How does a crew of filmmakers navigate the fast-moving events of a wedding day to capture all the moments that will tell the couple’s story? Wedding cinematographer Rob Adams talks about handling the logistics and creating films that stand the test of time.
Aimee Baldridge: What are your clients looking for when they come to you?
Rob Adams: Brides who come to us are looking for something different, something that their friends, and sisters, and brothers don’t have. A lot of them are willing to pay a premium price to have something that’s done right. When brides come to me and haven’t seen my work before, they're usually blown away by the production value and the storytelling aspect of it. We produce a 25-minute film that accounts for the entire day, and the way it's edited gives it a story arc. It’s not just a long-form video showing the event chronologically from morning to night.
AB: How long have you been doing wedding cinematography?
Rob Adams: I've been a videographer since 1998. I've worked in television and radio, in all facets of production. We started using DSLRs in 2009, so we've been shooting with a cinema style for the last two and half years.
AB: Why did you decide to make the switch from video cameras to DSLRs?
Rob Adams: Video cameras just don’t have the look that DSLRs do. Because of the optics and the large format sensors, what SLRs shoot looks more like something that was shot on 35mm film. Video cameras don’t give you much depth of field control, and they don’t give you much in the way of dynamic range. They’re very limited in the sense that to make footage look high-end, you have to use very large, expensive equipment like adapters that let you shoot with 35mm DSLR lenses. What we're doing now is true cinematography instead of just pointing and shooting a video camera.
And DSLRs are so compact that we don’t even look like videographers on the day of the wedding. We can really blend into the environment, and that helps us capture more things candidly. People often tell us after they see their film,"We didn’t even know there was a videographer here." People don’t tend to shy away from SLRs as much. When they see a big video camera coming, they get a little anxious. When they see us, they just tend to think we're photographers. Sometimes we have to actually tell people not to stop and pose.
Rob Adams' DSLR kit, packed for a wedding shoot.
AB: What kind of crew do you work with on a typical shoot?
Rob Adams: My company has a full-time crew. They work per diem, but they’re trained by us, they’re qualified by us, and they work under our direction. We're a team. We have a system of communication, and a system to the way we shoot events, so that everybody knows exactly what their roles are. I go to the bride's house in the morning, my second shooter will go to the groom's prep, our third shooter will go as an assistant at either of those locations, and then during the ceremony and reception, that person will act as a third cinematographer.
We also have a fourth person who's an audio technician. That person goes ahead of us to the church or ceremony site and will mic at the podium and tap into the sound system. With the storytelling that we do, our audio and dialogue are so important. We're not making music videos. The story of the day really comes from what people say.
So we double and triple up, and make sure that we have quality audio. Without my crew, there's no way we could produce the quality of work that we do.
AB: Your work is about storytelling, but you don’t know what the story is beforehand, aside from the fact that there’s a couple getting married. How do you go about the process of creating a narrative?
Rob Adams: We interview the bride and groom, and try to get to know as much about them as possible. When the bride and groom are getting ready, there are always going to be little moments that we can tie into the story. We can capture those if we're quick on our feet.
In a traditional church wedding, there's always going to be a homily, and we're going to make sure that our audio is in place to capture that. In any type of ceremony, an officiant is going to get up and say something profound, so we'll tie that into the story of the bride of groom. Toasts at receptions also play an enormous part in our stories, because they're so personally tailored to the couple.
So, we'll use the homily or the officiant speaking at the ceremony, the toasts, and whatever else is said throughout the day that we happen to capture as the anchor of the film. And then we use associated shots from everything else that happens throughout the day, and sequences of individual parts of the day to enhance the story on top of the dialogue that we captured.
Rob Adams on location at a wedding shoot.
AB: What’s in your kit for a typical wedding?
Rob Adams: We carry six to eight bags, depending on what we're doing. Every shooter has his own case. A lot of times it's a backpack or a rolling case that contains the DSLRs. Every person has at least one or two bodies, and all of their lenses. I have a Tenba backpack that I put three DSLR bodies and four lenses in, along with my on-board microphone and my computer. We're dumping footage off throughout the day to a computer, and we do same-day edits on a lot of events.
We'll also have a rolling case, which we use to store larger lenses, like a couple 70-200mm ones to use during the ceremonies. We put a bunch of accessories in that case too—a handheld light, walkie talkies that we use throughout the day to communicate. I also have a Glidecam™ or a Steadicam™, and we use a Cinevate slider.
Then I have my light stands and light kit in separate cases, and I have my audio case, which is given to the audio technician. If we're bringing a jib along, that’s in another case.
Everything fits well in one vehicle, but it's quite a large amount of stuff. When we get to a site, we just try to keep everything discreet and hide the bags. But anywhere I go, I have my Tenba backpack and my rolling case. Those are the two most important bags.
AB: You’ve been using Tenba’s new Roadie II video backpack and shoulder bag recently. How have they worked out for you?
Rob Adams: The backpack is great for all the cameras, because we typically carry around three DSLRs and multiple lenses. It’s nice to be able to keep everything in one place, and then just strap it on and go instead of having to wheel a case around. It's bad enough that we have to carry around light stands and lights and tripods for different scenarios.
We’ve used the shoulder bag for our audio equipment. We put all of our digital field recorders and hardware that we use often in the top of part, which lifts out. The audio technician can just pop that top section out, and underneath we keep all the connectors, adapters, cables, and other things that we don’t always need to use. Having two main compartments instead of one allows us to carry more gear. The outside pockets were great for holding all the other devices that we don't use often, but want to grab quickly in cases when we do need them.
So no matter what situation the audio technician was presented with, he could just pick that bag up and go, and have everything he needed. When the audio guy is setting things up, he's not just setting things up in one place. He's got to walk around to different spots and mic things up. So he can just take that top part of the bag with him and walk around with it. It makes things easier logistically.
Having all the audio gear in one case and all the camera gear in another really made it a lot easier to keep track of all of our equipment on the job. So yeah, I love those bags.
AB: Weddings can be very fast-paced. How do the logistics of moving from one space to the next with all your gear work, so that you don’t miss any of the key moments?
Rob Adams: We have it down to a science. Having the three-person crew really helps. We divide our personnel according to what the day calls for. During the photo session, I don’t need three people shooting, so the third person will go ahead to the reception hall, and start setting up lights, and then start shooting the set-up of the reception. We already have our audio technician at the church, setting up the audio. So we can just walk into the church and immediately start filming, and not have to think about wiring up the podium or the priest.
When we walk into a new location, we can size up camera blocking for the introductions, the dances, and all the important stuff at the beginning of the event. We can plan where we're going to set up lights and then plan out the time when we're going to set them up. Moving from location to location throughout the day stinks, and moving our gear is always a hassle. But we just pick it up and run.
AB: Your videos have a pretty consistent look, even though you're changing locations over the course of the event. How do you accomplish that kind of aesthetic continuity?
Rob Adams: Practice, practice, practice. My crew is so talented, and they all know what needs to be done. They're also editors, so they know what to acquire. They're shooting with the edit in mind, and we all discuss the story ahead of time. All of our cameras are also calibrated to the same color profile. Consistency is so important when you're charging a large amount of money to produce a film.
AB: What do you do for lighting?
Rob Adams: We're mostly available light shooters. We try to use artificial lighting as little as possible. We're not holding the wedding to make a film; we're making a film of the wedding. So we're not going to come in and take over. We will never use artificial lighting at a prep in the morning, and most churches never allow artificial lighting.
We never ever, ever use on-camera lighting. Any lighting we might use is always off-camera, and it's always discreet. We're not the videographer who walks around the dance floor with a huge light on top of his camera. We don’t do that. We will actually put the light in the room, and we'll let it add a little bit of pin lighting, a little bit of accent fill.
AB: Is there a particular style that’s popular in wedding cinematography these days?
Rob Adams: Today's style is very clean. It's storytelling; it's cinema. It mimics a lot of what you see on wedding blogs like Style Me Pretty. Brides love details, so we really try to focus on details. Emotion is big right now, so we focus on emotion.
What brides are looking for right now is a film that just blows them away production-wise, makes their friends jealous, and is also clean. The days of soft focus, black and white, sepia tone, and hand coloring are gone. That was 2006. Right now we do basic color correction for vibrance and tone. We're not looking to do special effects.
AB: How do you avoid creating work that will look dated in the future?
Rob Adams: We try to create work that’s clean. We don’t use mainstream music unless they're in a party dancing. But storytelling is storytelling. It doesn't really get dated. We all read books and stories that were written hundreds of years ago, and we’re still captivated by them.
Films that were great 20 years ago are still great today because they use really fundamental filmmaking techniques. We try to mimic the style of romantic comedies and romantic movies. Those are well-produced movies with very clean camera motion. There are no chase sequences where they're using a shaky handheld camera. That’s sort of the vibe we're going for.
AB: Tell me about the workshops you run.
Rob Adams: The workshops are really important. I've had many requests to hold them. So now we’re doing two-day workshops that teach videographers how to make the transition from the video camera to DSLRs. And for those who are already shooting with a DSLR, we teach them every aspect of how we shoot weddings and put it all together in postproduction.
AB: What do people who attend your workshops need to learn most?
Rob Adams: Manual technique. A lot of people who are video camera shooters have been shooting automatic. Automatic doesn’t give you control over white balance, selective focus, aperture, and correct exposure. The whole first day of our workshop is about blocking camera positions, holding a camera steady, and using devices like a Steadicam™ and a Glidecam™. It’s about positioning yourself to anticipate action. We cover editing, too. A lot of people don’t know how to build a short form film, and they’ve been doing long-form for so long that they're having a hard time making the switch over to a shorter film, and then selling that to their clients.
AB: When you do your best work, what is it about the wedding that lends itself to that?
Rob Adams: Clients who are really in love. A bride and groom who stand up and give personal vows that were written from the heart, and a best man and a maid of honor who get up and give amazing speeches . . . weddings that have emotion, where you can tell that the family's really wrapped up in what's happening in the moment, and not just walking around with iPhones taking pictures because it's another event in their lives.
We walk away from weddings like that knowing the edit is going to be incredible because we have the material. We're very good at editing all films, and making something out of nothing. But it's so much nicer to walk away from a wedding, and say, "You know what? That couple really loves each other. You can really tell. What they said during the ceremony is going to be killer in the film."
Rob Adams is an award-winning cinematographer based in New Jersey. Visit Rob Adams Films to see clips from his films and learn more about his workshops.