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Wedding photography has become an extremely popular and lucrative specialty. First and foremost, a wedding is a grand, unrepeatable, emotionally charged event at which expectations run high, and second best won’t do. Being a wedding photographer requires dedication and talent, but having the right equipment is crucial if you expect to achieve sharp, well-composed, well-lit images that depict people at their best. Here’s a basic rundown of what you’ll need to take your wedding photography to new dimensions, or to fill in the gaps in your present outfit.
Upper-tier, full-frame DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Nikon D810, and Nikon D750 are the cameras of choice for most experienced wedding photographers. Their larger sensors deliver superior definition, detail, and sharpness, permit a greater degree of enlargement or cropping without loss of image quality, and deliver superior performance at high ISO settings, allowing higher shutter speeds and reduced depth of field for creating striking pictorial effects. Other advantages are rugged body construction, reliability under extreme use, superior weather sealing, advanced multi-zone autofocus (AF) and auto-exposure (AE) systems, Full 1080p HD video capability at a variety of framing speeds, and availability of high-end accessories, such as power grips and battery packs. Some more forward-looking shooters may be looking to mirrorless cameras and, for full-frame, the Sony a7 series, including the a7R II and a7S II, is the way to go. With 4K video, excellent low-light performance, and very capable AF systems, as well as high-resolution electronic viewfinders, the latest models can hold their own against the tried-and-true DSLR.
Many leading wedding pros also use upper-and middle-tier APS-C-format DSLRs, such as the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Nikon D500, and Sony Alpha a77II, either as primary or back-up cameras. With image sensors that range from 16MP on up, they deliver sufficient image quality for wedding applications, and when using your full-frame lenses they provide a longer reach by a factor of 1.5X or 1.6x (Canon), albeit with reduced wide-angle coverage. Other advantages include smaller, lighter, available lenses with longer zoom ranges, such as the Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM. The high-ISO performance of the latest APS-C cameras is remarkably good, making slower lenses in the f/3.5-5.6 range a viable option for available-light shooting. For mirrorless shooters, or those looking for more compact secondary cameras, there are the Sony Alpha a6300 and Fujifilm X-Pro2, which still benefit from large APS-C format sensors but do so in much smaller bodies.
Wide-aperture lenses allow you to shoot in low light at lower ISOs and higher shutter speeds for better image quality, but they also deliver shallower depth of field for creating vibrant pictorial effects at their widest apertures. Fast zooms and prime lenses are the mainstays of veteran wedding photographers and emerging pros.
If any lens can be called “The Wedding Lens,” it’s the 24-70mm f/2.8. This lens is effective for capturing the entire wedding party as its members witness the event, the bride and groom at the altar, close-ups, detail shots, and formal full-length portraits. Its wide aperture provides brighter viewing in darker environments and allows you to create artistic effects with beautiful bokeh.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom is the most popular all-around telephoto among knowledgeable wedding photographers, and it dovetails perfectly with the 24-70mm f/2.8, providing seamless wide-aperture coverage from wide to telephoto. Its long reach is perfect for capturing intimate details and interactions at a distance and is also ideal for headshots of individuals, couples and groups, in both indoor and outdoor settings.
The lens’s very shallow depth of field at the widest apertures and longer focal lengths lets you capture classic portraits with a traditional “large format” look that’s very much in demand.
Fast prime (single focal length) lenses are excellent for candid pictures in low light, HD video coverage and for casual or formal portraits without flash. They’re easy to handle and take up little room in your camera bag. Popular focal lengths will be the 35, 50, and the 85—the preferred portrait lens of most photographers.
Wide-angle zooms are crucial for shooting groups, the chapel setting with all the guests in attendance, and capturing important moments on the dance floor including the first dance. They’re invaluable for shooting candid pictures that capture the essence of the event.
Professionals gravitate to wide zooms with fast apertures that give them an edge in available-light shooting at lower ISOs, but the excellent high ISO performance of today’s DSLRs makes f/3.5-5.6 lenses a viable option.
Macro lenses are great for capturing telling details in rings, dresses, couture, and floral arrangements. Telephoto macro lenses in the range can also do double duty as portrait lenses.
Fisheye lenses are an increasingly popular choice among wedding pros because they let you capture unique images that set your work apart. You may not use them for more than a few shots, but a surprising percentage of them wind up in the wedding albums or portfolios. Full-frame fisheyes produce a full-frame image covering 180 degrees, diagonally, with increasing barrel distortion toward the edges of the frame, and classic fisheyes deliver a circular 180-degree image in the center of the frame for a more dramatic effect.
Many wedding pros pack four or more flash units in their bags for multiple lighting setups, but the bare minimum is two high-powered dedicated flash units plus a backup, either to use as a spare or for three-light portrait setups.
Small Location Monolights and LEDs
Monolights are high-powered flashes with built-in modeling lights, and the kits include one or more heads plus reflectors and battery pack. Some photographers use two or more monolight AC units for formal portraits, or to light up a dance floor. LEDs are versatile continuous light sources that can also be used for stills or video, and have the added bonuses of being energy efficient and cooler than hot light sources. The Impact Light Trek 4.0 DC Monolight and Mini Lite Trek (LT) Battery Pack Kit, which is also available in a 2-Monolight version, is a good example. Also, the Profoto B1 500 AirTTL Battery Powered Flash is a fine choice due to its fast performance, high output, and TTL integration. An example of a solid LED kit is the Genaray SpectroLED Outfit 500 Bi-Color LED Two Light Kit, which includes two battery- or AC-powered LED panels, stands, and cases.
Flash Brackets let you position the light high enough above the lens to drop shadows behind the subject for a more professional, natural look while still allowing you to hold the flash and camera as a well-balanced, easily manageable unit.
Some allow you to position the camera vertically or horizontally on a rotating platform, a plus when shooting portraits. Suggested examples: ProMediaGear BBGV2 Boomerang Flash Bracket or the Vello QuickDraw Rotating Flash Bracket.
Wireless Radio Slaves
Radio slaves are extremely handy because they let you sync multiple flash setups, trigger flashes, and fire cameras remotely. Some are simple triggers; others provide i-TTL or E-TTL flash control with dedicated speed lights. Non-TTL systems are generally used with a light meter offering flash-metering capability, such as the Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478DR-U, which can connect to Pocket Wizard units and control the power of your flashes using PocketWizard ControlTL technology. Examples of TTL are: Pocket Wizard Flex TT5, and Pocket Wizard Mini TT1. Examples of non-TTL are: Impact Power Sync 16 or Pocket Wizard Plus X Transceiver.
UHS-I Class 1 and Class 3 SD cards and CompactFlash (CF) cards rated at UDMA 7 are essential when shooting HD video or rapid-fire sequences or bursts. And, if you have a newer camera you may be able to take advantage of the latest media advancements, XQD or CFast cards, each of which has dramatically improved speed compared to SD and CF.
High-capacity cards of 32GB or greater may let you capture an entire wedding on a single card, but many pros prefer to use a number of smaller-capacity, high-speed cards because they don't want to put all their eggs in one basket.
Cameras with dual memory slots, like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, allow for instantaneous file duplication and auto backup to a second card, and also can be set to switch automatically to the second card when the first fills up. Many dual-slot systems let you record RAW images to one card and JPEG images to a second card simultaneously. More memory is always better, so bring more than you need.
Battery grips are dedicated accessories that provide extra battery capacity for shooting many more frames per charge, and also have a secondary set of controls (including a second well-positioned shutter release) that makes shooting verticals much more convenient.
Be sure to pack at least one extra set of fully charged batteries or a power pack (or more than one of each) capable of powering every battery-powered device in your kit including cameras, flash units, lighting equipment, wireless remotes, and flashlights. Power packs also provide faster recycling times, a big plus when shooting action. Make sure to pack the proper cables for each battery pack.
Diffusers and light modifiers can make a real difference in achieving a soft, natural-looking light that flatters your subjects. Some also provide a range of attractive color effects. There’s an incredible variety of umbrellas, reflectors, diffusers, and modifiers on the market, but here are a few popular choices: Westcott 43" Collapsible Umbrella Flash Kit with Stand, Expoimaging Rogue FlashBender 2 Reflector, and the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible with Speed Mount. The Impact 5-in-1 Collapsible Circular Reflector Disc - 42" is an adjustable reflector with five color options that folds to one-third its size.
Experienced wedding photographers include a sturdy middleweight tripod and a monopod in their kit. There’s no better way to ensure crisp images when you’re relying on natural light and have to shoot at slow shutter speeds. Selected examples are: the Manfrotto BeFree Compact Travel Carbon Fiber Tripod and the Oben AT-3441 Tripod with BA-111T Ball Head. If you’re shooting HD video, as well as still images, pick a tripod with a fluid three-way pan-tilt head, like the Davis & Sanford Magnum XG13 Grounder Tripod with FX13 Head, which also has an on-off counterbalance control. Monopods combine increased stability with increased mobility, a real plus at wedding venues. Good choices are: the Oben ACM-1400 and Davis & Sanford TrekkerPro Professional.
Super clamps are super because they’ll hold cameras, lights, and practically anything else in place securely without requiring an assistant, and they can often be affixed to a handy banister, railing, or table edge so you won't need to deploy an extra light stand or tripod. Typical uses are: holding a remotely triggered camera in place in the chapel balcony; positioning a spotlight, key, or hair light while you concentrate on composing the shot; securing lights or flash units above the corners of a dance floor to achieve wide-area coverage. Selected examples are: the Manfrotto Super Clamp without Stud, Manfrotto 035RL Super Clamp with Standard Stud, Interfit INT 340 Pro Clamp.
Wedding pros employ a wide variety of methods for carrying gear, including lens bags, cases for flash packs, light stands, accessories, and different sizes of task-oriented cases, camera shoulder bags, and backpacks for carrying what they need on location. What works for you largely depends on your workflow, the venue, and whether you’re working with an assistant. Here are some suggestions.
Bags for two-body outfit: Think Tank Photo Airport Security V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag, Domke F-2 Ruggedwear Shooters Bag.
While the examples listed in this concise guide have been carefully chosen and are very specific, each one also represents an equipment category, so please feel free to make substitutions based on your own needs and preferences. Having the right gear on hand will definitely give you an edge in the highly competitive, rapidly expanding arena of wedding photography. It will also make it a lot easier for you to keep the job to the high standards that set your work apart and bring you personal satisfaction.
For more information on equipment and accessories for photographing weddings, speak with a B&H sales professional in our New York SuperStore, over the phone at 1-800-606-6969 or online via Live Chat.