What does it take to become a world-class wedding videographer? We asked the best in the Biz and created this epic guide.
Odds are, this has happened: someone finds out that you do video, and they ask you to film their wedding. Whether it’s a full Catholic ceremony, a traditional Hindu Vivaha, or Druids gathering in the woods, a wedding is the one chance that most people get to have a film made about them! If you do video, people might want to hire you for this.
Now, if you made your first wedding video and you survived, you may be asking yourself: should I be doing wedding videography? In an industry of spec projects and hope-someone-pays-for-my movie reality. the wedding videographer job can be a real way to earn a living as a filmmaker. And it can teach you. A lot. But it comes with some incredible challenges, both technically, creatively, and with the videography business side of things.
No Film School reached out to a handful of filmmakers who have created some of the best wedding videos in the world. From the aesthetic of high fashion photography to verite fly-on-the-wall, these award-winning filmmakers gave us a glimpse into their work and the A to Z of how to be a wedding videographer.
DEVELOPING STYLE AS A WEDDING VIDEOGRAPHER
You want to make creative wedding videos that do something unique as a filmmaker. To do this, you will need to figure out your style for weddings. Here’s a look at the pros.
A life-long filmmaker and a classically trained studio painter, Alex and Whitney Douglas have created a unique style that has landed them as one of the world’s most celebrated traveling wedding videographers. They almost exclusively shoot destination weddings. Jetting between countries like Italy, Indonesia, or India, the filmmakers make a point to capture the location of the wedding as a third character to the bride and groom.
“We love going to these places and going out and exploring the landscapes,” explained Alex Douglas to NFS. “We want to challenge ourselves. Our business model isn't about efficiency. we prefer to spend more time on projects to be able to find creative fulfillment …that's worked well for us because it's gotten us to a place where we have a very distinct style or aesthetic.”
Check out the work of Sculpting with Time:
Magbanua’s style is described as Cinematic Journalism: he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to capture the candid emotions of the day. Sleek and charming like a Primetime TV show, Magbanua has crafted his style for nearly 20 years. Magbanua brought the world a new standard of wedding video: the same-day-edit. Over the past two decades, he has perfected the insane craft of presenting an edit at the Reception of what happened earlier in the day!
“The question we always try to answer is how can we CAPTURE and translate all the feelings, all the celebration, the pomp, or perhaps the intimacy of this wedding into our medium – video?” Magbanua explained to NFS. “Wedding Videos have found a critical mass acceptance locally. And it’s a beautiful thing...I LOVE IT. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT (for my craft to be recognized).”
Check out the work of Jason Magbanua:
Matt Johnson is quirky and down to earth, and his style as a wedding videographer reflects this. You may also recognize him from his fun Youtube tutorials where he goes over anything from every piece of sound equipment he owns to how to edit a wedding video.
Like any other videographers starting out, there's a focus on just documenting the day,” explained Johnson to NFS. “You're a glorified tripod at that point.” But as he explains, your style evolves over time and it grows from verbatim documentation to a creative voice. “There are wedding filmmakers that make sexy videos in slow motion the whole time. We're like, it's not going to be sexy, romantic the whole time! Sometimes it will be kinda goofy, kind of weird. Where we flip something on its head and do the polar opposite of what you would normally see.”
Check out the work of FilmStrong Weddings:
Sarah and Rick Pendergraft owe their district storytelling style to their origins in the news, as reporters, anchors, producers. When they fell in love and got married, they had a co-worker make a wedding video for them. Then they realized that this was something they could do – and something to which they would bring their journalistic style.
“A lot of it for us goes back to our reporting and journalism background of loving storytelling and people's stories,” explained Sarah Pendergraft to NFS. “Our videos are very narrative-driven, very sound driven. admittedly, it's not like we dove in with this brilliant storytelling…but then when we really started going that direction and found our stride, we found what we loved with the narrative.”
Check out the work of Pen Weddings:
HOW TO SHOOT A WEDDING
Want to make a wedding video? Let’s dive in.
Like everything in filmmaking, the more pre-production, the better production. If you’re trying to make a wedding videography shotlist, you’ve got a few main scenes to plan out. You may be able to get a full production timeline from the wedding planner that will give you specific times and places for these scenes. If not, you will need to create your own based on what the couple tells you. While this will vary depending on the culture and traditions of the couple, this is a sketch of what many weddings break down into:
- BRIDE & GROOM GETTING READY: Or “preps” as some of the pros call it. All the excitement of the big day is bubbly under the surface while the wedding party, close friends and family get ready. In terms of the most important candid moments of the day, this is it.
- FIRST LOOK: Sometimes the bride and groom see each other before the ceremony in a big reveal. This is often a time when photos are taken of the wedding party.
- CEREMONY: Outside, indoors, casual, sanctified; this is the realm of tripods & long lenses
- COCKTAIL HOUR and/or COUPLE PORTRAIT SESSION: The couple goes off into a glowing sunset for portraits together, or stage the dreaded group photos, while guests often get drinks, games, and tasty tidbits
- RECEPTION: Food. Toasts. Cakes. Dances. Goodbyes. Wedding reception videography can be tricky. Why? It might be dark. It might be crowded. A lot of people may start impromptu speeches, and some people drink too much. Good luck!
CAMERAS & LENSES
How do the best-of-the-best tackle the elements of a wedding? What tools do they use? Here’s a profile of how four completely different filmmaking teams create their award-winning videos.
Take a deep breath, gear heads. For weddings, bigger and newer is NOT better.
The most valuable asset of your camera on the wedding day? You know how to use it. Intimately. Whereas on a commercial or narrative, you might score cred by bringing a brand-new release of a camera or lens, on a wedding day there is no room for mistakes. The pros know that the most important piece of gear you can bring is the one you know like the back of your hand.
“I have ALL the toys - but at the end of the day - it’s one man, one camera,“ said Jason Magbanua.
SCULPTING WITH TIME shoots with Canon 1DX Mark II.
“We have to take as very few pieces of equipment with us as possible on our trips because we're traveling to remote countries sometimes and it can get a little tricky,” explained Alex Douglas.
“Anything that's documenting the day where we're running around and not in a static location, I'm on a Movi M10 with a 1DX2. That's been our go-to camera for probably three, four years. In a culture of constantly changing cameras, that doesn't really fit that narrative."
“I commit myself to certain rules. I want to have the lowest footprint possible. So I'll shoot handheld with a strap a lot of time and with a 24-70mm lens. So I have that lens range flexibility. I prefer to use the MoVi M10 for my gimbal. In a world with one-handed gimbals and really small gimbals, I still prefer to use the MoVi M10, because I'll do a lot of telephoto gimbal work. I find that it's superior, as far as being able to control. So I have rules like that, but then I'm definitely willing to break them for equipment if it really adds something to our ability to tell stories.”
FILMSTRONG shoots on the Sony a7S II.
“People are like, what are you doing? Especially cause I have a YouTube channel where I talk about gear,” explained Matt Johnson. “And so people are like, why haven't you upgraded?”
Along with his partner Rachel, Johnson is holding out for the a7S III but doesn’t feel the heat to upgrade for the sake of upgrading.
“I love that camera for its low light capabilities. At a wedding, you do not have full control over the lighting. As many lights as I bring as many things as I try to control. It's never perfect.”
In terms of lenses, Johnson uses what he terms a Frankenstein collection of old Canon lenses, newer Sony lenses, and off-brand specialties.
“I'm usually on a 24 mm or 50mm. Rachel's usually on 50- 85 or 135mm. My favorite is 50mm. Rachel lives on the 135mm all day and it's amazing. “
JASON MAGBANUA has been rocking the Panasonic GH5 for more than 2 years now.
“The IBIS is a TREMENDOUS piece of tech to have to help with our run and gun style and that cinema verite look we always aim for,” detailed Magbanua. “Dynamic range on CINE D is all I ever need and after lugging C100s for four years, it was a welcome break to be able to use much, much lighter cameras.
Bridal preps I can fully cover with the 25mm Voigtlanders (equivalent 50mm on MFT). And then we go longer during the ceremony. My usual lens lineup on MFT:
- 25mm Voigt
- 42.5mm Voigt
- 12-35 Panasonic
- 35-100 Panasonic
And I have an old 50mm Planar Zeiss on a Metabones which I can’t seem to not use. “
PEN WEDDINGS is also partial to Sony a7S II.
“We have several Sigma art lenses and a bunch of Canon lenses because we were Canon before, and we are using adapters,” explained Sarah Pendergraft. “During the day, we'll spend most of our time on 50, 35, 85mm lenses. Once we get to a ceremony, it's typically a lot of 70-200mm unless it's a small setting. We split up like for Preps. Then whether it's a first look or a ceremony at that point, we come together and we're typically together the rest of the day.”
“We do still have certain parts where I'm setting up audio for the ceremony while he's getting people arriving. I'm setting up audio and getting details of the reception while he's doing cocktail hour and maybe getting some aerials if it's light enough and there’s an outdoor setting.
We, over the years, have just really honed in on our specific roles."
Which brings us to...
What separates the amateurs from the pros.
Every filmmaker expressed the importance of sound. Jason Magbanua says he is anal and uses Deity D3PROs on all the cameras, Instamics, Deity Lavs, Zoom H6s, and old Tascam recorders as backups. Matt Johnson has a whole wedding videography tutorial on every piece of sound equipment he owns.) Here’s how it works for Sarah Pendergraft, whose style of “sound motivated storytelling” requires five to seven audio sources for each scene in her wedding videos:
“We have a couple of camera-mounted Shure VP83F LensHopper Camera-Mounted shotguns mics. They have internal micro SD recorders, so you're not going through the camera's preamps. You're recording straight into the microphone. Sometimes you can send the mics across the room [during Preps] while we're doing “story time” to help get better audio of the people around the room. Sometimes they ask questions so want to have that audio as well. When we do sit down with the bride and groom for [stories] we use Countrymen lavs with small Tascam recorders. We have black, white and tan lavs and do our best to hide them. We mic up for first look or for the ceremony. Almost every bride of ours for the past five or six years is wearing a hidden mic under her dress. As for backup, usually, you are getting a feed from the band or the DJ.
Then we also have one of our shotgun mics pointed at one of their speakers as a real last resort back up. Then we put an Instamic, a tiny little recorder on the mic itself that they're using for toasts. Then we also have a couple of ambient recorders around the room for picking up laughter, applause, and the crowd noise separate from the other audio. And we do the same thing at the ceremony. Mic the officiant, the couple. If there's a reader, mic whatever podium they're going to. And then the same thing with ambient recorders for crowd noise, or if there's a string quartet. We try our best to have something isolated on every important sound. When we're cutting it, we can cut back and forth between anywhere from five to seven audio sources.“
Tripods, monopods, gimbals, and drones. And how IBIS has changed the game for a realistic handheld feel that can now be nice and smooth.
Here’s how Jason Magbanua describes his philosophy towards movement:
“I want that organic, floating look. Shaky cam to a lesser degree. I love that doc feel. Of being in the moment. It allows us to set up shots faster during crazy moments (of which there are a lot). We almost always use manual focus too. Sticks during the ceremony and one camera on a Zhiyun Crane plus for variety. I would almost always prefer handheld during portrait sessions too. I have a Mavic Pro 2 as well when we’re allowed to use them. Usually for destination weddings”
Most filmmakers agreed that when the location is a highlight, a drone can be a great tool. Here’s the opinion of Sculpting with Time’s Alex Douglas:
“I love drones. Especially for the destinations we shoot, it really provides a sense of space or landscape...If these people are choosing to get married in these far-off places, then that location is important to them. Plus, it always just adds a layer something else…
The cutting-edge stuff that's being done at weddings is because you have more creative freedom than you would on spots, or on your corporate shoots or whatever. This is like a golden age of wedding films because the technology has allowed for people to tell cinematic, creative stories. And clients are finally getting educated on the value of it, and it being as valuable as the wedding photography. The bar is set higher but they're also excited by some of the creative storytelling that allows filmmakers to further explore those aesthetics and languages. I think it's a pretty exciting time for the genre.”
Inspired? You should look into Douglas' filmmaker summit Vision Quest to capture the feeling IRL.
When it comes to the best lights for wedding videography, the sun reigns. But the sun sets, and you might need some help.
Filmmakers, for the most part, will try to encourage the wedding party to do crucial things next to a window with beautiful light, but not much more than that.
Indoor locations often won’t allow lights, but if they do and it’s needed, some filmmakers will something up. Jason Magbanua will use Aputure lights for a dim ceremony if he gets permission. He will use an Aputure MC light as a nice fill for portrait sessions and bride shots. Pen Weddings will do the same for the ceremony.
At the reception, the darkest part of the wedding, Pen Weddings will try for a backlight and a key always LED Dedolights. They like to put lights up unobtrusively around where the DJ speakers are and use one light as a backlight pointed at them so it’s not harsh but adds texture. “We like the Dedolights because of the dimmers on them,” explained Sarah Pendergraft. “Some dance floors have odd layouts, so we still set up all three lights, but we decide, okay, if I'm shooting from this direction, this one gets turned off. That way we're not blasting them from the exact same direction I'm shooting.”
One crucial point? Don’t be obtrusive. As Matt Johnson explains it:
“Lights are great but don't make it too much of a production. You want lights that are not going to blind people. Nobody likes it if grandma's off on the side of the dance floor and you're blasting some 300 Watt monster onto her. I generally bring two lights. I have one spotlight that I use for the dance floor to light the dancing. And then I have another led panel that I bring along to help light the toast whenever people are speaking. That provides us with a little bit of depth.”
Nearly all the filmmakers consisted of two-person teams, with occasional extra shooters. Jason Magbanua is the exception, who often employs four camera operators, two assistants for lights and audio, and one Same Day editor. Hats off to his team!
If you get booked for a wedding that you must travel to, here are three important points to consider, according to Sculpting with Time Productions.
- Know the international laws for work permits. Some countries you can just say you’re a hobbyist, while others like the Bahamas have strict work permits. Ask the planner.
- Consider ATA Carnet. It might cost a pretty penny, but it ensures you aren’t hassled by the customs of each country about why you are bringing all this gear (and whether you need to be charged customs fees or have is confiscated right when you need it the most)
- Get a LiPo safe bag to carry on all your batteries and make it through TSA with less hassle.
- Make backups of your footage and store it in the hotel safe. If you’re doing a good job at venturing into the nooks and crannies of the amazing place you are visiting, you don’t want to risk having footage get stolen or go missing if you come upon any hairy situations!
YOUR FIRST WEDDING VIDEO
Wedding videography tips for beginners!
The first wedding is often an exercise in being frazzled. Don’t fret, it’s good training! Here’s how it worked for Matt Johnson of Filmstrong Weddings:
“In 2010, a girl in my class was like, 'Hey, I'm getting married. I know you do video. Do you want to film it?' And I said, sure, why not? But with the caveat, I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never done this before and I'll do it for $500. I think I showed up at like 3:00 PM and I stayed till about midnight. I didn't eat anything all day, I wore a horrible outfit. Nothing was right at all, but I just attempted to make it work. The couple ends up loving it and I didn't hate it. I thought, 'This is actually pretty fun. I have a lot of room for improvement though.'"
The takeaway? Snacks, water bottles, a subdued outfit, and letting the couple know ahead of time that you are early in your career. And make sure to share the video later on for the cringe-worthy factor, as Matt termed it. He just shared the edit of that very first wedding video:
HOW TO SHOOT A WEDDING VIDEO WITH ONE CAMERA
If it’s your first wedding video, you may be just one person. But shooting with one camera is rough for certain moments in particular, where it might be worth it for an unmanned second setup.
Here’s Jason Magbanua on shooting with one camera:
“You most definitely can. But plan it out, map a plan. Temper expectations. You will be with the bride most of the time so schedule the groom around that. At least have an unmanned camera for the ceremony so you can edit with at least two angles. “
WEDDING VIDEOS: WHAT NOT TO DO
Overall tips from the filmmakers suggested to NOT do:
- Be obtrusive: “As much as I can, I impose very little of my will on the wedding,” said Magbanua.” “I let things unfold by themselves. Giving little direction, at most only during the portrait session.”
- Offer more than you can deliver.
- Get the photographers in every shot: "Simple communication about where they are going to be during a moment can save both of you. “Hey, where are you going to?” scenarios Matt Johnson. “Whenever you don't talk then you're in trouble.”
- Be rude to all the other vendors: "Don’t be a dick to fellow suppliers,” explained Jason Magbanua. “Be the nice guy.”
"The horror stories you hear about other videographers and the horror stories we have about some people we've worked with who we'll never refer you to and will even turn away a wedding if we find out you're on it," lamented Sarah Pendergraft. "Eventually that will catch up with those people...Be nice to everyone. That's a big part of it too because that reputation lasts. Don't be a jerk.
HOW TO EDIT A WEDDING
It’s where the magic happens, and if you don’t know what you are doing, this is where it shows.
Matt Johnson describes it for FilmStrong Weddings, "People get so hung up on the filming of the wedding day, but the bulk of the work is in the editing, not in the filming. I may spend 50 hours editing a wedding video that I only spent eight hours filming on the day. Editing is near and dear to my heart.” Matt has a whole course dedicated to the craft of editing wedding videos to illustrate the point.
Making a wedding video for your clients usually starts in the beginning with their choice of edit. And the filmmakers offer many lengths. Don’t be compelled to edit the whole damned day together! Remember that less is more, especially when it comes to your sanity and how much you are charging.
WHAT KINDS OF EDITS TO OFFER
- Instagram edit (1 minute and under)
- A few minutes
- 3-5 minute edit
- 5-10 minute edit
- 15-20 minute edit -- this is very, very long!
- All the footage from the day, loosely edited (if you are crazy) or just as files
For even more insane people!
There’s arguably nobody else more experienced with the SDE than Jason Magbanua. Why did he start doing the SDE?
“Initially, here was the selling point for clients:
So people who attended only the reception could see what happened earlier (for the BIG weddings).
To stave off the demand for the final product. Backlog used to be a problem.
I told clients - you are going to almost always out of it - the wedding day will pass you by like a whirlwind - the SDE will be a nice breather, a chance for you to pause and appreciate the day.
Filipinos are scattered all over the world, not all friends and family can come home for the wedding, the ability to share the moment in this manner and this immediate allows them to be part of the moment and celebration.”
Twenty years in, it’s become a crucial part of the high quality of wedding videos that he holds dear. Okay, but how do you edit on the same day? Magbanua said a lot of stress went into perfecting it.
“I started with bringing a desktop. Then a desktop in LAN gaming cases. Then invested in a USD 4000 Original Alienware. Went through XPS's. Settled on MBPs. Now trying out the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo for 4k. It’s a LOT of organization of the clips that I get (from 4 cams), a streamlined workflow from my shooters and my trimmer. A clean organized binning system and balls of steel to approach the edit with a looming deadline in ac couple of hours. Honestly, this kind of work is already second nature to me so it’s become difficult for me to deconstruct the process.
- Copy footage at certain intervals during the wedding day (imagine ingesting MINI DV before!!!!)
- Bin the footage accordingly (PREP BRIDE cam 01, cam 02, PREP GROOM, ESTABLISHING).
- PREcut useable footage
- Pick music (an be done the night before)
- Edit as you go.
- Wait for further footage.
- Wait for applause
- Accept check =) "
Take a look at one of Jason's many career-defining Same-Day-Edits. Awe-inspiring!
HOW TO START A WEDDING VIDEOGRAPHY BUSINESS
How to become a wedding videographer? Shoot a wedding. How to start a wedding videography business? Find clients, and make sure you consider the wedding videographer cost.
That means charging money to make your business sustainable. You can’t book 5 weddings in a month at $500 each. Whoa! Well you can, but you can’t hope to deliver them on time or even make close to minimum wage.
PRICING YOUR SERVICES
How much do wedding videographers make? How much is their time worth? In the beginning, you can undercharge, but quickly price up or you will be out of the business. Here is how Sarah Pendergraft breaks it down:
"And at some point, you get into running the business, you do taxes for being self-employed, it's not like raking it in like you thought.
Valuing your work and your time. If you, if you spent 10 hours shooting a wedding then you spend 40 to 45 hours editing everything and delivering it. Go back and see how much you charged that couple and see how much you actually were getting paid per hour. If you only charge $2,000 or $1,500 or whatever, when you get back in and look at it, you might only be making $2.25 an hour!
When you break it all down, look at what am I really being paid and what am I worth? Can I sustain my business on what I'm charging people? Sometimes we’ll hear crickets back from people after we send our prices or think it’s outrageous to charge what we do. But don’t be discouraged by them."
To connect with other wedding videographers about both business and craft, check out Pen Wedding hosted once-yearly Wedding Film Retreat.
By the way, if you're putting things together, here's a sketch of the steps of the wedding videography business per client:
- A couple reaches out to you; if the date is free and you feel the couple wants what you provide, you go for it
- Get a deposit from the couple to hold their wedding date
- Communicate with couple & wedding planner about what they want and the logistics of the day
- Research location(s) online or in-person
- Prepare cameras, lenses, audio, lights, the schedule from the planner and some kind of wedding day shotlist, even if mental
- Shoot the wedding
- Edit the wedding
- Get paid the final amount
- Share the wedding, book more weddings.
How to get started in wedding videography means how to find people to hire you. It usually snowballs pretty quick. Shoot some weddings. And get your work out there.
And when you’re agreeable to work with (see above “don’t be a dick”) other vendors will get you jobs. Wedding planners. Photographers. Catering. DJs. These are the people you work with to pull off your wedding videos. If you are nice, they will begin to refer you, and VOILA more work.
You can make a living making films about ordinary humans on the most important day of their life. And you can make a decent living if you build up to it. And you can learn cutting edge shooting and editing skills in the process that will go with you to every project you take on.
Have tips or advice or thoughts on being a wedding videographer? Share with us in the comments.