Make Your Wedding Videos More Cinematic Without Spending a Dime


Cinema, or celluloid, is the gold standard of filmmaking. If you're in the business of making wedding videos, you know exactly what I mean. I'm constantly asked by wedding videographers on "How do I get my videos to look more like cinematic". So, I'd thought I'd show you  5 simple ways to make your wedding videos more cinematic without dipping into your savings.

1. Study Film

This may be a no brainer but you might be surprised to find out that wedding videographers who are in the business of making wedding videos do not study films at all.

There's simply no way an aspiring artist would not know everything about their favorite artist or their favorite painting.

That's not to say that you should be studying The Dark Knight to improve your next wedding video. However, Quentin Tarantino wouldn't be who he is without his encyclopedic knowledge of film and its history.

The point here is if you can break down your favorite film and articulate how the film affected you and why, you're one step closer to reproducing that same feeling in your wedding videos.

2. Pre-Production

Aside the fact that major Hollywood movies have a budget that will rivals Wall Street executive's office remodeling budget, they also have a incredible amount of pre-production that goes into each one of their films. No one wants to make a loser, especially Hollywood.

So what's the extent of your pre-production?

If all you are doing is showing up on the day of the wedding, how are you going to make your film great?

Pre-production can level the playing field for a wedding videographer. By going on location scouts, lighting and tech scouts, you can reduce the amount hiccups on the day of the wedding.

Here's a small checklist of what we typically look for on a scout:

  1. Time of Day & Direction of the Sun
  2. Audio Interference
  3. Planes, Trains and/or Construction nearby

We always bring a light meter, our Sony A7S to take reference stills and our H4N to listen to what the audio may sound like on the day of the wedding.

If you're able to go with at least one other person, here's your opportunity to walk through the venue and come up with a few blocking scenarios for your bride and groom.

3. Movement

Notice I did not say "Camera Movement". That's not a typo. Camera movement is important but it's not the end all, be all. If you're constantly wondering why your wedding videos don't quite have the same affect as your favorite films, chances are they're lacking the visual aesthetic your favorite films have.

Blocking refers to the way a director coordinates the movement of an actor(s) or what's inside the frame in relation to the camera. So, even without any camera movement, a shot can still be very "cinematic".

The French called this, mise-en-scéne, or what's "in the frame". It refers to the story unfolding through the shot itself, no editing. Some of the greatest examples of mise-en-scéne include the opening scenes of Touch of Evil, Boogie Nights, The Player and more recently, Spectre.


Touch of Evil - Opening Scene

Boogie Nights - Opening Shot

SPECTRE - Making of the Opening Scene


Blocking IS visual storytelling. A well blocked scene tells the story all on its own without the need for dialog. Now I know what you're thinking, "I'm just a wedding videographer, I can't do this at a wedding". While you certainly wouldn't want to impose on your client's big day but you can help guide them when they appear on your camera.

Blocking doesn't have to be intimidating. It can be as simple as asking the bride to step on the third step instead of the fourth, asking the bridesmaid to walk slightly closer to the groomsman or even position your camera in an unconventional way.

4. Audio

It seems ridiculous but upping your audio game can greatly improve the visual quality of your film.

Consumer cameras today can capture incredible visuals. Even my iPhone is capable of 120fps slow motion and 4k video! It seems like everyone you meet with a DSLR thinks that they're a professional photographer or filmmaker. But, everyone is not a filmmaker. What really separates professional work from home videos is the quality of the audio.

With more than 4,000 independent films submitted to Sundance Film Festival but only a handful of major blockbuster releases in 2015, the tell-tale sign of an amateur is bad audio quality. An audience can forgive bad visuals but it will never tolerate bad audio. When done right, audio will enhance the visual story you are telling.

An audience can forgive bad visuals but it will never tolerate bad audio.

Our friends at Stillmotion has a great post on audio where they interviewed renown sound mixer, Frank Serafine. Check out their post to up your game with audio.

5. Lighting

Digital cameras/camcorders have come a long way. Many affordable consumer grade cameras come packed with professional grade features like log picture profiles and high speed frame rates to capture extreme slow motion. Cameras like the Sony RX 100 IV not only shoots 4K video but up to 1000fps for super slow motion. But, features don't make a cinematographer any more than a brush makes a painter. To really master the art of cinema, you need to understand lighting.

As a wedding videographer, you are most likely working with existing lighting rather than studio or artificial lighting. Good news is most independent filmmakers are mostly working with existing light as well. So, you're an indie filmmaker!

The easiest way to work with available light is to bounce the Sun light or to diffuse it. You may have to purchase a cheap reflector from your local camera store if you don't already have one and bring a trusty assistant. You can still spend zero dollars by applying tip number 4, block your couple in a more flattering light.

We have a post on How Light & Shadow Can Help You as a Filmmaker coming up soon. It explains all the things cinematography can do to help tell the story. Again, you can't have well thought out cinematography without the proper pre-production. This is especially true of event filmmaking where you are a slave to the Sun. So check back in for that!

These are just a few ways you can enhance your films without having to spend any money. By taking a little time to brush up on your knowledge of cinema, you're allowing yourself to create more impactful films that are inherently more cinematic.

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Michael LiuComment