include as part of the finished tape.

Attire:  Find out what the videographers will wear to work.  Videographers in tennis shoes and jeans can spoil everything you have tried to achieve in setting the tone of your wedding. Attire is negotiable; so don’t be afraid to discuss this.

 Payment:  Ask about the payment structure and whether there are any hidden costs.  How much is the deposit?  Under what circumstances is it refundable?  Is it subtracted from the total cost of the wedding video?  Does it guarantee the date?  When is the balance due? Decide what you’re comfortable with. These conditions may be negotiable.  If you’re not comfortable with the financial arrangements, find another videographer.

 Contract:  The contract is how you and your videographer communicate.  It’s where you come to agreement and record what will happen with regard to your wedding video. Make sure that everything you want from the videographer is written into the contract.  A little sheet of paper that says “I’ll shoot your wedding for you – pay me £1000” isn’t doing much communicating.

 Take nothing for granted. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask for an explanation and, if necessary, ask to have that clarification written into the final version of the contract.  If there is something you and the videographer discuss, and it’s important to you, have it included in the contract.  Six months later, the day before your wedding, it will serve to remind the videographer that getting pictures of your Aunt Frieda is a “must do.”

 The contract should include a statement that after the contract is signed, changes requested by either party must be in writing.  Verbal changes have a way of coming back to haunt you.


Looking at samples of the videographers work:

 Don’t settle for a demonstration tape.  What you will see are carefully selected examples, designed to awe the viewer.  Instead, ask to see full-length wedding videos that were shot in venues similar to your wedding site.

 Audio: Listen to the quality of the sound.  Ask where the microphone placement was? What you hear on the tape is probably what you will get on your wedding video as well, unless there were extenuating circumstances.  Asking how the audio for peripheral activity such as scripture readings and musicians will be captured will assure that your videographer knows what will be required at your wedding.

 Camera Work: If you think you’re not knowledgeable enough to judge the quality of the camera work, imagine that you were invited, but had to miss the wedding.  Your friend, the bride, sent you the wedding video that you are watching.  Now ask yourself whether the video shows you everything that you would like to see, or whether there is a great deal missing.   Is there variety among the shots, or are they all pretty much alike?  Good close-ups, interesting compositions, good variety among the shots are the hallmarks of a good videographer. 

 Now look at the camera work in the ceremony again.  If almost all of the ceremony was recorded from the back of the venue, looking at the backs of the bride and groom, ask why.   Maybe the operator was refused cameras anywhere in the sanctuary:  it happens.  But maybe the videographer is satisfied with this kind of coverage, and what you see here is what you can expect to get. 

 If you’re fortunate enough to see a wedding shot in the venue where your wedding will take place, you’ll see exactly what the problems were that confronted the videographer. You’ll be able to discuss these with the videographer and perhaps work to overcome them for your wedding video.

 Editing:  Look at how the video was edited.  Here you are considering both the artistry of the camera work and of the editor.  Is there a logical structure to the work: does it tell the story you would want told?  Is there a nice mix of shots:  close-ups, medium shots that show the various members of the wedding party, wide shots that show the wedding guests watching the ceremony?  How are shots combined to create a rhythm in the video: does the camera stay on one shot for minutes at a time, or are there cuts and dissolves from one angle to another, keeping the view fresh and interesting? 

 Tact and discretion:  How has the videographer handled the “special moments” of the wedding:  interviews, unguarded comments picked up on the microphones, “smooching and hugging” and other displays of affection?  If you’re embarrassed by this treatment, be careful.  You’ll probably get the same treatment in your wedding video.

  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, look at the visual quality of the videos. Would you be satisfied if this was your wedding tape? 

 What cameras were used, and whether the videographer shoots with S-VHS, Hi-8 or digital equipment is not nearly as important as what the results look like.  The same is true with editing equipment.  How the videographer got the finished product – whether it was linear or digital equipment -- is of far less importance than what the finished product looks like. 

 In all of this, you’re evaluating the videographers work against your idea of what you want your wedding video to look like.  If you like what you see, you and the videographer are probably a good match.


What you need to do for your videographers:

 An informed videographer is a happy videographer. Keep in touch with your videographer. Contracts for wedding professionals are often entered into months before the wedding. Be sure you keep your videographer advised of such things as the time set for the rehearsal, additions to the wedding party list and special aspects of the ceremony that you want covered. 

A hungry videographer is a grumpy videographer.  Make sure you and your videographers agree on eating arrangements. Videographers usually work eight to ten hours on the day of a wedding.  They need to eat if they are to do their best work. 

If only one videographer is to shoot your reception, try to arrange that he or she eat in the same room as the guests, so that he can keep an eye on what is going on and be ready to capture events on tape at a moment’s notice.

Many couples suggest that the videographers go through the buffet line.  However, for a sit-down dinner, where meal costs skyrocket, it’s appropriate to provide sandwiches and coffee.  You may even decide that the videographers should provide their own meal. In this case, make sure everyone understands where they are to eat, since you probably don’t want a brown bag lunch and can of pop at one of your guest tables. 

Remember, it’s your wedding, and you’re paying for the videographer.  Whatever you decide will be all right, so long as the videographer knows in advance what to expect.


And finally, always remember:

You are the buyer and the videographer is the seller.   Have a good idea of the product you’re after, and see if the videographer can provide it.  You’re looking for a customized service, and a unique product, your wedding video.  Your videographer is a professional who wants nothing more than to make you happy through his or her work.  Arriving at an understanding of your relative positions will assure a happy and rewarding working relationship.


See here for a personal view on not having a Videographer

IOV | The Institute of Videography

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