When it comes to taking professional quality wedding images, the lens is much more important than the camera body itself. This doesn’t mean you should get the cheapest camera body that you can find. If you’re on a tight budget and you can’t afford to go full-frame, you should consider getting a semi-professional camera, such as the Nikon D300. This article outlines different equipment used in wedding photography and the reasons why each piece of gear is so important to have in your bag.
When you’re responsible for documenting something as important as someone’s wedding day, there is no excuse for cheap equipment. This simply won’t get the job done for the level of quality that’s required. Remember that they will look back at these images throughout their entire lives! They’re investing a lot of money in your services as a wedding photographer, so don’t rip them off by using cheap amateur equipment.
If you initially can’t afford to buy that 24–70mm zoom lens or that professional body outright, then rent it! Most professional photography stores have a rental department. This is a great way to cut back on your outgoings while still providing a high quality service. This will help boost your reputation for the future and help you save for the professional camera you’ve been drooling over. Figure out the best rental arrangement for you. You can save money if you hire it for a few days in a row. It’s not a bad idea to hire it for an extra few days before the wedding so that you can master all of its settings. If you’re proficient in using your camera this will boost your confidence on the day. Try to practice when no one else is around. Don’t leave it until the actual day. Remember: you’ll be under pressure on the day, and it doesn’t look good when you’re fiddling with your equipment while the couple is waiting on you. They’re paying for your time.
Another thing I would recommend is mastering manual use of your camera. This is so you can create images how you intend them. If you want to underexpose slightly to shoot a nice silhouette, you won’t be able to in auto mode, as it automatically balances out the exposure.
Wide Aperture Lenses
Lenses with a wide apertures of f/2.8 up to as wide as f/1.4 or more are extremely valuable for weddings. These wide apertures enable you to use more available light. Think about how dimly lit a church or reception hall can be. You don’t want to risk having to boost your ISO so much that you lose too many details. So remember that big apertures are a strong tool for the wedding photographer. Another great benefit of using wide aperture lenses is not having to fire a flash.
I wouldn’t recommend shooting with a flash during the ceremony. It’s a very special moment for the couple, so show them some respect. A lot of brides specifically request no flash during the ceremony, and the location might have restrictions for flash photography. If you must use flash during the ceremony, it’s always polite to ask the venue and bride just to be sure. I also see a lot of photographers firing a flash directly into someone’s face, which isn’t very flattering. There is normally a surface around that you can bounce your flash from. Using a white ceiling or wall to act as a giant softbox creates a much better quality of diffused light, although it’s best to try to use the available light as much as you can.
Wedding Photography Lenses
A lot of photographers prefer to carry only zoom lenses in their bags. This saves a lot of running around to position for the shot. I prefer to work with mostly primes, as prime lenses are available in wider apertures. The end result is the subject appears much better separated from the background. This enables you to draw your viewer’s eye. This method of photography makes it easier for you to tell a story with your images; it creates more powerful images with minimal distractions.
For wedding photography lenses I would recommend covering a focal length from 24–200mm. 24mm is wide enough to provide expansive views of the ceremony and reception, and 200mm has enough reach to get a nice closeup of the bride or groom from the back of the church.
Here are some different types of lenses used in wedding photography.
The wide angle length typically covers focal lengths between 10–24mm. This lens is very important when it comes to wedding photography; it’s wide enough to show the entire view of the church or ceremony location. Wide angle lenses also make it possible to photograph in confined spaces, such as the bride’s dressing room or a packed dance floor. The wide perspective creates a sense of expansiveness and grandeur. Wide angle lenses on a full frame body provide the best results. If you have a cropped sensor, keep in mind that a 10–20mm lens will give a similar view to a 24mm on a full frame body.
A wide-to-telephoto lens, such as the 24–70mm or 17–55mm, is considered the most important lens for wedding photography. This type of lens is wide enough to take group photographs and also three quarter length portraits. If you had to choose just one lens to shoot an entire wedding with, this would provide you with the best coverage.
Image Stabilized Telephoto Zoom
Telephoto zoom lenses have a focal length of 70–200mm. If your style of wedding photography is an unobtrusive, photojournalistic style, then this is the lens for you. It’s great for ceremonies, as you don’t want to be in the way of the guests. You can still get a great portrait shot of the bride and groom at the altar from the very back of the church. You can also capture the bridesmaids or groomsmen as a group without having to swap lenses.
The f/2.8 maximum aperture of these lenses gives you the option of narrowing the depth of field, keeping the viewer’s attention on the in-focus subject while blurring the background. And the image stabilization mechanism will give you razor sharp images when taking shots fully zoomed in and taken by hand. The only downside to these great lenses is that they aren’t cheap by any means.
I love working with wide aperture primes. They give a beautiful depth of field and an advantage when working with available light. You can shoot at f/1.4, which will cover even some of the darkest areas. Here are some popular prime lenses on the market:
- 24mm f/1.4 — This lens was released by Nikon. It’s an amazing lens. You can take great venue and ceremony shots. Even though it is a wide angle lens, you can still manage to get subject separation from the background and great quality bokeh at an aperture of f/1.4.
- 50mm f/1.4 — This affordable lens is great for the bridal preparation shots and detail shots, such as bouquet, rings, shoes, etc. It also covers closeup portraits and small group shots.
- 85mm f/1.4 — This is the classic focal length for portraits. It also provides a beautiful and creamy quality of bokeh.
These lenses perform at their best on a full-frame body, although you can still produce some great images on a small sensor camera. As I said before, if you had to choose between getting a new camera body or a professional lens of the same value, I would recommend the lens hands down. You will notice a much bigger difference in the quality of your images.
A good combination of lenses for a wedding is a couple of fast primes such as a 24mm and an 85mm, and a 70–200mm telephoto-zoom lens. The 24mm covers you for expansive venue and ceremony photos and group photos. The 85mm produces great quality portraits and couple shots, and the 70–200mm will give you the speed and length that you need for great candid photography and ceremony shots at the altar and coming down the aisle.
You might also consider getting a quality macro lens for amazing detail shots like wedding rings (105mm is a good option).
If you carry all of these lenses in your kit, you will be able to capture the day at its best. Of course, you need to have an eye for photography, and many will argue that it’s not the equipment, it’s the photographer. Which is true. The reason I express that professional lenses are such a valuable part to carry in your kit is solely for the image quality. These lenses will make a big difference as to how professional your portfolio appears to viewers.
There are many advantages to carrying a professional camera body. Some of the main benefits are high ISO capabilities, which will give you a higher shutter speed in low light situations, and some full frame cameras, such as the Nikon D3x, feature incredibly high megapixels which is great if you get a lot of orders for larger wedding prints. For wedding photography I would say that a high ISO camera like the Nikon D3s is more beneficial. Having this capability means that you will be able to capture every moment in any lighting situation without fail, and without having to constantly work with flash. Carrying a professional body for wedding photography also means higher shutter speeds, enhanced color replication, quicker menu access using dials instead of buttons, and of course, the benefits of a full frame sensor. Other benefits include wider range of view, reduced image noise, and reduced lens distortion.
Small sensors have a 1.5 ratio crop factor which artificially magnifies an image. The downside is that this magnification brings out all of the flaws in the lens, but there is a also a big advantage in having a 1.5 crop sensor. When you attach a professional full frame lens, you can potentially get the equivalent of a 400mm lens from a 200mm lens. A professional 400mm lens can cost you upwards of $8,000.
When photographing a wedding, I cannot express how important it is to carry a backup camera. If you’re unable to afford a full frame camera as a backup, a small sensor body will do nicely. Or consider hiring a backup camera.
Flashes and Accessories
Another important thing to consider with wedding photography is carrying an off camera flash. Whether it is on a stand or held by an assistant, you need to be very fast in putting it all together. It’s a good idea to practice the controls at home and do plenty of testing so that when it comes the day itself you don’t have the bride and groom waiting on you.
Speedlights with TTL in combination with wireless remotes, such as Pocket Wizards are a good option. Speedlights are very portable, although they don’t provide as much output as studio monolights. When using remotes you can attach three or more speed lights. They are triggered via a radio transmitter. This means that they don’t need to be in line of sight to your on camera transmitter/receiver, so you can put one inside a building or around a corner for example, and it will still fire via the remote. It’s a very powerful tool but takes a lot of practice to master. When considering a speed light you should make sure that it has a rotating flash head so that you can also use it as an on camera bounce flash to bounce off ceilings, etc.
When working with off camera flashes, important accessories are diffusers, such as soft boxes or umbrellas. I find soft boxes to be much better when it comes to location shooting, as umbrellas blow over with the slightest gust of wind. You can get sandbags for them, but this means more weight that you’ll be carrying throughout the day, which just isn’t practical. You want to streamline your equipment as much as you can. Working with a small portable soft box that you can carry off camera is a good solution. Ideally you should have an assistant hold this for you or use a flash stand. A single properly executed off camera flash with diffuser is more than enough to provide stunning couple portraits with a beautiful quality of light. It softly highlights them and ‘pops’ the subject from their background to create a more dynamic image. This is a particular advantage when the weather doesn’t cooperate. You can still create great images when it’s a miserable and dreary day.
You can get great shots using just a single off camera flash, although you need to have perfect placement. Consider using two or three flashes. You can create so many great effects with off camera flash, including rim lighting and highlighting different surfaces, as well as the subject. There are also flash gels that you put over the flash head to output different colors like red or blue. Flash gels are also used to balance the flash with ambient light, such as tungsten or fluoresent.
Consider a bag with wheels. Doing wedding photography is hard work; it doesn’t help when you’re hauling heavy gear around with you. You want to make this as easy on yourself as possible so you can focus on the job at hand. Camera jackets are a great solution. All of your lenses are readily available to you anywhere you go. You can fit up to four lenses in a single jacket!
With wedding photography, you need to be confident and full of ideas on the day. So you need to make sure you know your equipment like the back of your hand before you take on the job of photographing someone’s wedding day. Take plenty of time to practice with your new equipment. And read the instruction manuals carefully so that on the actual day you are quick and ready to capture all of the special moments as they unfold.
About the Author:
Melissa Fiene is a wedding photographer based in Sydney, Australia. To view her work, please visit http://www.melissafiene.com. She produces high quality images, providing contemporary and natural style wedding photography.
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