Single-Camera Videography Techniques from the Pros
By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2002
Originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video Magazine
Multi-year Creative Excellence Award-winner and frequent WEVA Expo speaker, Robert Allen Ehrlich only shoots single-cam. Known for what he calls the “30-Minute Edit,” Ehrlich produces short-form finished videos for his clients compact stories of the day, told through highlights. He says that many of his clients are not sure if they even want video at their weddings, and he feels that the prospect of having multiple cameras and personnel might scare them off.
Ehrlich’s videos incorporate carefully composed camera angles with stylized post-production work to give brides and grooms a video that captures the romance of the day. With just one camera, he manages to get shots of the processional, the recessional, the ceremony from different camera angles, the bridal party, the clergy and cutaway shots of parents and guests. Music accompanies the majority of the edited video, with sync sound reserved for the clergy welcome, the vows and a final blessing.
Five-Point Church Coverage
With his Sony PD-150 mounted on a Bogen monopod, Ehrlich provides what he refers to as “Five-Point Coverage.”
1. Processional: Ehrlich places himself in front, near the first pew.
2. Left-center aisle: After the ceremony starts, Ehrlich stealthily moves to left of the center aisle to get the beginnings of the ceremony, readings and cutaway shots of guests on the bride’s side.
3. Behind congregation: When the clergy speaks, Ehrlich moves to the rear of the center aisle or to the balcony to get wide shots and medium shots.
4. Right-front: Here he gets a different angle of the officient with the bride and groom in the foreground. From this spot, Ehrlich gets shots of the guests on the groom’s side.
5. Center aisle: From about five pews back Ehrlich records the remainder of the ceremony including the recessional.
Three-Point Synagogue Coverage
For Jewish weddings, Ehrlich moves a little less. The ceremonies are frequently shorter than Christian services sometimes 15-20 minutes–so he has less time to work.
1. Processional: Ehrlich places himself in front, near the first pew.
2. Chuppa: The canopy under which the bride, groom and rabbi stand presents its own set of challenges. When possible, Ehrlich positions himself near the left-rear chuppa column and shoots an angle over the rabbi’s shoulder.
3. Aisle: Jewish weddings frequently include seven blessings. Ehrlich shoots the first and moves to the aisle where he gets a wide shot, a shot of the breaking of the glass and the recessional.
Ehrlich places a wireless lavaliere mike on the groom, a mini-disc recorder near the musicians and uses his camera-mounted shotgun mike for readings. He rarely includes audio from the readings in his final edited videos, but he does record all he can of each aspect of the ceremony.
The final video starts with a condensed version of the processional, set to music, sometimes followed by a portion of the clergy’s introductory remarks. Then Ehrlich creates a montage with music of a variety of shots of the ceremony: the bridal party, clergy, readers, guests and cutaways. Next comes the vows and ring exchange with live audio followed by another montage with music showing the bride and groom lighting the unity candle and, if it is a Catholic wedding, bringing a gift to the statue of the Virgin Mary and part of the communion. Ehrlich ends the ceremony portion of the video with live audio of the clergy’s final blessing followed by the recessional.
Asked if he discusses his planned camera movements when he meets with the couple prior to the wedding, Ehrlich says he doesn’t bring it up. If he is asked, Ehrlich explains that his movements will be inconspicuous and he will be hidden from the guests’ view during his moves. “After you do it for so long you get a sense of what you can and cannot do,” says Ehrlich. “I am mindful of when I make my movements. I’ll move when the guests change from standing to sitting and when the reader walks to the podium. I want to be invisible.” To create the veil of invisibility, Ehrlich says he moves slowly, pausing after two pews and then slowly moving another two pews.
If, at the church, he is told not to move, Ehrlich said he records those directions on tape and makes sure they are repeated. He lets the groom know on the spot of the restriction.
As his clients know and as videographers who attend WEVA Expos have seen, Robert Allen Ehrlich has created a unique, cinematic style to wedding videography that earns him the $6000-10,000 budgets for single-camera video productions.
You may have seen San Jose, California’s Mark Shepherd give a live demonstration at Video Expo and Town Meetings showing his wedding shooting style. Or you might have seen one of his many videos that have garnered him a Creative Excellence Award. Required Stationary Camera Position Shepherd prefers to move camera positions during the ceremony and asks the couple to complete a questionnaire indicating if they will face away from their guests during the ceremony or will be in profile or facing the guests. That information forms the basis of Shepherd’s camera position plan. If the couple will be facing away from the guests, Shepherd will place his camera in the right front corner of the church or synagogue, on the altar or just below it. If he is required to be off the raised altar, he pedestals his camera high and tilts his viewfinder down to see the couple without looking at them from a low angle. If he has a choice of sides, he positions his camera on the right side (stage left) to favor the bride’s face. If the bride and groom are in profile during most of the ceremony, Shepherd said he can give them the best bang for the buck by keeping the camera in the back of the church (back row of guests), but on the floor, not the balcony. When You May Move Around the Sanctuary Shepherd has a shot list based on slow, inconspicuous movements that keep him nearly hidden as he gets a variety of camera angles. He keeps his camera on a tripod during most, if not all of the ceremony, but handholds it if the location allows movement during the ceremony. Here is an example of shots which may be handheld, or on tripod, in order to provide the best view:
1. Seating of parents: Shepherd gets these shots from just below the altar
2. Processional: Shepherd will sit in one of the pews, next to the aisle. When the bride enters, he will stand along with the other guests. As the bride walks by, he tilts down to capture a shot of her train.
3. Groom reaction: If there is time during the bride’s processional, Shepherd will swing around to get the groom’s reaction to seeing his lovely bride. However, he can get a groom reaction shot anytime during the processional, such as when the ring bearer / flower girl walk up the aisle (ususally, this produces a smile on his face).
4. Father of bride handoff
5. Cutaways: Bridal party, parents and other cutaways are taken during the homily.
6. Readers: Shepherd gets these when his camera is at the front of the sanctuary during the ceremony.
7. Ring exchange: Close-up shot zooming back and tilting up to bride, or bride and groom.
8. Recessional: If in the front of the church, after applause, Shepherd grabs his cam off the tripod and quickly moves down the side aisle to get to the back of the sanctuary as the bride and groom come up the aisle with smiles on their faces and for candid hugs and kisses.
Shepherd Velcros up to four wireless mike receivers and his portable Radio Shack or Shure 4 channel audio mixer. The transmitters come from the groom, the officient, the reader’s podium and the musicians. He uses an XLR adapter to run the signal from the Radio Shack mixer, which he says is surprisingly clean, to his Sony DXC-D30 or DSR-300 camera. While the client gets only the video shot with his single camera, Shepherd records the ceremony onto his backup camcorder that he usually places in the balcony or rear of the ceremony location. Since this back-up camera is primarily used as an “insurance policy,” audio comes from a camera-mounted shotgun mike. Sometimes it is more convenient for Shepherd to record musician’s audio onto this backup camcorder from a wireless microphone system. >>
Single Cam Draft
Petaluma, California’s Alan Fitch offers single-camera wedding videography in a range of budgets starting with his “No Frills” in-camera edited video for $1295 through his “Wedding Tapestry” with eight hours coverage and editing for $3295. The latter is a short-form (30-45 min.) video which is “highly edited and highly polished,” says Fitch. “For the single-camera, edited version, I am more adventurous in how I shoot and frame things. I know I will be throwing away a good portion of it, so I can take risks. On the no-frills, unedited video, I shoot much more conservatively.”
To determine his camera location(s), Fitch includes in a questionnaire he asks couples to complete, where they will be facing during the ceremony. If they will be facing each other he will try to shoot in the altar area, a location he prefers. That gives him a shot of both of their faces during the ceremony and the bride’s face and groom’s profile when they turn to one another. It also provides the opportunity to get cutaway shots of guests during the homily.
If the couple will be in profile, he shoots from the rear of the sanctuary. “More couples these days are arranging things so they face the audience for a good portion of the ceremony, or face each other for the whole thing,” says Fitch. Shooting from the rear also keeps him out of the photographer’s frame.
When Fitch shoots from the rear he doesn’t move at all. When he shoots from the altar area, he frequently shoots the processional handheld, from the floor near the head of the aisle. He stays there for the handoff, and while the couple walk up to the altar, Fitch slips around the side to place the cam on the tripod there. The tripod is on a dolly and he can pedestal up or down.
Fitch attends the rehearsal and speaks with the clergy at that time to explain how subtle his movements will be. He makes sure they know that for the remainder of the ceremony he will not be moving so he can “respect the sanctity of the occasion.” He does not move to get a shot of the recessional. At the rehearsal he coaches the couple on such movements as lighting the unity candle, so the photographer and he can both get a good shot.
Fitch shoots with a JVC DV-500 camcorder and uses wireless mikes and mini-disc recorders for audio . He places one wireless lavaliere mike on the groom, one on the pulpit for readers and a mini-disc to record the musicians, if it is not the organ. Occasionally he will use a third mike or mini-disc recorder on the clergy. He runs a Sony VX 2000 as backup, usually with its own mike, but sometimes with a wireless for the clergy or for another audio source.
“I trim down sound bites on the homily and the reading. The processional gets compressed. The vows and rings are pretty much untouched. The prayers are cut down to sound bites or eliminated,” says Fitch. He sometimes inserts a musical interlude during the middle of the ceremony.
When Fitch shoots edited, single-camera videos he sometimes starts two hours early at the bride’s house. Fitch says, “I’ll do candids there, except for asking her to tell me about ‘old, new, borrowed and blue.’ I’ll ask her to leave a message for the groom. If there’s time to squeeze it in, I do a short 2-3 minute interlude with her and the bridesmaids. I’ll ask the bridesmaids to tell me if she is nervous or not. Then I’ll ask her to hold out her hand, and I go in close in wide-angle to see if it is shaking.” He sometimes asks the married bridesmaids for advice to make a marriage work.
Then he gets to the church 45 minutes before the ceremony where his assistant will set up gear. Then Fitch corners the groom for his message to his bride and to talk a little about how he is doing.