Ten steps to profitable video

With so many DSLRs now HD video-enabled you have the chance to offer an extra service to your wedding clients. Philip Nash shows you how to make this option a profitable reality

A large number of pro photographers, whatever sector they might be working in, will photograph the occasional wedding to supplement their income. Added to this there are many others like myself who would consider themselves to be a wedding specialist, shooting 30, 50 or even more weddings a year. As I’ve said before in this blog, the most likely way most photographers will introduce video into their business is by offering additional coverage at a wedding alongside the stills.

The challange we face is now not how to produce the footage in the first place but how to make profit out of it. With video my magic ratio for shooting to post-production is three to one, which is to say that for every hour of video I shoot I expect to spend three in post-production. So a full day of shooting at a wedding will mean three days post-production. Remember postproduction is not just the edit; it also includes music selection, titles, DVD authoring and mastering. Depending on the power of your computer it can take a whole day just to transcode a Blu-ray disc, and this all needs to be factored into the price you charge before you stand any chance of turning a profit.

Before I get into my ten steps I just want to mention best practice when shooting stills and video. If you’re intending to do this on your own – don’t! You are simply not going to be able to produce a professional standard of video or stills photography as a single operator. If you’re going to take the booking for both you must have a still photographer shooting stills with you concentrating on video, or you on stills working with a videographer. Generally one of my staff photographers will shoot most of the stills during the day and I will work video. We will occasionally switch over with me shooting the couple pictures on stills. Each to their own of course, but it works for us.

1  Pre-wedding meet
I have my pre-wedding meetings in the week of the wedding, as close as possible to the wedding day itself. This is where you’re going to find out the key information that will help make the day a success. This is not a pitch; the business has been won and paid for at this point.

The key points to cover are:

• Confirm the venues and take contact details for key people
• Confirm and agree times of all major events of the day
• Has permission been sought and licenses paid to film in church (if applicable)?
• Pre-arrange parking at all venues
• Who’s giving the bride away?
• Let the groom know he’ll be wearing a radio mic (if applicable)
• Has food been arranged for you (very important!)

2  Pre-planning
If your couple is getting married in a church I’d strongly recommend speaking with the vicar. In my experience clergy will often say one thing to the couple and another thing to you on the day.
Ideally you want yourself and the main camera slightly behind the vicar and off to the right (looking down the aisle) because this will put you face on to the bride throughout the ceremony. In practice this usually means squeezing yourself in-between the choir stalls. If the vicar is reluctant to let you position yourself there, even after assuring him that you’re not going to move around, make any noises or in any way distract the couple, then you’re going to have to base yourself at the far end of the aisle. It’s far better to know these things in advance than to set up in the wrong place assuming all will be okay only to be moved at the last minute. Very rarely will a registrar create a problem like this, so civil ceremonies are much simpler in this regard. If you are only shooting video I can’t recommend strongly enough that you contact the photographer to make sure you’re not going to be falling over each other on the day. It’s a professional courtesy to introduce yourself and agree some simple rules of engagement. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t worked with a videographer who has been difficult? Well, this time you’re the videographer – so let’s show them how it should be done!

3  Equipment
Even if your client is only paying for one videographer I would still strongly recommend you shoot with two cameras. If you’ve been following my column over the last few months you’ll know why. A second ‘locked off’ camera adds both variety to your coverage and, more importantly, provides a safety shot to cut to while you recompose and refocus the main camera. This second camera is going to run predominantly in autofocus and autoexposure and for that reason a traditional camcorder is better suited to the task than a DSLR. If your production is in HD (and it should be) all cameras will need to be shooting in the same format.

4  Bridal preparation
I generally arrive two hours before the ceremony. You should cover the details of shoes, jewellery, dress etc just as you would as a still photographer, but try and introduce a little movement. A great trick is to compose a shot, lock the camera off on a tripod and instead of moving the camera or the subject, move your light. This can create visually interesting shots. As ever, don’t overdo it. Remember, close-ups for details and wideangle for emotions and atmosphere.

5  The ceremony
You need to be at the ceremony location at least an hour before the wedding is due to start. Grab some establishing shots as soon as you arrive and then you’ll need to set up your cameras, being conscious of backlighting from side windows as this can make exposure difficult and cause lens flare. If you have a radio microphone now is the time to mic up the groom. I find the transmitter works best in the back pocket with the wire running up inside his waistcoat. If you’re only using an audio recorder you’ll be looking for a good position to try and capture both the vows and the readings. I generally use all three with an on-camera short shotgun microphone for safety, with a radio microphone on the groom and an audio recorder positioned to capture the readings. Remember nothing ruins productions more than bad audio. You must aim to get the microphones as close as possible to your subjects without being intrusive. Once set up, you can use your second camera to shoot the bride arriving, getting out the car and portraits with the bridesmaids and father. Ask the vicar or registrar to give you two minutes, then quickly return the camera to the back of the aisle, set it to record then dash up to your main position, ready to capture the bride walking up the aisle and the rest of the ceremony. Easy!

6  The reception
I like to shoot wide and get in close to the bride and groom as people come up to offer their congratulations. It’s also a good idea to grab some establishing shots of the venue and the banqueting room with the table settings, cakes and flowers.

7  Group shots
The still photographer will take the lead here. Try not to get in their way and look for alternative angles and close-ups. There’s no point just recreating what the still photographer is doing at this point. A slow panning close-up shot of the ‘all guests’ group picture always looks good.

8  Couple shots
The still photographer will be leading again here. It’s essential that you make it clear to both the couple and the still photographer before the day that you will require some dedicated time with the bride and groom. I have lost count of the number of times videographers have assumed that the time I have carefully negotiated with the couple to do their still photography is for them to use as well. While you’ll be able to make use of the photographer’s set-ups you really want to get some movement shots. The couple walking towards and away from you handin- hand is a banker, and get the bride to spin on the spot throwing her dress out. This looks great in slow motion. And if you’re feeling ambitious get the bridesmaids and ushers to move round and round the couple as they stay perfectly still. Fill the frame with them all, ideally from above, and lock off the shot on a tripod. In post-production you can run a motion blur effect which will blur everybody moving but the couple will stay perfectly sharp. Always a crowd pleaser.

9  The speeches
You’ll need to get the father of the bride, groom and best man to agree on the best position from which to do their speeches. If they’ll be standing at the top table make sure you have a clean line of sight to each of them from your camera position – not forgetting that all those seated people between you and them will be standing up for each toast. Mic placement for the speeches is always difficult. A radio microphone is hard to beat but unfortunately you will be relying on your nervous speakers remembering not to start until they’ve got the mic. It can be awkward and disruptive removing and fitting the microphone between each speech, but in all the years I’ve been doing it I’ve never found a better solution. For a while I used to place an audio recorder on a desktop stand in front of the speaker. In theory it’s a lot easier moving the recorder each time this way, but in reality people tend to wander around, especially the groom who is likely to be giving out gifts. And as for best men – I’m not sure even they know what they’re doing until they do it!

10  The first dance
My preferred method for shooting the first dance is to use a fast wide lens. I’ll start off at the edge of the dance floor but then rotate around the couple as they dance. The shallow depth-of-field with out of focus coloured disco lights never fails to look great. Your second camera will provide a wide safety shot to add interest and peace of mind!

This is obviously a simplified list but it is a condensed version of every wedding I shoot. I can pretty much guarantee your first few weddings will be a considerable ‘learning experience’ but you’ll come out the other side wiser and no doubt with your own additions to the ten steps. Have fun and good luck with adding another income stream to your repertoire.