Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Wedding Photography vs. Wedding Video

Since the title of this blog has the word "wedding" in it twice, one might think it is about weddings, but it really isn't—not only about them anyway. It's really about any event in which a number of people are involved, many of whom are likely to be emotionally invested in, or affected by, what's going on. Other occasions are Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, engagements; and, of course, funerals and associated ceremonies.

In what follows I'll ignore the kinds of events more suitable for photojournalism, such as demonstrations, protests, parties, and so on.

The question I'd like to address is this:

Which medium is more likely to capture the emotions at events like weddings or Bar and Bat Mitzvahs: photography or video?

Why should this be of interest? Well, maybe it isn't to some, but what we're really also asking implicitly is:

What is more likely to be able to invoke the memories of those emotions, possibly many years later?

Because, why else would someone hire a wedding photographer and/or videographer and pay what may seem like ridiculous amounts of money, to have the event recorded—if it isn't for the memories?

Yes, there may be other motives. One might be that it's expected, for all sorts of reasons. Others? Who knows? But I think that underlying it all, and for the vast majority of people hiring wedding photo- and videographers, it's about capturing memories; and that buried deeper underneath that reason is another, which as to do with capturing the emotions of those attending; especially of those at the focus and their families.

Said emotions will express themselves in many forms; mostly actions that find visual expression, even though some of the people concerned may be trying to hide them. Still, if you look closely...

I've written about the nature of photography here, but for the sake of context will summarize the points I made in that other article.

Photos are like single frames in a movie. Or, to look at it the other way around, a movie is nothing but a series of photos taken so closely together, and/or shown so closely together, that we can't tell them apart.

A movie is about 'process' and 'narrative'. A photo is about an instant in time. That instant is preceded by a series of events, and followed by another. We may or may not find out what came before and after. Usually we don't—at least not in the immediate sense, like we do when we watch a single frame in a movie flicker past our vision. The past and present in a photo therefore is implicit, something to be guessed at, supplied by the viewer, rather than provided by, say, the movie of which that photo is a single frame.

The necessity for the imagination of the viewer to be involved in interpreting this frozen instant and its connection to the context in which it is placed, endows a photo with completely different properties to video/film. For one it makes a photo more intimate, particularly if it was well taken and 'captured' emotion and context, all at the same time.

One critical factor here is 'imagination', because a photo requires the viewer to make the same kind of mental effort that's involved in reading fiction—as opposed to being presented with a narrative in a movie.

In addition, and because a photo captures a moment, it is possible—and this is important!—to linger on it. If you keep looking at it, it doesn't go away, like a moment in a video does. Your attention isn't taken away by whatever is subsequent to that instant. But in a film that instant is lost almost immediately afterwards in 'process' and 'narrative'.

In that sense photos are like words in books. A sentence, a paragraph, a page is essentially static. You  have the choice to pause, linger, re-read; and maybe even not read on at all. Or to jump to another page altogether, and linger on something you want to. You can skip the whole narrative and just go to the end if you want to; and forth and back.

Of course, you can also do that with a video, but it just isn't quite the same.

The static nature of a good photo, especially if it is printed rather than viewed on a screen, actively encourages deeper involvement with that instant in time and the people depicted at that moment. And you can do this again and again, just with a glance if you want to, as when you hang the picture on your wall or stand it on your mantelpiece and make it a part of your living environment. You just can't do that with a video.

So, what's a video good for? Well, it shows process in a more or less continuous stream of images. As such it makes explicit and provides, without as much need for involving one's imagination, a narrative that a photo can't.

For example, you may end up with three really good shots of the happy couple walking down the aisle after having been wed. But that's it. With a video you can have the whole sequence, nicely edited together; with, more likely than not, a whole series of moments being recorded that the photographer will have missed—unless he or she was shooting in spray-and-pray mode, but even then you'd still end up with a few selected images.

Video, however, will capture moments that the photographer misses. But in order to see these moments, you have to watch the video. And you're not going to put in on your wall, right? The way you frame and display a picture. I mean, nowadays you could, technically speaking; and maybe that kind of thing will become unremarkable one of these days soon. But it's very different, isn't it? It would be like having a TV permanently turned on in your living space. Which is distracting; for movement attracts attention and diverts it from other things. Of course, in due course you would habituate to it and blank it out. But then what would be the point of having something like that in your living space at all?

Of course, video also will have sound. And let's face it, no photo will capture what was said in the speeches; the music played during the ceremony; the vows spoken by the couple; the readings from the Torah. For that, only video and the associated audio will do the job. Which is an excellent reason to engage a videographer. When I was still doing wedding videos, most of the footage was about speeches and other components where audio was significant.

Bottom line: every medium has its uses, strengths and weaknesses. Together they complement each other—and that looks like an excellent reason, for those who can afford it, to have their wedding recorded by video and photography alike.

But as far as the questions I started off with are concerned—and I say this as someone who has a foot in both camps—I think the answer is "photography"; for a whole range of reasons, psychological and practical, not all of which I've touched upon for fear of boring readers.

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