The Top 3 Differences Between a Wedding Videographer and a Wedding Cinematographer
About two years ago, a bride asked me, “Do you consider yourself a wedding videographer or more a wedding cinematographer?” At the time, I thought it was a silly question because I felt that the question was more of a translation for “are you good or are you among the best?” I answered to the best of my ability, telling her that the term cinematographer had been hi-jacked from the film industry (see link at the bottom of the page for more insight) and turned into a marketing gimmick in order to charge higher rates, but that in reality I am an actual cinematographer, in the sense that I have a thorough understanding of photography and how it relates to cinematic productions. I have worked on many film sets, commercials, web videos and have studied cinematography in my spare time. Without risking sounding pretentious, I got to the point and told her “I am both.” Or I think it might have been “I can be both.” Now what exactly does that mean? I think at the time, I was trying to tell her that I am a videographer in the sense that when I am hired to shoot a wedding, I try to document every moment I can until the point where I will regret the immensity of footage I have to edit in post. I am a videographer because I will not interrupt a moment just to get the perfect shot and I choose to stay behind the scenes. Yet, I am a cinematographer by that same measure because, as I document those moments, behind the scenes, I am in the mindset of a true cinematographer, checking the available light around me and adjusting my camera to get the perfect shot. At a moment’s notice, I can distinguish between an average shot and a cinematic one. I know what lens to use and how shallow I want my background to be and what kind of motion I want to guide my camera in. These things are what make me a cinematographer.
Except… what If I had answered too subjectively? Granted, she, in her own words, was more than satisfied with my answer. But I couldn’t get the question out of my mind, for days. Even to this day, two years later. It’s possible that I was a bit annoyed by the way ‘videographers’ were claiming to be cinematographers when their work said quite the opposite. I know that’s a harsh criticism, but it’s true. They may be fantastic at not missing a single moment, or they’re very punctual or maybe their editing work is even better than mine. I’m willing to accept any of these possibilities. But what if I had a discussion with them regarding optics, lighting, sensors, frame rates, codecs, compression, ISO, etc? Something tells me there would be a noticeable difference in knowledge. Heck, it never ceases to amaze me how little some photographers actually know about photography. Once again, at the risk of getting into pretentious territory, I myself, learned how to shoot on B&W film photography. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I wanted to learn the science behind it. The struggle. I did exactly that. You see, with 35mm film, what you shoot is what you get. The camera has nothing to do with it. It is the lens, the film, the processing and most importantly, your eye. It also trained you to be selective in your shots, since you would have to switch out your roll of film every 24-36 exposures (pictures). Anyway, don’t want to get carried away with stills. After all, I am a cinematographer by trade, not a photographer. A cinematographer is a photographer who shoots (on average) 24 pictures a second (unless of course you shoot 30 or 60 or 120 etc).
Now, onto the juicy stuff… What separates a wedding cinematographer from a wedding videographer? Two years after the (in)famous question, I think I can now truly answer it using today’s favorite form of measurement…The top 3.
A videographer will settle for the industry standard camera or below. No lens will exceed $600 in value and if their camera is expensive, it’s most likely because they found out all the other videographers are using it and the only way to compete is with the same basic equipment.
Meanwhile, a wedding cinematographer doesn’t really care about what others are using. They will care more about whether or not it fulfills all the tasks they require from a camera, initializes them quickly and allows their eye to do the rest of the work. What this usually means, is that the camera will be quite expensive and will be part of the higher line/model of the brand of camera the videographers are using. They will know exactly what the best way to record with the camera is without degrading the quality or letting a mediocre codec get in the way of the image quality. The glass (lenses), on the other hand, will be picked not by what just gets the job done, but by the its color science, speed, optic quality, durability and ergonomics. A cinematographer will usually have two of everything, because a good cinematographer knows you can’t rely on just one accessory during a live event. Their tripod will most likely be sturdier and smoother. They might come equipped with a gimbal (Ronin, Movi, Glidecam etc), slider and a good shoulder rig. They will bring portable lights. They will most definitely not rely on the their camera’s internal $50 crap microphone and will most likely have a professional portable recorder, wireless lavalier microphones, shotgun microphones and necessary cables to plug into the DJ’s board for crystal clear reception audio.
2. Experience (not to be confused with years of experience)
Yes, years of experience helps. But the experience I’m referring to is one that is hard to describe when the feeling comes natural to you. But I will try. It’s the difference between someone who lets a guest at the wedding stand in front of their camera for 10 seconds before readjusting and one who immediately moves and scopes out the perfect spot for shooting. The difference between someone who doesn’t know how to react to a sudden change of light at the ceremony as the bride walks down the aisle and someone who adjusts at fractions of a second. It’s also the difference between someone who decides to spend 10 minutes shooting the groomsmen getting ready against the light of their hotel balcony, keeping them in the dark and the background completely overexposed and someone who asks them kindly to switch their positions, where the light hits their faces, so that they can capture the best quality footage possible. When you have that innate experience, there is very little that can startle you and keep you from capturing moments in their best light. These flaws are most noticeable when you ask your videographer to see a full length wedding video of theirs, since they are only advertising their highlight videos on the web. You will notice that throughout the entirety of the wedding video, there are plenty of other places they could have been standing, different lenses they could have been shooting with and plenty of moments they should never have missed. Don’t even get me started with the poor music selections you hear in most of these edits!
3. Storytelling Abilities
This is my favorite one on the list (a wise man once told me ‘always save the best for last’.) Disclaimer: the ability to tell a story is more in line with a director or a good editor than it is a cinematographer, but when it comes to wedding cinematography, the company you hire must be a full-service company. Meaning they can shoot & edit well. It is very rare that you will find a really good videographer/cinematographer that only shoots, doesn’t edit and runs a successful wedding cinematography company. Having said that, the level of quality storytelling I have seen in my years in the biz, is quite shameful. I am not trying to be facetious or even hypercritical, but honestly, you have a ten-times-higher chance of seeing stunning cinematography than a good quality edit that genuinely tells a story and invokes emotion. If and when you do, at least in my experience, it is usually a carbon copy of what the rest of the industry is doing. The slow, sappy song, with the really slow cuts and everything shot in silhouette. The groom reading his vows aloud as he gets ready and the bride staged in multiple poses that could only be described as natural in a Broadway musical. One of the most consistent compliments I have received over the years is how natural and organic our videos come off. I know it’s not a scientific description of our storytelling skills, but it is meaningful. People just know when it is all for show and when it is authentic. Beyond that, even if the bride, the groom, all their friends and the entire day was captured in a candid way, most of the edits produced by wedding videography companies literally belong in a box, because nothing about them is outside of it. They are not tailoring the story, pacing, color grading and music to the their client and the atmosphere of their wedding. Proof of this can be found by watching five of their videos consecutively and learning nothing unique about any of them. Instead, it feels as if every wedding were exactly the same. Trust me when I say that that could not be further from the truth. If you are hiring a professional to document the most important day of your life, make sure they are telling your story and not someone else’s.
In closing- this is not an article designed to discredit the hard work involved in being a wedding videographer or to claim some form of superiority over a videographer. Instead, my intention is to present a comparison between two different stages of a particular craft in the most mature way that I can. I was once a videographer and maybe I still am. Only the quality of my work and the work of my company can truly determine what my profession is, or what others interpret my craftsmanship to be. Both a videographer and a cinematographer can work just as hard, and perhaps a videographer doesn’t feel the need to put an, arguably, unnecessary label on themselves just to get respect. A title is only as good as the work that’s behind it and you can have all the accolades an artistic professional can ask for, but if you are not as dedicated and honest with your work as the next person is, a title is about as useful as nailing jello to a tree.
Your favorite wedding cinematographer.
“Good content is making something intelligible and memorable. Great content is making something memorable and meaningful.”