To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. – Elliott Erwitt

You’ve got the gear – wireless mics, a slider, a monopod, some kind of knock-off follow focus. You’re ready to take on the world of wedding “videography.” You even know where to get the best indie songs that nobody’s heard yet that totally capture the essence of your couples, dude!

Wait. Hold up.

Why does the movie industry seemingly keep putting out horrible movies but people keep spending money to go see them? It’s not because they use the best equipment (they do usually). It’s not because 3D is the coolest thing in the world (I can’t attest to that). It’s because of the stories. As horrible as you may think they are, they draw people in.

Here’s a quote about film that sums up why being a filmmaker is more than having the right gear or enough resources.

“Video is a language that we can all understand, but only a few can speak.” I probably paraphrased, but you get the point.

But this is key. Photographs, films, writing – every medium has the same goal. Tell a story.

Sounds simple, until you think about what storytelling entails. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Go ahead, tell the story of you making lunch today. You were working on your monthly budget, then a surprise plot twist! Your stomach started growling. Then the search for food began. You found bread, cold cuts, but, plot twist! No mustard – gasp! You freaked out, dug around, and saw you had mayo, so you made do, and learned a lesson about shopping. Beginning, middle, end.

Look at a great photo story from classic LIFE magazine. You’ve got main characters showing emotion in a specific setting. You infer the other parts, but that’s the beauty of photography. The story is in the eye of the beholder.

So, this video thing. You have X frames per second and you must keep the viewer engaged the whole time. Yikes…plot twist.

Pretty pictures, fancy camera movements and a catchy song won’t suffice. As screenwriter Paul Lucey said, ‘that’s just illustrated radio.’

Why is what you’re doing ‘video?’ Video has a special obligation to combine audio and images to provide the ultimate viewer experience. To draw your viewers in the way Hollywood does, you need to tell a compelling story.

When I’m putting together a wedding film, I don’t want to just remind the couple of what happened on their day. I want to show them what they missed, and I want them to want to watch it over and over again. And when their friends and family watch it, I want them to see another side of the couple that they didn’t see that day. And when someone looks at it in my portfolio, I want them to get as emotional as the couple did that day, despite not even knowing them.

So, I have to make sure I have compelling characters, watch them go through some kind of a change, and put my point of view on the whole thing.

Hollywood has it easy. They write, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite stories to acheive the emotion they’re looking for. They can shoot multiple takes to get the right reactions from their subjects. Wedding filmmakers don’t have this luxury. This is the harsh reality about the day – you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen! There’s no exact ‘script.’ The best you can do is work with your client during pre-planning phases to learn their history, their personal style, and then devise a plan for what you’re going to look for when you show up and shoot. And then know that it’s going to change.

Maybe it’s an outdoor wedding and there’s a torrential storm. Maybe a grandparent of the bride recently passed away and was close the the couple. Anything can – and will – alter your “plan.” You have to be on your toes and pay attention to moments happening around you and seek a story line. Oh yeah, and worry about exposure, composition, keeping the camera steady, audio, not running into things, the day’s schedule, battery life, how to have handy access to your equipment. Otherwise, you’ll sit down to edit and realize you just have a bunch of random footage that doesn’t fit together, much less tell a story. Or worse: you know there was potential for a great story, but you and your team didn’t shoot enough coverage. So now it’s nothing. And there are no reshoots.

At the end of the day, it’s not worth getting caught up with gear lust. Great stories can be told with Super8 cameras or Arri Alexas. And I’ve seen bad footage come out of a Red Scarlet. Don’t get me wrong, I can nerd out over equipment as much as the next person, but I always think about how it’s going to help me become a better storyteller, either by allowing me to focus less on working with the gear or the ability to add new elements to enhance stories.

In the end, the best gear doesn’t mean anything if you can’t see what’s happening in front of you. This goes for everything. Filmmaking, photography, writing. It’s like the phrase we’ve all heard: “Wow, you’ve got a nice camera, you must take great pictures!”

Yes, equipment helps, but it helps fulfill a vision. First, make sure you have great vision.

About Travis Gray

Travis is a Boston-based photographer specializing in motion pictures.

He loves all things shooting, and dabbles in a little writing and cheesecake. “I love shooting weddings and finding the little emotions and story lines throughout the day, and I need something to do during the hockey off-season.”

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