May 10, 2007

Wedding Video Lighting

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from brides and grooms is about lighting. It seems that many of my clients have been guests at weddings where the videographer has lights hanging from the ceiling, the camera, the floor, the tables and anywhere else you can imagine. Instead of the bandleader announcing the bride and groom for the first time, with all the lights set up you expect to see Madonna walk out to put on a show.

While I might be exaggerating slightly, the perception to many is that videographer lights are obtrusive and annoying. This perception is the reality only some of the time, but for most people it only takes one bad experience to scar them for life.

In fact, many couples decide outright not to even hire a videographer just because they were so turned off by the experience they had attending another wedding. Many of these couples are the same ones whose biggest regret after the wedding is not having a wedding video to remember their day.

While I cannot speak for all videographers, I can say that many of us are in tune with the needs of our clients and have limited the size and use of our light kits. I use one small light on the top of my camera that I never use during the ceremony and only sporadically throughout the evening when the room is so dark that I have no other choice. It's at these moments- the cake cutting, first dance and sometimes the toasts that the light is actually a benefit to the other guests as well, in that they are able to see these great moments occur instead of otherwise being left in the dark.

What I have learned after years of shooting weddings is that it's the special moments such as the above which you will look most fondly on later, but they are also the same moments when you will be so completely wrapped up in emotion that we could be shining spotlights on you from a helicopter and you still wouldn't notice.

Fortunately, for most of us, helicopter spotlighting never has to happen. Today's cameras are designed to work extremely well in low-light conditions, so that if a videographer knows what he is doing, adjusting the iris, shutter speed, gain or pre-set modes on a camera can be just as good as using a light. Even in the direst of lighting conditions, a skilled videographer will know how to adjust their camera to compensate.

It also comes down to a videographer having the common sense and decorum to know when not to use light. I shot a beautiful wedding at the Rainbow Room at NBC Studios recently in which the cocktail hour was sparsely lit. The only lights to speak of were from sporadic candles on tables throughout the space. Even if I turned on my light at it's lowest level, it would have been obvious in this atmosphere. I decided that I would instead use the natural light from the candles to help my shooting without turning on the camera light. While I sacrificed some potential deer-in-the-headlights shots of people drinking martinis, I preserved the amazing ambiance that the couple had worked so hard to achieve.

For couples who ask me to describe my lighting technique, I tell them that I might not use huge light kits like some other videographers prefer and because of this the image at times might be about 10% worse than that of the videographer with a Steven Spielberg lighting kit. However, I am quick to tell them the good news- which is the experience of their guests and the ambiance of the day will be 100% better because of it!

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