How To Solo Shoot a Cinematic Wedding Film (Without Going Crazy)
How To Solo Shoot a Wedding Video
In the world of wedding videography, solo shooters may seem like a rare breed as according to a study by The Academy of Storytellers, 22% of weddings are solo shot. Many have the idea that you simply need at least 2 filmmakers to craft a cinematic wedding film, but in reality it is entirely possible to pull off if you have a system down that works for you in order to capture what you need.
If you walk into a wedding day halfheartedly or without a plan, you will be swept up in the hectic rush of the day ultimately causing the wedding films to suffer.
What you need is a system and a plan to attack the day. Below is my system for how I approach every wedding. Feel free to adapt what works for you, I'm sure that I will continue to make changes over time. It all comes down to "what do you need in order to consistently craft your style of wedding films?" And for me, these steps allow for my creative voice to come through.
(I'm going to skip past the obvious elements such as having a master schedule, addresses, gear ready)
Start capturing aerials and exterior establishing/transition shots 1-2 hours before joining the bridal prep
If the settings for the wedding day are especially beautiful or historic, I will plan on spending a little more time to capture these shots. I capture these now so I don't need to later, when things become rushed and it also helps me be a little more familiar with the locations.
Join the Bridal Prep as her makeup is nearing completion
I like to wait until near the end of makeup before I start filming as I won’t be including pre-makeup footage . It also allows the bridesmaids more time as a lady troupe without a camera in their face. Typically I don't need more than 10-15 minutes during this time as I don't want this segment to take up a sizable portion of the highlight film, I'm mostly looking for a few artistic shots to include, so this is the time that I will experiment a bit more with angles, light, prisms, or foreground elements.
Fake the Groom Prep if needed
If the groom is getting ready at a different location and the schedule doesn't allow me to travel there for groom prep, it's simple enough to have the groom redo his jacket, buttons, etc.
Set up a second camera on a tripod for the First Look
I always make sure to have a second angle during the First Look and communicate with the photographer so it doesn't get in their way.
Set up for the Ceremony an hour ahead of time
Usually this is during the family photography sessions, and I will communicate this timeline with the couple before the wedding so they're aware I will duck out and start setting up.
Tear down quickly after the Ceremony and get set up for a Send Off
Here is one of the times where I need to hustle as a solo shooter. I try to get all my gear rounded up including the lavs from the groom and officiant before the Send Off. It just makes me feel more comfortable knowing that my gear is in one spot to load up after the Send Off.
Start at the Reception 30-60 minutes before the Grand Entrance*
There is an asterisk on this step as this one depends on the bridal party's plans after the ceremony. If they are going somewhere to take some more pictures, I will try to join them for a portion of that before heading to the reception. Sometimes the schedule is too tight and I will need to go straight to the reception. Another factor that comes into play here is knowing how much footage I have before the ceremony. If I know that I already have quite a few solid shots and sequences of the couple and bridal party, then I will be more likely to head to the reception if the schedule is tight. But if I don't feel comfortable with the content I have by that point (for example, maybe the couple didn't do a first look) then I will prioritize getting more shots and changing my workflow at the reception.
Making sure I have a good audio feed is one of the first things I'll do when I arrive at the reception. I always reach out to the DJ before the wedding to ask permission to record XLR out from one of their speakers. If you're unsure on how to record the best audio possible, check out my post here where I explain it in more detail.
After I have my audio feed, then I'll start shooting some details such as the cake, table decor, chandeliers, etc. When I shoot these details I nearly always use lighting. The light makes sure I can expose the images well and give some depth and helps separate the details from the background. I like to give some movement to these detail shots so it's not just a repeat of what the photographer will capture. I have found that the IBIS of the GH5 allows for usably smooth movement for these detail shots so I no longer need to bring a slider to weddings.
Head outside with the couple during Golden Hour
This is something I plan ahead with the couple, and usually the photographer will accompany for this as well. The photographer and I will go back and forth with some different poses and sequences. The critical step here is that you need to take control and capture what you need for your film. Don’t rely on static photographer poses, step in and direct movement for your film. These shots will serve as the real visual foundation of the highlight film so it's super important to think through what you want captured. Usually I'll head outside during the reception to look for some inspiration in the surroundings on where we film this. It's always a real bright note to end the day on, as you know that you just captured some beautiful shots.