Since the 1860’s, when photography first became possible, weddings have been recorded by still photographers. You’ve probably looked at the photo albums which preserve the memory of their parent’s wedding. Unanswered by the photos are questions such as “how did Mom manage that huge train as she walked down the aisle?” “Was Dad able to bend over in his stiffly starched shirt?” “Was their first dance as graceful as their dancing today?”

What’s missing from these frozen moments of the wedding are the sights, the sounds and the bustle of activity that only moving images can capture. Videography has given today’s bride and groom the opportunity to have created a memoir of their wedding, complete with all the sights and sounds of that most important event in their lives, a memory which can be revisited for years to come.

Creating a video record of a wedding is a job best left to professionals. “Why would we want a professionally made wedding video?” ask many brides and grooms. “Uncle Charlie offered to do it for us for free.” As we’ll see in the rest of this article, there is a lot to wedding videography that Uncle Charlie probably doesn’t know about.

Wedding Video Styles:
Wedding videos tend to fall into either the documentary or journalistic and what might be called the MTV style. Neither is better than the other; they’re just different.

Unlike the still photographer, who carefully poses each picture, the documentary style videographer records things as they happen. The activities of the wedding day are captured candidly, and often include moments the bride and groom never see on their wedding day, being occupied elsewhere. Videographers who work in the documentary style shoot as much of the wedding day activities as they can, then select the footage that best creates the narrative of the wedding.

Videographers who work in the MTV style are more likely to stage couples, like a movie director arranging a scene. In this regard, the MTV style videographer is somewhat like the still photographer. Videographers who specialize in the MTV style are excellent choices for couples who want a “how we met” Love Story, and who do not mind having the natural flow of the wedding day interrupted from time to time by requests to pose or perform for the videographer. Like documentary style videographers, the MTV style professional will also carefully select (edit) footage to tell the wedding story.

Again, it’s not a question of one way being better than another, but rather a matter of “style” and of personal taste. Be sure you’re comfortable with your videographer’s approach before you sign a contract.

Long Form or Short Form?
For many years, wedding videos have documented virtually all of the wedding day. Often from ninety minutes to two hours in length, so-called “long form” wedding videos faithfully record every moment of the wedding service, from the first bridesmaid as she starts down the aisle to the last guest leaving the church. At the reception, in addition to such traditional events as the first dances, the toasts, garter and bouquet toss and cake cutting ceremonies, a great deal of the dancing is recorded and made a part of the finished tape.

Recently, brides have become enthusiastic about shorter finished wedding videos, tapes that are perhaps 30 to 45 minutes in length. The focus of these “short form” video tapes is the emotional content of the wedding day.

Instead of showing each bridesmaid walking the full length of the church aisle, for example, the short form video might have a single reference to the bridesmaids by showing them clustered around the bride in the dressing room, the camera lingering for a moment on each as she admires the bride in her gown and reflects on her own wedding. The exchange of vows and rings and lighting of the unity candle is shown in its entirety, but choral interludes, responsive readings and lengthy pastoral commentary is reduced to its essence.

At the reception, the focus of the short form video is more narrowly on the bride and groom than on the food, the guests and perhaps the antics of the DJ.

The same amount of video is shot for the short form as for the long form, but the shooting and editing approach is quite different. Videographers working in the short form emphasize those special moments which are the signature of the wedding day.

The short form might be said to be poetic, while the long form is epic.

Which form the bride chooses is a matter of personal taste. Discuss these forms with your wedding videographer. Decide what’s right for you.

What cost to expect:
The location of the wedding, the length of coverage and the amount of editing involved, and the reputation of the videographer combine to determine wedding video pricing.

Just like housing and food, wedding videography costs more in metropolitan areas such as New York City, Los Angeles and Seattle, than it does in Fargo or Eugene.

The length and nature of coverage plays an important role in price: how many cameras and camera operators will be at your wedding and reception, how long will they stay and how much editing does the videographer estimate will have to be done.

The least expensive coverage typically provides one camera and operator recording the wedding and handing you the tape at the end of the ceremony.

More expensive packages typically include two or more cameras and operators at the wedding and reception, with editing, titles and music, and perhaps a photo montage included as well. Videographers may use two or three cameras to cover a wedding: two or more manned cameras, plus static or remotely controlled cameras focused on the choir, lectern and congregation. Some might use even more, depending on the circumstances. The advantage of multiple cameras and editing is that the videographer is able to combine footage from each camera into a single visually interesting and exciting record of the ceremony and reception. This flexibility costs more, but it’s worth it!

Prices for wedding videos in the Seattle area vary from as little as $300 to as much as $3,500 or more, depending on the individual videographer and the options you choose. Expect to pay more to get the very best.

A good rule of thumb is to be prepared to pay at least as much for your wedding videographer as you pay for your wedding photographer.

Additional Video Coverage:
Many brides want their wedding video to include features well beyond the basic coverage of the wedding and reception. These may include a large number of still photos of your courtship — a full-blown photo montage — and the option to include photos and video footage from the honeymoon (some videographers will even provide a video camera to take on the honeymoon.) You may also request coverage of events prior to the wedding, such as the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner and activities such as the bride and groom dressing, and perhaps a wedding day brunch.

These are probably extras, or add-ons to the basic wedding day video services, and add-ons such as these will probably increase the cost of your video, since the videographer has to do a lot of extra work beyond shooting the wedding and reception.

Another add-on is the Love Story, which is almost always arranged for separately. The Love Story can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish, but since it requires a great deal of shooting and editing time, expect to pay more than just the cost of the basic package.

For many brides and grooms, the Love Story, which encapsulates the romance of the courtship, and provides an opportunity for the couple to speak freely of their love for each other, becomes over time as important as the wedding video.

Finally, you might opt for a first-year retrospective. Roughly a year after the wedding, you and your spouse, after reviewing their wedding video, speak on camera of their first year together, and what married life has meant to you. This may then be edited and placed on the wedding video tape, or given to you as a stand-alone video, a reminder in later years of the start of a long life together.

What to ask about:
In buying the services of a wedding videographer it’s important to ask the right questions.

The wedding rehearsal
Start with whether or not the videographer will attend the rehearsal. If your wedding is to be complicated or nontraditional, it’s important that the videographer knows where everything will be taking place, and who’s doing what. If you feel it’s important that the videographer be at your rehearsal, insist on it. If you feel strongly about it, and he refuses, find another videographer.

How will the videographer pick up what is being said by the bride, groom, officiant, readers and musicians? Most videographers use wireless microphones placed on the groom and the officiant. An increasing number of videographers are making use of mini disk recorders placed on the groom and at other appropriate locations as well. Whatever the equipment, make certain that the videographer is using microphones located very near where you and your fiancé will be standing: the nearer the better. No video professional worth hiring will tell you that he relies on the camera microphone alone to pick up the wedding ceremony.

Find out how many manned cameras will be used to record your ceremony. Will remotely controlled camera be used?

Manned cameras (a camera with an operator attached) and remotely controlled cameras provide better coverage of the wedding ceremony than do stationary cameras, cameras set up on a tripod, focused on a particular part of the venue, and left unattended. The footage from a stationary camera may be excellent, but there will be little variety in what it records, since it won’t be repositioned during the ceremony. Manned cameras make for rich visual imagery. Many videographers make use of both when taping a wedding.

When you hear “I’ll use three cameras at your wedding,” find out exactly what the videographer has in mind. Make sure you’re getting what you think you’re paying for.

Most videographers use ambient (available) light to record the wedding ceremony. The down-side of ambient light is that the quality of the video may suffer. Candle-lit weddings are a videographer’s nightmare! Although today’s high-end cameras are pretty good at delivering good video in low-light conditions, if there isn’t enough light in the venue, the video will look grainy, the colors flat and washed out, and there’s little the videographer can do to improve it.

A few videographers will suggest the use of supplemental lighting to enhance the light in a dimly lit venue. Many officiants will not allow supplemental lighting, so check this out thoroughly if your videographer suggests supplemental lighting during the ceremony.

You have to decide at what level of brightness the lights in the venue will spoil the mood of your ceremony. You may not be able to do this until the day of your wedding rehearsal.

Realize that there’s a trade-off here — whether to have mood lighting and not-so-hot video, or terrific video and lots of light. Try not to get adversarial about this. Trust your videographer’s judgment about what the video will look like, then make your decision. Don’t be surprised if this decision becomes an item added to your contract with the videographer. Many videographers use supplemental lighting of some sort at the reception to insure good coverage of the toasts, cake cutting and family dances. On-camera lights are very sophisticated and many have dimmer controls. Well-used camera lights are relatively unobtrusive: their use often makes the difference between good video and virtually no video at all.

Here again, discuss this thoroughly with the videographer, and be comfortable with the answers you get before deciding to hire him.

Turn-around time
How long will it take to get your finished video tape back? 12-16 weeks is not unreasonable. Each wedding takes the videographer 20-30 hours to edit, and it’s in the editing that the video receives its final artistic form.

Your wedding goes in the production line at the end of the queue, so don’t be too impatient. It’s worth a reasonable wait to get a superb video, isn’t it.

And remember: you have a responsibility, too. Your videographer can’t begin editing your wedding video until you have provided the still photos, music, invitations and programs, and anything else you wish to include as part of the finished tape.

Find out what the videographers will wear to work. Videographers in tennis shoes and jeans can spoil everything you have tried to achieve in setting the tone of your wedding. Attire is negotiable, so don’t be afraid to discuss this.

Ask about the payment structure and whether there are any hidden costs. How much is the retainer? Under what circumstances is it refundable? Is it part of the total cost of the wedding video? Does it guarantee the date? When is the balance due? Decide what you’re comfortable with. These conditions may be negotiable. If you’re not comfortable with the financial arrangements, find another videographer.

Payments are often made in three installments. This is designed to protect both you and your videographer.

The first payment is the retainer, a portion of the whole — often a third or a half — that guarantees your date. It is usually paid at the time the contract is signed. With many videographers the retainer in non-refundable.

Your videographer may ask that a second installment be made a week or two before the wedding. This and the retainer pays for the actual shooting of the event. You could agree to pay on the day of the wedding — your guarantee that the videographer shows up — but if you forget your checkbook, you run the risk of winding up without a wedding video. Put the date for this second installment in your bridal scheduler as soon as you sign the contract. It’s your responsibility to make the payment. The final payment is made when the videographer delivers your wedding video to you and your husband — your guarantee that the work has been done.

The contract is how you and your videographer communicate. It’s where you come to agreement and record what will happen with regard to your wedding video. Make sure that everything you want from the videographer and everything he expects from you is written into the contract. A little piece of paper that says “I’ll shoot your wedding for you, pay me $1500” isn’t doing much communicating.

Take nothing for granted. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask for an explanation and, if necessary, ask to have that clarification written into the final version of the contract. If there is something you and the videographer discuss, and it’s important to you, have it included in the contract. Six months later, the day before your wedding, it will serve to remind the videographer and you that getting pictures of your Aunt Frieda is a “must do.”

The contract should include a statement that after the contract is signed, changes requested by either party must be in writing. Verbal changes have a way of coming back to haunt you. Looking at samples of the videographer’s work. Don’t settle for a demonstration tape!

Demonstration tapes – “demos” — are made up of examples carefully selected to impress the viewer. Demo tapes are fine as a starting place, but ask to see full-length wedding videos that were shot in venues similar to your wedding site. This will give you a much better idea of how your potential videographer handles the events of the wedding day.

And don’t be surprised if a videographer doesn’t have a demo tape. Videographers know that only after you’ve met together, and you’ve seen full length examples, can you draw any real conclusions about their work and how they create it.

Listen to the quality of the sound as you watch wedding tapes. Ask where the microphone placement was? What you hear on the tape is probably what you will get on your wedding video as well, unless there were extenuating circumstances. Asking how the audio for peripheral activity such as scripture readings and musicians will be captured will assure that your videographer knows what will be required at your wedding.

Camera Work
If you think you’re not knowledgeable enough to judge the quality of the camera work, imagine that you were invited, but had to miss the wedding. Your friend, the bride, sent you the wedding video that you are watching. Now ask yourself whether the video shows you everything that you would like to see, or whether there is a great deal missing. Is there variety among the shots, or are they all pretty much alike? Good close-ups, interesting compositions and angles, good variety among the shots are the hallmarks of a good videographer.

Now look at the camera work in the ceremony again. If almost all of the ceremony was recorded from the back of the venue, looking at the backs of the bride and groom, ask why. Maybe the officiant refused to allow cameras anywhere in the sanctuary: it happens. But maybe the videographer is satisfied with this kind of coverage, and what you see here is what you can expect to get.

If you’re fortunate enough to see a wedding shot in the venue where your wedding will take place, you’ll see exactly what the problems were that confronted the videographer. You’ll be able to discuss these with the videographer and perhaps work to overcome them for your wedding video.

Look at how the video was edited. Here you are considering both the artistry of the camera work and of the editor. Is there a logical structure to the work: does it tell the story you would want told? Is there a nice mix of shots: close-ups, medium shots that show the various members of the wedding party, wide shots that show the wedding guests watching the ceremony? How are shots combined to create a rhythm in the video: does the camera stay on one shot for minutes at a time, or are there cuts and dissolves from one angle to another, keeping the view fresh and interesting?

Tact and discretion
How has the videographer handled the “special moments” of the wedding: interviews, unguarded comments picked up on the microphones, “smooching and hugging” and other displays of affection? If you’re embarrassed by this treatment, be careful. You’ll probably get the same treatment in your wedding video.

Visual quality and equipment
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, look at the visual quality of the videos. Would you be satisfied if this was your wedding tape? What cameras were used, and whether the videographer shoots with S-VHS, Hi-8 or digital equipment is not nearly as important as what the results look like. The same is true with editing equipment. How the videographer got the finished product — whether it was linear or digital equipment — is of far less importance than what the finished product looks like. In all of this, you’re evaluating the videographer’s work against your idea of what you want your wedding video to look like. If you like what you see, you and the videographer are probably a good match. What you need to do for your videographers. An informed videographer is a happy videographer.

Keep in touch with your videographer. Contracts for wedding professionals are often entered into months before the wedding. Be sure you keep your videographer advised of such things as the time set for the rehearsal, additions to the wedding party list and special aspects of the ceremony that you want covered.

A hungry videographer is a grumpy videographer.

Make sure you and your videographers agree on eating arrangements. Videographers usually work eight to ten hours on the day of a wedding. They need to eat if they are to do their best work.

If only one videographer is to shoot your reception, try to arrange that he or she eats in the same room as the guests, so that he can keep an eye on what is going on and be ready to capture events on tape at a moment’s notice.

Many couples suggest that the videographers go through the buffet line. However, for a sit-down dinner, where meal costs skyrocket, it’s appropriate to provide sandwiches and coffee. You may even decide that the videographers should provide their own meal. In this case, make sure everyone understands where they are to eat, since you probably don’t want a brown bag lunch and can of pop at one of your guest tables.

Remember, it’s your wedding, and you’re paying for the videographer. Whatever you decide will be alright, so long as the videographer knows in advance what to expect.

And finally, always remember
You are the buyer and the videographer is the seller. Have a good idea of the product you’re after, and see if the videographer can provide it. You’re looking for a customized service, and a unique product, your wedding video. Your videographer is a professional who wants nothing more than to make you happy through his or her work. Arriving at an understanding of your relative positions will assure a happy and rewarding working relationship.