Where to Begin?
What gear do I need to film a wedding? A simple enough question that requires a rather long, detailed, and complex set of answers. I will try my best to make it simple and get to the meat of the necessary gear in the following paragraphs. The essential thing you need is a video camera and a tripod. But, don’t forget about audio. You can’t expect to get good audio if you are recording a ceremony or toast from just the on camera microphone. And what if you need to suddenly move your camera to another spot? A tripod is meant to stay put, but during a wedding reception, events take place in different locations. And wedding receptions are dark too: you are going to need lights.
Where do you start? What camera should you get? What is the best way to capture audio? All these questions and issues will be addressed in the next few paragraphs, followed by a complete list of the gear (with links) I use to film weddings, live events, and even studio productions. So, let’s begin.
From time to time people ask what gear I use to film weddings and live events. The question isn’t that simple though. The image quality is only as good as the light and the audio accompanying it. So it’s not as simple as what camera to use, but one must also consider all the other elements that work in concert with well composed and shot footage, including lighting and audio. The list and thoughts below reflect my experience and years in the field, testing and trying out different gear. Through trial, error, and success I have come to rely on certain brands and models that I have found to be the most solid, reliable, and trustworthy to perform and produce the image and sound quality I expect. Another tip: over my years in the field, I have learned to always have pre-set backups. Murphy’s law is in constant flux, and the last thing you want is to be stuck in a situation you can’t fix; so always be prepared for something not to work.
First, you need a camera, and if you want to get multiple angles of the same subject, I recommend buying three of the same camera, or at the least, two. The reason I recommend purchasing multiples of the same camera is that this will greatly simplify editing in the sense of image continuity. The same cameras and model will produce roughly the same image, quality, and color cast, allowing you to spend less time correcting exposure, color, and contrast in post editing. Plus, during a wedding ceremony, there are three main subjects: Bride, Groom, and Officiant. Having more than one camera gives you greater flexibility in the edit to view the subjects and scene from multiples points of view, showing your audience who is talking or how the bride, groom, or guests are reacting to the words being spoken. The most popular and universal camera type to use these days are DSLRs. They are the same type of cameras that photographers use, but now they are capable of capturing beautiful, cinematic video. Another benefit to DSLRs is that they work well in low light, can use interchangeable lenses, and are relatively easy to use. The best brands currently are: Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and Nikon.
Second, you will need to record the audio of the event. During wedding ceremonies, I use a lapel microphone connected to a digital pocket recorder on the Officiant, the Groom, and even the Bride. When I first started filming weddings and live events, I would use a wireless lapel mic with a transmitter to a wireless receiver direct to the camera, but the problem I ran into with that is the pre-amps on DLSR cameras are notoriously noisy; also I would run into random RF interference from other wireless devices such as: microphones, wifi, cell phones, or walkie talkies at venues. To solve the problem I switched to running a lapel microphone to a digital pocket recorder. Digital recorders come with a number of handy affects like compression and limiting, they also have a much lower signal-to-noise ratio and thus record a far cleaner and superior signal. The only downside is you have to sync the audio to the video footage when you edit, but this is a common practice in professional video studios. For mic’ing individual people, I use the RØDE SmartLav + with a SC3 adapter and a Sony SX1000 digital pocket recorder.
For toast audio, I run what I call a “semi-wireless” setup for certain reasons. The main reason you want to go “semi-wireless” here is: long xlr cables can be trip hazards and they are unsightly running on the floor. The other reason for the “semi-wireless” setup is that for toasts you need to be able to place the person speaking in one place for one camera and the newly wed couple in another place for another camera in order to get a dynamic cut in the edit. This approach will generally cause you grief from a few of the other vendors. Trust me, I know photographers, DJs, and coordinators always want to place the toast next to the wedding cake and expect you to get the entire toast in one single shot, but don’t do it. If you are filming the wedding to make a short form wedding film, say from 7 to 10 to even 15 minutes long, you will want to have one shot of the person giving the toast, and another shot of the newlyweds reacting to the words. And even better, if you have a third camera, you will want shots of the parents and guests reacting to the speech and possibly even shots of the speaker from different angles. The next important thing about wedding toasts and speeches is that you need a subtle way to keep the subject (perosn speaking) from moving. The reason for this is that it is very difficult to film a moving subject, especially when you can’t anticipate where the subject is going. Some speakers like to roam the room. Another reason you want the speaker stationary is that you want them to stay in the light. If they move out of the light, the subject can get lost in the shot making it hard for the viewer to find a focus point. The technique and equipment I use to do this is listed in detail in my previous post, which you can find by clicking HERE. Brnads I trust to capture toast and speeches are: Zoom, Roland, and Tascam. I consider these the best, affordable and easy to use digital field recorders for toasts and speech audio.
For the toast, I also highly recommend using a good-looking microphone. You can’t go wrong with the Shure Super 55. A nice looking microphone also help compell the DJ and Bride to use your microphone. And, since it’s not a handheld microphone, this forces the speaker to stay put. I also recommend an On Stage Rocker Lug mic stand with the Shure Super 55 or Shure SM58.
The next important piece of equipment is lighting. Please, for the respect of guests and the cinematography profession: DO NOT USE ON-CAMERA LIGHTS. On-camera lights do not produce good images and they really annoy the subject you are filming. I highly recommend purchasing quality off-camera lights and light stands. For lights, I use and recommend the Dedolight DHL4, but Arri and iKan make great affordable lighting solutions too that are very comparable to Dedolights. I also use a Core SWX Torch LED for toast lighting. They are great lights, but you will need adapters to mount the Core SWX on a stand. I recommend a Giotto Mini Ball head and a Manfrotto Adapter. For light stands, many videographers love Cheetah Stands for their ease of setup and quick mobility. Impact Air Cushioned are also good because they lower slowly, keeping your lights in good condition. If you really want to go quality, Avenger are used for high end productions, but be aware they are heavy.
After cameras, audio recorders, and lights come support equipment and motion stabilizers. Manfrotto is an industry staple for tripods and monopods, though Benro has become a recent competitor that offers affordable alternatives. I highly recommend Cinevate sliders for smooth side-to-side shots. For following subjects or orbiting a subject, DJI’s Ronin, Ronin-M, and Osmo are great. One note, I recommend the Osmo for daylight conditions because the image starts to look noisy in low light situations.
First, get certified and licensed. RemotePilot101.com is a great place to learn and prepare for the FAA Part 107 test and their class is affordable. As for drones, DJI is the market leader. I use a Phantom 4 Pro. But the Mavic Pro is another excellent choice. And if you want to go high end, check out the Inspire 2.
Next are lenses, also known as “glass.” I can tell you from experience, high-quality glass makes the biggest difference in image sharpness and quality. I highly recommend Canon’s L series lenses. You can film an entire wedding, from prep to exit, with two lenses: the Canon 24-70mm 2.8, and the 70-200mm 2.8. You will see that Canon also offers both the 24-70 and 70-200 in f/4 configurations, but I highly recommend the f/2.8 over the f/4; the extra 2 stops of range makes a big difference in low-light conditions.
CASES & TRANSPORT
Now that you’ve invested in all this equipment, you need to transport it safely. Pelican cases offer protection, portability, and security. The Pelican 1510 is great for the individual videographer. I also use a 1620 for my gimbal and a 1400 for audio and peripherals. I own several Pelican cases in different colors to help me identify what’s in each case and to keep each cinematographer’s gear separate and identifiable. I also use an OrangeA foldable hand truck to transport the gear from my truck to and from the ceremony and reception venues. A hand truck makes it much easier to load in and out in one go.
Last, communication. If you are shooting video with another person, you need a way to communicate on the fly. I have tried many different brands and configurations of walkie talkies and had them break, not work, or fall apart. I discovered the Kenwood XLS Pro after a visit to my dentist. I noticed that all the staff in the office and patient rooms used Kenwood XLS Pro Walkie Talkies. So, I asked the dental assistant how long and often she used her walkie at work. She said she had been using the same one for 4 years, about 4-5 days a week. As soon as I got home, I ordered the same walkie talkies and after using them for a few years now, I can attest to the fact that they are workhorses that are solid, reliable, and road worthy. I also recommend using the in-ear surveillance type microphones to maintain a quiet and low profile at events.
External recorders: I use the Atomos Ninja 2 external recorder to record uncompressed video straight from the camera to a 256gb SSD drive. This gives me a few advantages. First, it’s a real-time redundant backup of all the video footage. Second, it’s uncompressed video. Uncompressed Pro Res video is a more dynamic video format that gives me greater flexibility during the editing process to fix exposure, color, and clarity. I also recommend the Edelkrone Monitor Mount. This is the sturdiest mount I have ever used and I love it.
I also highly recommend a RØDE Video Mic Pro for on-camera audio. Generally, I only use the on camera audio as a scratch track to sync my better sounding external audio to. Mack sure to manually set your camera audio input to one click above zero and set the RØDE Vide Mic to the +20. The on camera pre amps are generally noisy. droping the gain to one above zero gives you the quietest and cleanest setting and the RØDE mic feeds a +20 db signal to that.
I also use Amazon Basics Rechargeable batteries. They have a long recharge life and last nearly as long as Duracell without the high cost.
The above equipment is what I’ve found over years of use and abuse to be the most reliable and road worthy gear without breaking the bank. I have found Canon to be such a reliable brand that on occasion I still use my original Canon 7D (1st generation) that I purchased in 2010. Total cost of the equipment listed is approximately $25,000 (that includes duplicate cameras, microphones, and other peripherals for audio and storage).
This list does not include an editing workstation, necessary editing software, online storage and delivery costs, and other business expenses. That will be covered in a future blog post.
Shure Super 55
On Stage Rocker Lug Mic Stand
Mogami XLR Cables
Sony Wireless UWP
Whirlwind IMP 2:1 Splitter
XLR to 1/4 Female
XLR to 1/4 Male
Zoom H4n Pro
Sandisk 32gb SD Card
Amazon AA Batteries
RØDE Video Mic Pro
RØDE Smart Lav +
RØDE SC3 Adapter
Sony Digital Recorder
Lapel Wind Cutter