Cameras: News and Updates

Interview with Joel Colthorpe on DSLR Wedding Cinematography

By Wynona Luz
posted May 22, 2013, 14:58

Joel Colthorpe from La Lune Cinema Discusses Wedding Cinematography with his MKIII

When did you start filming weddings and why?

Joel Colthorpe: I started in 2005, very nervously. The reason I began was because I had been making some short films and a friend of mine decided I had some talent so suggested we start filming weddings. I quickly realized what a brilliant work environment it was. You are surrounded by people in the best mood they will probably ever be in, and they are there to celebrate something great. That’s about as good as it gets, and despite moving into many other areas of film, I have never left weddings.

What kind of cameras do you use to shoot your weddings? How many and why?

Joel Colthorpe: I use the Canon 5D Mark III. There are lots of options out there that are all great but for me the pluses of the MKIII are the compact size and inconspicuousness (because people think you are a photographer), the “look” of the image, the 60fps capability, and the fact that all of my lenses are already Canon.

On a shoot I would very rarely even use 3 cameras. I know there are guys out there that rock up with like 10 DSLRs, but I couldn’t possibly do that to someone’s wedding. I think if you remember what is really going on there and respect the significance of two people committing their life to each other, it forces you to notice the right things and not turn it into a Hollywood production, but let it be what it is and capture that.

I’m a purist. My experience is that the more authentic and real emotion will come down to your lens with that approach, and the film will have something real about it that you can’t put your finger on, even with a few technical boxes going un-ticked. I also find it forces me to be creative and focus on my craft, rather than compensate with angles and kit. For our style at least, that works.

In your own words, how would you describe the “look” and style of your films? How do you achieve these results?

Joel Colthorpe: The best I can do to describe our “look” would be youthful and colorful, at least that’s what I’m going for. When it comes to style I am always thinking from the angle of what feel I want the film to have. I’m always going for a youthful energy and for beautiful emotive colors, and I think that translates into the post process.

For me “look” is partly camera work, and partly post production. I am always looking for ways to use the light to give the image a certain quality or feel. I love the haziness of back-lit scenes and don’t shy away from shooting directly into the sun. I am almost never looking for a “nice, clean shot.” The shot should carry some kind of emotion with it. I go handheld a lot, and I try to hang back from getting in people’s face so I can get an authentic shot rather than having people aware of me. For example, I’d rather have a 135mm on and stand back than have a 35mm on and be in their face, even if the technical quality suffers. I love grabbing a nice lens flare and making it work with the shot, and sometimes I do freelensing or “lens juggling” which is a fun little technique if you’re getting bored where you take the lens off the camera mount and hold it in front of the sensor freehand. It gets some really cool results if you want something crazy. The only real point of doing any of this stuff though is to add value to the film.

Post production wise, I color grade everything, and every wedding is a little bit different. You have to grade for the scene you find. Picking a look that you like and then trying to force it on everything doesn’t work. Some weddings I grade very minimally, and others I do a lot to. It all depends on what’s going on. I use Nucoda Film Master for grading, which I admit is not accessible to everyone but a great tool. Regardless there are lots of tools out there, and you can grade a beautiful shot with any of them if you understand color.

When shooting these events, what's your camera to post workflow like? (And what tools and technologies do you use during editing and post production?)

Joel Colthorpe: My workflow is basically MKIII footage on CF cards – ingest from CF reader - Premiere Pro CS6 or Final Cut Pro 7 NLE for edit – Nucoda Film Master for grade – Adobe After Effects for menu creation - Adobe Encore for Blu-ray authoring or Adobe Media Encoder for a web output. Along the way I will use stabilization at times, sharpening tools and sometimes grain/noise reduction, or the other way around when I want more grain. It’s all case by case.

I have always been a FCP7 editor and still feel it is the smarter NLE of the two. However, the Adobe NLE is now starting to move away from FCP on the technology front. FCP is my favorite, but I was surprised at how good the Adobe NLE is now.

The one other piece of software I may use is Apple Cinema Tools to conform 50/60fps footage to 25p for slow motion shots. I work on both Apple and Windows machines and when on the Apple, I will use this app. This can also be done directly in Premiere Pro by choosing to interpret the footage as 25p.

If you could share an interesting challenge and solution that you have had when shooting a wedding, what would it be?

Joel Colthorpe: This happens all the time, you sit down for your meal and BAM. Without fail the MC will announce the first speech, and you scurry for your camera with a mouthful of food. What I now do is speak intentionally with the MC when I get to the reception to make sure his announcements reach me before they reach the crowd. After doing that I forget that I even said it and assume he has already forgotten, because he probably has, and then keep my audio recorders and cameras ready to rumble and close by.

At the very least, your audio needs to cover you, so you need to be able to hit that before any of the speakers get up. If you have audio, you can grab some B-roll footage, or generic footage of the crowd, during the speeches and cut this in later in the blank gap where you were sliding around the reception trying to get your camera on a tripod.

Do you have any advice or tips for anyone starting or looking into doing wedding cinematography?

Joel Colthorpe: If you care and put the significance of the day first, your films will reflect that. I know that sounds vague but if you approach someone’s wedding like it’s your production, you will miss the point, and the film will miss the point as well. At the end of the day you are not trying to make a slick film that will impress your friends, you are trying to create a moment on someone’s couch, where they remember what it felt like to look at their husband on their wedding day.