Tips + Techniques

Powerful Storytelling Techniques in Wedding Filmmaking

June 26, 2019

By Greg Scoblete

Photo © Josh Thompson

While Josh Thompson employs a full range of motion tools, like sliders and gimbals, he uses them sparingly to avoid repetition.

Updated 9/8/2022

Pulling off a successful wedding film is something of a high-tech, high-wire act. While there are plenty of opportunities to slip up, it’s also an incredibly rewarding creative pursuit. No one filmmaker approaches a wedding film the same way, but there’s still plenty to learn from their varied approaches. 

Formal Shot List vs. Your Creative Vision

Most established filmmakers evolve away from a rigid shot list and instead work from an informal one that’s organized around the day’s events. “I already know what I’m looking for,” says UK filmmaker Manny Pabla of Story & Motion, whose film Journey Through Our Eyes earned a Gold Distinction at this year’s WPPI The Annual competition. Pabla and his crew film many Indian and Sikh wedding ceremonies in the UK and beyond, and they look for a combination of emotional elements (the mom interacting with the bride) to the more routine (bridal prep). 

Wisconsin filmmaker Josh Thompson promises his clients that he’ll film hair, makeup, bride and groom prep, ceremony, group creatives, couple creatives and the key parts of the reception. Collectively, Thompson calls those his “safe shots.” After that, “the flood gates are open to what we want to creatively shoot.”

Amber Baird of Indiana’s Eyenamics says her shot list boils down to a simple philosophy: “Follow the emotion. There’s not much eye candy,” she says. “We’re trying to connect with the couple, their family and their friends.” That said, there’s always b-roll of the venue and “anything the couple spent money on.”

Tell a Story in Frame Rates

The frame rate of your video can have a major emotional impact on the final film. For speeches, vows and dances, most of the filmmakers we spoke with prefer to shoot at 24p to capture a real-time but cinematic feel. There are other moments, such as walking down the aisle or first looks, when faster frame rates (60p to 120p) can be used for slow motion—even if it means dropping from 4K to HD resolution. 

Iowa filmmaker Drew Meinecke (of D. Barrett Studios) says he will typically shoot a large portion of the wedding at 60p, except for speeches and letter reading. This way, he has the flexibility to use it as either real time or slow motion on a 24p editing timeline. 

“Anything that we will sync with audio we are shooting at 24p,” Thompson adds. “On a tripod where there’s no audio syncing, we are shooting 30p and gimbal work is at 60p and up to allow us to have smooth, slow-motion shots.”

It’s important not to stick to just one frame rate, Baird advises. “Filmmaking is so fluid that if you lock yourself into any one scenario, you’re going to miss something.”

Tell a Story in Focal Lengths & Camera Movement

“Each scene we shoot, we make sure to get a tight, middle and wide shot, and a gimbal shot of the subject,” Thompson says. “This variety ensures that we don’t have the same distance shots across the whole film.” 

Pabla uses a Sony PXW-FS7 camera on a Ronin or MōVI M5 gimbal and focuses on motion while his second shooter shoots wide. “There’s also a third shooter working a jib with two cameras—a Sony a7S II with a wide-angle lens and another a7S II with a 24-105mm lens,” he explains. “When you punch into the 70-80mm range and combine it with stable movement, you get a really cinematic shot.” 

“We like to use a slider for our detail shots such as the rings, cake and jewelry,” Thompson says. “We also like to use the slider during the couple’s first dance. We like to incorporate a motorized gimbal for motion shots, and to create motion during formals.” That said, Thompson notes that they use these tools “for maybe 10 percent of our shots for the day” since they want to avoid overreliance on any one type of shot. 

For the majority of the wedding, Baird is on a 70-200mm f/2.8 while her husband opts for a 50mm or a 24mm f/1.4 for prep shots and a 70-200mm for the ceremony. They’ll also use a 12-24mm lens on a gimbal for movement and a 90mm macro for close-up details. In addition to full-frame Sony bodies, Baird will bring the petite RX0 camera to capture unique angles. “One reception had synchronized swimmers, so we put an RX0 at the bottom of the pool,” she says. 

Record in 4K, Deliver in HD

For all the 4K TVs people are supposedly buying, all the filmmakers we spoke with said their clients rarely request a 4K film. But that doesn’t stop them from shooting in 4K anyway since the extra resolution gives them more flexibility in post-production to stabilize footage and more. “[4K] gives us options to add motion or zoom in if needed,” Thompson says. 

Baird, who has been shooting 4K for three or four years, offers it to clients “as an upgrade,” but says most take HD delivery. 

Back it Up

Just as with still images, backing up video files is a critical part of the wedding-day workflow. Meinecke transfers footage to two external drives when the wedding concludes. The next day, he’ll transfer the footage to an editing drive and a backup drive. When the film is done and delivered, it’s removed from the editing drive; the raw footage will stay in the archive drive indefinitely. 

New Jersey filmmaker Rob Adams will copy his footage to a pair of drives and then a NAS drive that syncs to a cloud server when he returns from a shoot. He also subscribes to Backblaze, a cloud backup service. “I’m fanatical about this,” Adams admits. After one year, he will inform his clients that he’s about to delete their raw footage and offers them a 50 percent discount on it. It’s an offer that many of his clients jump at, he says. After that, “I erase everything.”

Pabla, however, archives the footage indefinitely but only on Dropbox which, at his subscription tier, essentially offers unlimited storage. “Why not take advantage of that,” he says. 

Related: Being a One-Person Superstar Film Team at a Wedding

8 Easy Ways Photographers Can Create Engaging Video Content

How to Back Up Your Digital Photos

How to Edit Your Wedding Films Like a Pro