Sony Artisans of Imagery Garrette and Amber Baird have used their cameras to tell the stories of other couples’ “big day.” The Indiana-based filmmakers have recorded more than 600 weddings over the last 15 years through their company, Eyenamics.
However, another momentous life event confronted the Bairds in March 2019. Amber was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the initial shock, the couple decided to turn the camera 180 degrees and tell their unfolding story.
It’s said that a camera portrays both the person in front of the lens and the person behind it. For these wedding photographers, it has certainly proved to be true.
Digital Photo Pro: Why did you and Garrette decide to document your journey through the cancer diagnosis and treatment?
Amber Baird: I think for any creative professional, even though it’s your job, a lot of the time it’s your outlet for conveying your emotions as well. So when I was diagnosed with Stage 1B breast cancer with a grade 3 tumor, my husband and I just knew it was really important to document everything.
The reason became clearer later on. We don’t want it to be as scary for the next person who goes through this. A grade 3 tumor has the potential to get bad really quickly. Fortunately, we caught this aggressive tumor early on.
In addition to shooting the footage and stills, my husband is the main creative editor, and it’s been hard for him to edit the footage because of the subject matter being about me. The doctors have been amazing in terms of access. We’ve been able to shoot in testing areas where most of the time they don’t allow cameras.
The only places we haven’t had access for cameras is during my MRI and surgeries. (I’ve had three.)
Our work-in-progress documentary isn’t just about getting the word out but really honing in on how people can live and thrive while they’re going through treatment. I’ve been able to continue working throughout my chemo. I’m not letting this diagnosis and the treatments impede our life.
You’re a case study with this very personal and powerful film.
We’re at the level where we can give back. Garrette and I thought about what our cause was going to be. We’re not like Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier, who are literally helping to save the planet. But this is what we can do at this point to give back. This is what fell into our laps. We definitely didn’t go looking for this.
How did your approach to visual storytelling evolve?
We live in a small town called Vincennes, two hours south of Indianapolis, and this is where we built our business doing wedding films. When we met, I was still in college and was going to be a pharmacist. Garrette was already a filmmaker, and we shot our first wedding together two weeks after we got married, and it snowballed from there.
We do most of our work now in Indianapolis or Evansville, Indiana. We like to say we are wedding filmmakers. There’s so much more to it than the label “videographer.”
When we started our business 15 years ago, storytelling wasn’t really a thing people did for weddings. Over the years, we have evolved our style. People really enjoy it more when we are able to find the story of the wedding, not just create a documentary of the day.
That’s, of course, important as well, but finding the elements of a wedding day that are unique for that couple is the key. At the core, weddings are pretty much the same. You get married, you have dinner, you have a party.
So we dig in and find the story of the day and capture what makes an individual wedding unique. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of the happiest day of a person’s life.
How are you recording this very special day from a technical standpoint?
We’re both using the Sony a7 III, with a variety of lenses. We really like the 50mm f/1.4 ZEISS, which gives us a more personal, intimate feel.
Garrette also uses a 24mm f/1.4 G Master when he goes wide, while my favorite lens for weddings is the 70-200mm f/2.8 because I’m the one who’s tasked to get the more emotional, intimate moments.
With the 70-200mm, I can stay out of what we call “the bubble of emotions.” People will react naturally and let their emotions flow, and we’re not in their face.
Garrette and I have our wedding day workflow worked out, and both of us have specific jobs. On a wedding day, we’ll carry five or six lenses. We have all of the tools, and we use them when they’re needed. A lot of the time, I’m on a monopod and then a tripod during the ceremony.
Garrette’s going handheld or using a Rhino Slider or a gimbal, and we have a DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone. We use a Think Tank Airport Security roller bag, their Hubba Hubba Hiney belt pack/shoulder bag and a Video Tripod Manager bag for all of our gear.
We have a rule: If it doesn’t fit in those, we don’t bring it with us. If you bring too much equipment, you can have option paralysis: You have so many options, you don’t know what to do.
Cinema-style video is often shot at 24 fps. What do you do to create your cinematic look?
Cinematic is a very subjective term from one director to another: What it is to Quentin Tarantino is very different than to Ron Howard.
We break a lot of rules with our films. I like to push that home when we’re teaching workshops or doing presentations.
You don’t have to do it one specific way to get a cinematic look. All of our films are shot at 30 fps. One of the reasons is we don’t use ND filters. We often break the rule of doubling the frame rate for the shutter—in other words, at 30 fps shooting at 1/60th of a second.
Sometimes we have to use our shutter for exposure. If we’re outside and already down to ISO 100 and we want a more shallow depth of field, we go to a faster shutter speed in order to open up the aperture.
We’re working with a lot of elements to give us the cinematic look besides depth of field—lighting and motion, audio and music. It’s about all those aspects coming together to make something beautiful.
Doesn’t going to a fast shutter speed result in a choppy-looking video?
It can get choppy when you have fast motion, so if you’re panning quickly or your subject is moving quickly, that could happen, but most of the things in weddings don’t move that fast.
We shoot in 4K and use a plugin called Twixtor if we want a slow-motion shot. A higher shutter speed actually works better because it doesn’t have to interpolate the frames as much. We can always add more motion blur if we need to.
The one time this bit us—or I should say stung us—was at a barn wedding, and they had a bee problem. You could see the bees flying around a little bit more because there wasn’t as much motion blur.
What are you working with for light and sound?
We use the Light & Motion Stella Pro CLx8 lights. We usually put up two lights for the reception as well as for interviews.
For the receptions, we use the Fresnel lens on each light with the barndoors so we can carve out what we want and not have a lot of spill into the guest’s faces. We usually warm up these daylight-balanced lights with CTO gels.
With the Sony, I can also shoot in very low-light situations, pushing the ISO to ISO 10,000, which isn’t a problem.
For sound, we’re using the Tascam DR-10L—the “L” stands for lavalier—and the Tascam DR-10X, which we usually plug into the DJ or band’s systems. We mic the groom or the priest or rabbi or officiant with the DR-10L.
Is there a separate still photographer at the weddings you do? Garrette’s stills on your documentary are very powerful.
There’s a separate still photography team that we work in conjunction with. Garrette’s hobby and creative outlet is still photography. It seems like the stills speak more volumes when he’s documenting my therapy.
Other moments, such as when my head was being shaved, translate better in video.
What are some of the top venues for weddings in and around Indianapolis?
There are so many great venues there. When you put the wedding video out, other people see it and get inspired: “Wow, you shot a wedding at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, I want you to shoot my wedding there.” It has really beautiful, interesting architecture.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields with the Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture is a great outdoor location. As the bride is coming down the aisle, the LOVE sculpture is in the background. Our video of Molly and Josh on our website was shot there.
Then there’s a really cool place called the Indianapolis Artsgarden that’s a glassed dome spanning above an intersection in downtown Indianapolis. The Lucas Estate is stunning and can be rented for weddings. One we shot there had synchronized swimmers in the pool during cocktail hour. We shot a birthday party where Earth, Wind & Fire performed at the Indiana Roof Ballroom on the top of the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis. It’s an amazing space for weddings as well.
What do you use to edit your films, and what are your deliverables?
I do a lot of the organization of the files, and Garrette does the creative editing. We use Final Cut Pro X.
We really like the magnetic timeline and the way you can color grade. There are a lot of things that are integrated in the program that really help with our workflow.
Our rates are generally $6,000-
$10,000. For the base rate, clients get a five- to six-minute film. Everything else is a la carte.
In the video telling your story, you quote “the Doctor,” who said, “We’re all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?” Can you elaborate on this conversation?
That’s actually from “Doctor Who,” the British TV show. We’re super nerds. Anything sci-fi, we love. I just remember the episode with that powerful statement, so Garrette added it to our film. We cried. It was perfect.