Is it possible to have a unique style as a wedding cinematographer? Today, with so many people owning cameras and cellphones, thus making photography and videography a truly democratic platform, why is it that there are only a handful who have made a name for themselves? The answer is simple. Their work has something extra that others don’t. They’re able to see things or do things with the camera that others can’t. They’re able to tell stories in a manner that no one else has.
But does this change when you’re a wedding cinematographer? Is it possible to have a style when making short films on the couples that you document, especially since every wedding is so different? We placed the question in front of a few accomplished wedding filmmakers in the industry, and this is what they revealed.
Having A ‘Style’ As A Wedding Cinematographer
For Mike Cottrill (Reel Vision), there are infinite number of ways a wedding film can be handcrafted, leading the cinematographer to draw inspiration and style from many different avenues. “I think wedding cinematography is unique in that the stories that unfold are real life events… there are no scripts, no actors, no rehearsals or reruns. In Reel Vision, we employ a documentary approach. We feel it’s important to be unobtrusive and respect the intimacy of the occasion. Whenever possible, we tend to shoot from a distance, often hand-held camera work, working with available light and subtle sound recording. Much like a documentary photographer, for us it is more about capturing the moment. We don’t stage anything. I feel this approach in itself goes a long way towards defining our style. We draw our narrative from other places—the personality and characteristics of the people attending the ceremony, the location, the weather, the decor and the tiny details that go into the creation of a celebration, as well as the religious and cultural aspects. Also, sometimes the differences in style can be subtle, whether it’s in the camera-work, the editing or the colour-grading. There is no right or wrong way of doing things, and so the results are diverse and subjective.
It’s easier, in fact, to explain what our style isn’t. We’re not about big productions, or epic shots. Our films aren’t especially cinematic, graded or stylised. As far as we are concerned it’s less about production and all about the people who feature and the story they have to tell. You can have a 100 million dollar blockbuster movie that still sucks. Why? Because the story hasn’t been told adequately. It’s this storytelling aspect, which in my opinion, really defines a particular style.”
While Vishal Punjabi (The Wedding Filmer) is known for his cinematic, grandeur, stylised films, he too, is of the opinion that storytelling is the crux of any wedding film. “We don’t direct the couples. What we do ask them is what they would want the video to be about, and what aspect of their story they would like to highlight. This, I think, ultimately dictates the style of the video. A lot of it also depends on how the video is finally treated. Editing is by far the most difficult aspect, which also reveals the style and finesse of the creator. And not many people have the right approach towards this.”
However, when it comes to wedding cinematography for Emmaline and Jared Low (Doodle Studio), they don’t restrict themselves to any particular style. “As every wedding and every couple is different, we have to film in the most organic way and blend it with storytelling. We call our style ‘Artistic Cinematic art’—a combination of creative shooting and great storytelling.
We decided early on to not stick with one method or style. Having shot weddings for over 10 years now, we’ve witnessed how quick it has become for trends to come and go. We don’t necessarily follow this route, and instead work towards looking for ways to improve our videomaking skills. When others copy our style, it would be something from our past work, as we have already moved on to something new.”
Ankita Asthana (WeddingNama), however, has a different take on the issue. She believes that it is not possible or that a wedding cinematographer should not employ their style when making videos. “The importance of developing a photographic style is the first thing they teach you in photography school. I agree that as an individual photographer, you should focus on building a portfolio that is consistent not only in style, but also content. People should know you by your work. However, when you are a wedding filmmaker, it’s a slightly different ball game. Just imagine if all the films you watch start looking the same in terms of color, music, editing or the storyline? Or the same emotions flow through your wedding films, irrespective of how the wedding was. How no two weddings are the same, no two wedding films should look the same. This is the reason why we don’t decide on the music or the flow of the film beforehand. Instead, we try to bring the personality of the couple, and the uniqueness of the wedding into the film. I don’t like to impose my style. It’s a wedding and not a Hollywood production. At WeddingNama, we prefer to understand the vibe of the wedding and then decide how we can make it different from our other films. Even the editing style is decided later on. No two films that you watch are going to feel the same or bring out the same emotion. People watching the film should feel like they have attended the wedding.
Having said that, I would like to add that it is true that part of your own personality will seep into your work and that’s what sets your work apart. The key is to understand the people you are shooting. Instead of trying to force a personal style in terms of music, emotions, colors, or the storyline. Try to see things in a way that no one else would and add that element in your film. Find moments unseen or overlooked by others. Just remember, when you are shooting weddings, it is primarily for the couple and their families. It is not fiction, but a documentation of the most important day of their lives. It should tell the couple’s story, and not be scripted to fit into your style. You are merely playing the role of keeping their memories alive.”
It’s Not The Objectivity, But The Subjectivity
With the various opinions being voiced here, it’s important to remember that the camera, whatever you intend to do with it, has always been and will always continue to be a tool for self-expression. As mentioned earlier (in the piece), every time that you adjust the camera to a particular setting, or use it to move closer or away from the subject, you are employing a certain vision and finesse that you’ve come to make your own. And this stands true even for wedding films. Couples hire wedding filmmakers based on the videos they’ve made. It’s not the objectivity that entices them, but the subjectivity or the path chosen to depict the union of two people. Even the very fact that a wedding filmmaker takes the time to understand the couple’s dynamic, and then ideates on how to depict it, is a form of storytelling that will only be unique to him and the couple. And there are a variety of ways in which this can come out.
Let’s not forget that having a distinct style is not something that one can acquire overnight. You may not even recognise it immediately. The process differs from person-to-person. It can take years to discover how you like shooting. But this will not happen if you don’t keep at it. With every wedding that you film, you will uncover or devise new ways of seeing, just like Emmaline and Jared.
I am reminded of a rather humorous quote by Orson Welles, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
So what do you think? Can wedding videographers have a distinct style that is unique and personal, even that each wedding is th same, or is this only possible in still wedding photography? We would love to read your opinion in the comments below.