Videography Basics

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 8 1999

Capturing a wedding on video used to mean bright lights, cables, and microphones. But technology has changed, bringing smaller, more light-sensitive cameras; today, most videographers strive to be as discreet as possible. The freedom to move about unnoticed has also allowed videographers to develop their own distinctive styles, which means couples have plenty of variety to choose from.

A videographer who works in any of the following styles will be able to cover the essential scenes of the wedding in their entirety; it's also a good idea to provide him with a list of people the couple would like to have in the video. Many videographers work in both black-and-white and color, and most can lay a soundtrack -- perhaps the first-dance song or other suitably festive music -- over appropriate parts of the video. Special effects such as fade-outs and fade-ins, animated images, and graphic titles ("the first dance," "cutting the cake"), as well as baby pictures and honeymoon photographs can also be edited in.

Documentary-Style Format
Just as a documentary filmmaker films hours of footage and winnows it down, a short-form wedding videographer will cover the pre-ceremony, ceremony, and reception, then edit it into a video of up to an hour in length.

Straight-Cut Format
Produced with either minimal or no editing, this is the predominant style of wedding video. A straight-cut video running up to two hours in length is usually much less expensive than an extensively edited video and can often be ready just days after the wedding.

Moderately Edited Format
Somewhere between the documentary-style video and the straight-cut video is a third choice: the "in-camera" edit. The couple sets a time limit for the video; the videographer first makes sure to shoot the events and moments the couple has requested, then he'll use the remaining time to capture whatever else seems appropriate.

Begin a search for a videographer as early as you can -- even a year ahead of time -- by asking friends and relatives for leads; or turn to a party planner, wedding consultant, or the catering director at the hotel or reception site. The photographer can also be a good source since he may have worked extensively with certain videographers.

References and Past Work
Start by calling videographers referred by several sources, then set up appointments to see the work of promising candidates. Make sure you get a sense of how a videographer captures a whole wedding; don't just watch a tape with clips from many weddings. Ask to see tapes of weddings similar to the one you're planning: If it's going to be a candlelight ceremony, for instance, review his work in low light. And if the videographer has shot at your wedding site, ask to see that tape.

If you review tapes in the studio rather than having them sent to you, be sure that the picture quality, or resolution, is identical to that of a home VCR. If you're meeting with a group of videographers, ask to see the tapes shot by the person who will cover the wedding. Even if you like what you see, request a list of the videographer's last three or four clients to use as references.

Judging Quality
You don't need to be a professional film critic to know if a video is well shot or not. Trust your instincts. There shouldn't be repeated blurriness, muddy colors, or poor framing. The picture shouldn't be shaky and the camera movement and angles should feel natural and comfortable. The scenes shouldn't drag, and transitions from scene to scene should not be noticeable. Also take note of the behavior of the other people on the tape; if they seem uncomfortable, it may be because the videographer was intrusive.

Cost
According to Roy Chapman of Wedding and Event Videographers Association, the fee for a wedding video begins at less than $1,000 and can rise to higher than $5,000. Draft a contract that will be signed by the bride and groom and the videographer stipulating what the total cost covers, including the method of editing and any special effects that will be edited in. Include the name of the videographer, requested attire, hours of coverage, arrival times, overtime fees, schedule for delivery, amount of deposit, payment schedule, and cancellation policy.

It's standard for a videographer to cover the ceremony, the first dance, and the cutting of the cake, but there are many moments that might go unrecorded unless he is instructed to capture them on tape.

He Should Absolutely Get:
- An interview before the wedding with the bride and groom about how they met and fell in love, as well as their plans for the future.

- Many couples also tape an interview after the wedding to recount the day.

- The bride and groom filmed separately, as each prepares for the ceremony: the bride and her bridesmaids having their hair and makeup done, and the bride getting into her gown; the groom and his groomsmen trying to tie their bow ties.

- The moment when the bride's parents first see her in her wedding gown.

- The decorative details before guests arrive: escort cards lined up, pristine table centerpieces, neatly arranged favors.

- The look on the groom's face as he watches the bride come down the aisle.

- When formal portraits are being taken, the lively, unpredictable activity and conversations as everyone lines up to pose.

- All parents and grandparents dancing and their expressions as they listen to toasts.

- Candids of close friends and family. Assign a bridesmaid or groomsman to point out people to the videographer.

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