Wedding Photography - What must you have

Have you ever wondered which lenses are in a wedding photographer’s bag? There is a plethora of choice when it comes to lenses, and lens companies come up with new products all the time. Many photographers are attracted to these bright and shiny things and end up with an enormous collection of lenses, many of which hardly see the light of day. If you have to pare back to the absolute necessities and are allowed five lenses in your wedding photography bag, these are the ones that most professional photographers would recommend.

They are:

    The 70-200mm f/2.8
    The 24-70mm f/2.8
    The 85mm prime
    The 35mm prime

1. 70-200mm f/2.8

It’s big, bulky and heavy but many photographers wouldn’t do a wedding without this lens. The 70-200 f/2.8 is the workhorse when it comes to weddings. It is a versatile lens that gives you fantastic sharpness at all focal lengths. The bokeh is beautiful, especially at 200mm, even with a stopped down aperture due to the compression caused by the long focal length.

This lens makes a wedding photographer invisible. You don’t have to be so close to people’s faces; you can capture candid expressions and serendipitous moments from a fair distance away. This lens is especially useful during the ceremony, where you would rather be far away and out of sight, or hidden behind a wall or door. It allows you to capture the exchange of rings, vows, and kiss discreetly.
Tamron Afa025n 700 Sp 70 200mm F 2 8 Di 1486405329 1317272
Canon 3044c002 Ef 70 200mm F 2 8l Is 1528329199 1414599
Nikon Af S Nikkor 70 200mm F 2 8e 1477478751 1292140
If you require a longer zoom while being at the same fair distance, you can choose to photograph in DX mode on your camera (if you shoot full-frame and your camera offers this option), and you get a 1.5x crop factor (it only uses a portion of the image and enlarges it approximately 1.5x). If you do this, make sure that you have enough pixels for the crop, in case you feel the need to straighten or change your composition in post-processing.

For example, if you are shooting with a 12MP camera such as the old Nikon D700 on FX mode, when you convert to DX mode, the camera becomes a 5MP camera, which is below the minimum amount of pixels you can have – 6MP – to be able to enlarge prints to a decent size. If you have to crop in post-processing, this will not give you enough pixels to be able to do so without compromising print output sizes safely.
However, if you are photographing with a Nikon D810 in DX mode, your image goes from 36MP to 15.3MP but still leaves you enough wiggle room for minimal, and sensible cropping if necessary. If you use this functionality, don’t forget that when photographing in DX mode on a full-frame camera, or when using a DX lens, the camera only uses the center of the sensor. So if you forget to compose accordingly in-camera, you will get a nasty surprise after you have taken the image: cut off heads and limbs, and poorly cropped compositions are some examples. When using DX lenses, the rest of the unused sensor area is blacked out, but when using FX lenses in DX mode, this is not the default, and you would still see the entire full-frame sensor if you don’t change your settings.
The 70-200mm is an excellent focal length for flattering portraits. When photographing at 200mm, photographers typically stop down to around f/4 or f/5.6 at a shutter speed of 1/200-1/400th, and the sharpness of the image is stunning against a creamy bokeh background. This lens also has a built-in lens collar you can use to steady it when hand-holding or attaching it to a tripod stand. Without a tripod, you can steady yourself as much as possible by leaning against something immovable like a wall, or on a stable surface such as a table, or keeping your arms pinned against something sturdy to reduce camera shake, especially when using this lens for portrait work at the longer end of the focal length.

2. 24-70mm f/2.8

The 24-70mm f/2.8 offers the focal length versatility needed when you are photographing on the go, which is what wedding photographers need for most of the day. You can use this lens to capture more comprehensive location scenes, candid photos of people, guests arriving, people milling and chatting while waiting for the ceremony to start or during the wedding breakfast, some decorations and details, the first dance, and the leaving photos, to cite just a few.
Canon 5175 B002 Ef 24 70mm F 2 8 L Ii 1457968816 843008
Nikon Nikkor Z 24 70mm F 2 8 1569332191 1481002
Tamron Afa032n 700 Sp 24 70mm F 2 8 Di 1498791007 1345958
Many photographers include a much wider lens for location photographs such as the 14-24mm f/2.8. While most professional wedding photographers would love to add this lens to their arsenal, this is not an absolute necessity, in my opinion. With the 24-70mm, you can photograph location scenes full enough – but should you need to capture a more comprehensive view, you could snap a few images and stitch them together in Photoshop as a panorama. It is easy enough to do by making sure the exposure setting for the series of shots are the same, and you stand on a fixed point, inching your way across the panorama. You can do the same for a photograph of all the guests too. These would be the only times I would need an ultra-wide-angle lens for a wedding.

3. 85mm Prime

It is the best of all-time photographer's favorite lens, and the one used for portraits of the bride and groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen, individual guests or small groups, and the list goes on. As a fixed lens, this requires more work on your part. You will have to zoom in and out with your feet. But, the extra effort is worth it – the portraits are cleaner, the backgrounds are creamier, and it is a fabulous lens in shallow light conditions.
Canon Rf 85mm F 1 2l Usm 1557272709 1477265
Sony Fe 85mm F 1 8 Lens 1561447512 1402636
Nikon 2201 Af S Nikkor 85mm F 1 8 G 1491497200 838798

The 85mm for Nikon comes in either an f/1.8 or f/1.4 version. There is a considerable price difference between these two lenses. It is due to the glass elements and optics. However, many photographers may swing from one lense to another; therefore, they are divided between which lens is better. I have the f/1.8, and it has always performed marvelously for professionals. The f/1.4 has been on the lens list forever, and while someone could buy it as the 85mm is on the necessity list, photographers have held off given that it has never felt the need to upgrade.

4. 35mm

This is an ultra-versatile lens that you can use to photograph the bride getting ready – the time when wedding photographers are usually under pressure to capture everything from location, the myriad of accessories, details, candid shots, the dress, the natural interactions between the bride and her loved ones, and group portraits – in a very short amount of time and more often than not, in small spaces like cramped hotel rooms. It is also perfect for photographing more extensive scenes, and you get images without the exaggerated distortions that you get with the 24mm.

Sony Sel35f18f 35mm F 1 8 Fe Lens 1562666802 1492866
Nikon 2215 Af S Nikkor 35mm F 1 8g 1389089377 1023361
Tamron Aff012n700 Sp 35mm F 1 8 Di 1444842439 1183046

This lens is super fast and sharp and has yet to fail me. With this lens, you can get close, with 0.3m (11.7″) minimum focusing distance – very handy when you are in in a crowded space. As if that weren’t enough, this lens opens up to f/1.4 which can let you photograph in shallow light, especially if you are so pressed for time and space to use off-camera flashes. Even though the 24-70mm already covers the 35mm focal length, the difference between f/1.4 and f/2.8, in its ability to allow more light in (two more stops of 4x the light), cannot be underestimated.

The 35mm also comes in f/1.8, a DX lens anyone can purchase inexpensively (under $200). You may wonder why the astronomical difference in price compared to the professional f/1.4 counterpart. First of all, you cannot use the DX lens on a full-frame camera without losing pixels, and without the 35mm focal lens becoming a 52.5mm, which can be very limiting in tight spaces. Secondly, the 35mm view is close enough to what the eye naturally sees which people say is around 40mm in loose terms, and I like that view. If you are a wedding photographer, it allows you to capture images that give the viewer the impression that they could have been there, seeing the same view themselves. It is an essential element in any wedding photography, specifically that with a documentary style, in my opinion.

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