Why Every Pro Filmmaker or Photographer Should Start Out with Weddings

Image from Minneapolis and St. Paul Magazine

When I started in this business nine years ago, I started doing weddings because it was the easisest aspect of the business to start. I figured I would just do weddings until I could do “real” videos. Admittedly, going into it, I had the low view of wedding videography that many people do. But it didn’t take long for me to be fulfilled shooting them and realize how wrong I was about my outlook. And even though they are no longer my main bread and a butter, I know without a shadow of a doubt, it was my wedding work that has made me the filmmaker I am today. Let me go so far to say that I think every filmmaker or photographer looking to be a pro, should cut their teeth doing weddings. And if you are a commercial client who has a studio that primarily does weddings, be thrilled. Most of the best professional filmmakers and photographers I know, are ones who primarily shoot weddings and events. If you think about it, it’s not hard to see why.

  • Diversity. Every possible style of filmmaking and photography is covered by wedding and event visual artists. You have the documentary aspect. Yet, you still have to craft the story as if it were a narrative. You have the traditional scripted filmmaking aspect in concept films (like the amazing ones done by Kevin Shahinian or Loyd Calomay); or music videos like the viral sensation by David Robin. If you’re a wedding photographer, you have to know how to shoot traditional portraits, you have to be a photo journalist, you have to be an “architectural” shooter, and you have to be a product photographer.
  • Under Pressure. The best wedding and event filmmakers have learned how to work under the most intense pressure. For the most part, there are no “second takes.” You have to anticipate the action and get it. And you have to get it while being in focus, composed nicely, etc. You have other vendors to be aware of and/or work with. In some cases you may even need to know their equipment better than they do. (I can’t tell you how many times as a wedding filmmaker I had to ask a DJ for an XLR out from his system only to be met with a look like I was speaking in Klingon.) And you have to keep your clients feeling calm and collected. These skills translate beautifully to the world of commercial videography and photography. Once you’ve handled a few hundred bridezillas or mothers of the bride, pushy creative directors or advertising execs will be like pussy cats. (Even famed commercial photog/filmmaker Chase Jarvis, who has never shot a wedding, frequently admits he’d be far more scared of an M.O.B. than a creative director).
  • Directing People. My skill and success as a documentary filmmaker is a direct result of all those love story videos I shot during the five years I was primarily a wedding filmmaker. The ability to ask the right questions to elicit the kind of response that will evoke powerful emotion in the viewer is golden! Especially in my primary line of work which is doing cause-driven and inspirational films. In the wedding world they say, “When they cry, they buy.” In the non-profit video world, one of the key aspects of a successful fundraising video is one that can make the viewer cry three times.
  • Masters the Best Equipment. Today’s top wedding filmmakers are using all the same gear you’d use on a traditional film set: steadicams, cranes, jibs, sliders, and follow focus devices. When you’ve mastered the art of shooting a live event with a jib, a steadicam, and a slider, using it on a controlled commercial set will be a piece of cake.

I could probably go on, but these are the main ones. So, to all you wedding and event filmmakers and photographers out there, you probably already know this, but be proud knowing that even though weddings and events are frequently on the low end of the totem pole of your industry, you most likely can run laps around others in your industry who don’t shoot live events. Don’t get cocky about it, just keep it tucked away in the back of your brain. And if you run into a prospective commercial client uncertain about hiring a wedding guy/gal to shoot their next campaign, just rattle off all of these reasons. (Note: for the record, I strongly believe you should still market your commercial work under a different brand that appeals to commercial clients. You’ll never have the opporutnity to tell a prospect why your wedding work makes you a perfect candidate for their commercial campaign if they don’t contact you in the first place.)

And for those of you just starting out in the business, I encourage you to strongly consider starting in weddings. The training and experience you receive will be applicable to wherever you want to go next. Trust me. I speak from experience.

10 thoughts on “Why Every Pro Filmmaker or Photographer Should Start Out with Weddings

  1. Very nice points, Just shot my first commercial and i must say that the background in weddings that i have truly paid off in the grand scheme of things!

  2. You make some great points regarding why wedding videos provide a good start, downside is you don’t want the pressure of screwing up someone’s wedding by getting it wrong. I know the guys at Stillmotion have mastered this and there is plenty of wedding videos on Vimeo and Youtube showing the use of sliders, jibs and making use of DSLR video.

    United By Photography

    1. Thanks for commenting James. Yes, it is very stressful shooting an event like a wedding. That is one of the things that will give you nerves of steel for other stressful filmmaking endeavors. 🙂

  3. I would say try it out the wedding as a 2nd shooter or an assistant first.
    Just to get a sense of the day. Just because you started your own biz, doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for others. It’s better not to screw up something during live event than shooting for others for experience first.
    I 110% agree on having experience on weddig will help your non wedding gig. Def try to shoot other than weddings like love story or music video spoof or something to expend your craftsmanship beyond actual wedding. I need tons more leanring on those…
    Great article as usual, Ron!
    My train ride is so much more enjoyable because of you!!!

    1. Ha. So glad to enlighten your mass commute experience. 🙂 You make another good point about working for someone else first. It’s not necessarily for everyone, but is a time-tested method for breaking into any business.

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