You mean besides every possible shade of pink lipstick and lipgloss?
What’s in my bag? This is a question I get a lot from curious brides and grooms, and photographers dabbling or just starting out. Couples want to be sure that I have the right gear to cover their day and photographers are trying to figure out what is essential for shooting a wedding in its entirety. Besides a professional camera body, it's all about the glass... the lenses baby!
Today I am writing about the digital side. I am a hybrid photographer with a very strong leaning toward film (and capturing quality over quantity). I stay in the hybrid category though because I think weddings toggle between fast and slow. For the fast moments, I prefer digital full frame. For slow, I prefer medium format film. So for this article, I’ll focus solely on what I carry for gear when shooting digitally.
The first thing I would say to newbie photographers is to get to know your glass and form your own opinions by practicing. Don’t rush out and buy a lens because everyone says “you simply cannot photograph a wedding without this or that lens”. $2500 later you might just realize it doesn’t work well for the style you shoot in. Instead, rent a lens a few times and try it out. I think most would agree that lens preference is subjective. When the rubber meets the road, I know it’s more about how I use my gear and my creativity. It is also important to invest in quality, well made and trusted gear.
If I had to shoot a wedding with just one lens on my camera, I would choose the 50 mm f/1.8. Personally, I’m a prime lens kind of girl. They are lighter, more compact, faster, great in low light, render beautiful bokeh and allow me to artistically express myself. About 5 hours into a wedding I appreciate the “lighter” gear. At 12 hours, I’m pooped and super glad I used primes. Also, I don’t mind having to “move my feet” to get a shot if a zoom is what’s needed.
Here’s what I love and why I carry these lenses with me to every wedding:
35 mm f/1.8 - I need this in cramped hotel rooms where I’m wedged in the back corner trying to capture the entire space while the bride and her bridesmaids are getting dressed.
24-70 mm f/2.8 - When the 35 mm f/1.8 isn’t cutting it, and I need just a smidge more range I’ll break this out. It’s good for smallish rooms like a hotel room, or for a tea ceremony.
50 mm f/1.8 - I love this little guy. Like many photographers, it consistently gets the shots I need and want and dream of. It gives me more spread than the 85 mm and with no distortion.
85 mm f/1.8 - I use this for a photojournalistic feel with bridal and bridesmaid portraits. The shots are more intimate and are tighter than with a 50 mm.
105 mm macro f/2.8 - Weddings are a balance between capturing the big and little things. This is my “little things” essential lens. From ring shots, to close up of the dress and shoes, I simply could not get the stunning images I need without this lens.
70-200 mm VR f/2.8 - I only break out this behemoth of a lens several times during a wedding. This is the first. First looks are emotional for many. I prefer to give a couple plenty of space and this allows me to get tight shots without disturbing their special moment.
PORTRAITS (wedding couple, bridal party and family)
I need versatility here. Portraits can be of 2 people or upwards of 40 or more. They are also fast-paced demanding moments in a wedding. A couple has given me their shot list, plus I have my own and sometimes Great Aunt Susie spontaneously asks me to snap a photo with the bride. I have to be ready and set up. The light may change, and I also need to be flexible to shoot indoors one moment and outdoors the next. I almost always have a flash attached. Sometimes I use this as fill, but I first try to leverage all available natural daylight.
Lenses that fit the bill for these moments:
35 mm f/1.8 - This will work for several people all the way up to a group of 9 or 10.
50 mm f/1.2 - This is my wedding couple go-to lens of choice. It is just perfect for 1-2 people.
85 mm f/1.8 - Later in the evening when I’m giving guests plenty of space I like to use this to capture portraits from afar. This is another photojournalistic style that can add a lot of dimension to telling a couples wedding day story.
70-200 mm VR f/2.8 - Out comes my two-ton lens again! I will always try to use this for large group portraits. I usually mount it on a tripod (my shoulders thank me). I can take tack sharp images and accommodate very large groups without distortion (so no need to be worried about vying for a spot in the middle) on the edges. I sometimes stand on a small collapsible step ladder when I’m using this lens in case I need a better angle.
There are two phases to the ceremony. The first is when I’m in the space all by myself and capturing details. It’s important to try to document the ceremony without jackets and purses on chairs that can create distracting elements. The next phase is the actual ceremony. Here are the lenses I carry with me:
70-200 mm VR f/2.8 - Any wedding over 50 people demands I use this lens. I can put it on a tripod and capture the bridal party walking down the aisle all from a uniform perspective. I can sit in the back and off to the side and get tight shots of the couple exchanging vows. It allows me to be a fly on the wall, get every last shot while not being obtrusive or distracting.
35 mm f/1.8- Much of the time this will suffice for capturing the whole space and the guests seated and give a sense of what ceremony looks and feels like.
14-24 mm f/2.8 - When things are “big” I bring this guy along. By big I mean, a big wedding with lots of guests, tall ceilings or substantial architecture, or a wide vs deep chair arrangement. Distortion is an issue so I’m careful not to overuse it but when it’s used correctly, the photos are stunning.
50 mm f/1.2 -Quick requests for portraits as guests are arriving.
I find most weddings on a Friday or Saturday tend to take place in the afternoon to evening. That means that as the night goes on I am going to be shooting in the dark or very low light. This is where my love of primes comes in again. They perform well and are trusty. I do however use a 24-70 m f/2.8 for party photos.
35 mm f/1.8 - This captures great overview photos and key moments like the band and DJ making announcements, toasts or for part of the first dance.
50 mm f/1.2 - Details of the food, decor, chairs, runners, cocktails, etc. Shooting wide open allows me to create some romantic shots of the details as well as people interacting. This is also my lens for send-offs — sparklers included.
85 mm f/1.8 - This is the lens I used to shoot the other half of the first dances. The shots are tighter than the 35 mm and that allows me to get more detail and emotion in one frame.
24-70 mm f/2.8 - This is my lens on the dance floor. It captures groups well and tells a great story of how everyone is interacting.
50 mm f/1.2 - I can handle anything thing with my nifty-50 whether it be confetti poppers, sparklers, rose petals or sprays of lavender. An exit is a one-shot deal (like every other moment in a wedding) but this one is extremely fast moving and crazy intense. This lens never lets me down. Depending on the lighting situation, I often supplement with two off-camera lights, especially if there are sparklers.
A few final notes on gear. While I have a backup camera body (and my lenses are in a sense backups to one another), I do not carry it. It is always nearby though! I’d rather carry more lenses and have versatility in shots than a cumbersome camera body that I more than likely will not need to use. It makes culling images easier too when they come from one body.
I also carry no less than 3 flashes as well as a transmitter and receivers so they can “talk” and I can use off-camera flash as needed.
I usually bring in a portable softbox and you wouldn’t believe how handy this is for the getting ready photos of the bride and during the reception. It sits on a very sturdy weighted tripod. Speaking of tripods, I always carry at least 4. One for my camera, 2 lighter weight ones for off camera flash, and another heavier duty version for supporting the softbox. I fill my weight bags on site with rocks.
And last but not least, a dimmable, color temperature variable video light (and several flashlights). This awesome piece of technology can be mounted on a tripod, handheld, perched on a dashboard, used as spots or backlighting, or for focusing in the dark.
Oh, and my iWatch. It makes staying on top of the timeline easy. I just set timers and off I go.