after nearly every wedding I share, I get a flood of DM’s asking me what gear I use...
...and while having high-end professional gear absolutely makes my work a more pleasant experience, a good photographer is not made by good gear alone! Honestly, a lot of us really wait until we’ve either completely outgrown gear, or until equipment breaks to upgrade due to this. I really want to make a point that none of this is essential to learning, and that having a solid understanding of lighting is way more important than owning a more expensive lens! On top of that, no one buys every piece at once- it takes time to grow and curate.
Secondly, I’ll mention that I’m a Canon gal. What does this mean? It means no more than the first camera I bought was a Canon, and I’ve stuck with it! A lot of people try to start up “tech talk” about Nikon versus Canon versus Sony, and to be completely honest it’s 2020 and most companies are doing AMAZING work and are pretty comparable when you’re working with raw image data. The more important specs are about how much light something lets in (the lens), detail capturing ability, and what YOU are most comfortable holding! I always suggest renting a few options if you’re not ready to commit to one brand. On that note, though I’ve used other systems briefly for specific shoots I’m really not an expert on Fuji’s lens line-up or Nikon’s flashes, but the specs usually line up pretty easily with lenses across the board.
Finally, before the good stuff- I’ll make a secondary post for my styling kit down the road. It’s a beast of its own!
I use the Canon R and the Canon 5d mkIII. Through the wedding day (or portrait session) the R rarely leaves my side, and I either have the 5D MK III on my other side with another lens or have it ready to go incase of emergency in my bag. The best question to ask to decide what camera to get is BUDGET, and features. I can suggest a kit that has a $7k full-frame camera, 2k L-glass lens, and Profoto flash- I promise you'll love it! But it might be more than you realistically need for what you want to capture. You may need a 45 megapixel camera if you do a lot of commercial work or real estate, but that's far more than you need for portraits. I never need to shoot faster than 6 frames a second, or higher than 1/4000th of a second, but if you're into sports that may be a must-have feature. Things like dual-card slots are often non-negotiators for wedding and event photographers. I'm super tall, coming in just over 5ft... so an articulating screen is super helpful when I want to hold the camera above my head on a crowded dance floor and still see the frame I'm creating. All of these should go into the camera you choose- sometimes it's easier to decide the list of what's most important to you, set a budget, and then decide what fits best!
Of course, a body isn’t any good without a lens! I shoot with a pretty wide range of lenses throughout the day, but I have it down to a formula. The lens you use is just important, if not more, as the body. I suggest skipping all of Canon’s “baseline” or starter lenses- I know that can be hard to hear, but sometimes the better version isn’t that much more expensive and will save you in the long run- trust me, I bought the 50mm 1.8 (also known as the thrifty fifty!), then the 50mm 1.4 a few years later, and THEN the Sigma art lens after that! I would have saved so much just buying the Sigma Art instead of trying to make baby steps with the Canon 50mm 1.4.
If you’re reading this and the numbers seem like nonsence… this post may not be for you yet :) And that’s okay! The simple breakdown is that the first number is the focal length, or distance, of the lens. The second number, like “1.4” or “2.8” is the widest aperture, or F/stop, the lens can be open to- aka, how much light it can let in. Prime lenses always are able to let more in than zoom, but as a rule, I don’t buy anything more closed than 2.8.
I'll also note- I LOVE prime lenses far more than zoom. I appreciate zooms for what they are, but I love the quality of primes. I try to utilize them as much as possible during the wedding day, and resort to zooms only when fast motion is happening! Now, here's my current kit:
Sigma 105mm Macro Lens: I use this lens primarily for detail shots only. It’s perfect for getting up-close ring shots, jewelry, and even your wedding invite suites, and has a beautiful compression to help the angles of a detail suite look square. I've slowly started incorporating it into some of my ceremonies, with it's decent f/2.8 aperture, and due to my preference of prime lenses versus zoom.
Canon 35mm USM: This lens is actually no longer made, so the link is to the new version! This is a fairly new addition to my kit and workflow. I use it during ceremonies (especially church ones!) to get a super wide shot, showing the whole room! It's great for a couple dramatic shots, but where I really love it is during receptions after all the events are over. It's a perfect, light weight, dance floor lens! I may upgrade this later for an L or Art version, but for right now it's not such an essential part of my kit that I'm ready to drop big money on it.
Sigma 50mm 1.4 ART: This is my go-to when I’m shooting bridal prep photos and shots like the dress hanging! It’s a great length to use indoors and the large aperture of 1.4 lets me blur out any distractions in the home or venue we’re working with, as well as use lots of natural light. This lens also is gorgeous for ceremonies, bridal party portraits, and lay-down details that are too wide or large for my 105mm! A 50mm is one of the most essential lenses to keep in your wedding day kit. The Canon equivalent of this lens runs a little soft, so I prefer Sigma, but both are wonderful wedding-day lenses. I had the Canon 1.4 USM lens before upgrading to this one, and I would definitely advise you to skip it and go right for the Sigma! It’s worth saving up for a little bit longer for.
This lens is one that almost every wedding photographer swears by- and while it holds a special part of my kit it’s not definitely not my favorite! This lens is perfect for fast-action parts of the wedding day, like the bride coming down the aisle, receiving lines, and the reception- but I prefer using my prime lenses for portraits to get creamier bokeh (background blur!). This lens usually stays glued to my camera during the reception when everyone is dancing and partying so that I can be both off of the dance floor or right in the middle of the party!
Like the 24-70mm, this was a CLASSIC wedding photographer lens for a long time! It’s long focal length and relatively open aperture make it great for church ceremonies where you may have distance restrictions, and the relatively wide aperture helps for those ceremonies that don’t allow flash. Just a note: This lens has a LOT of versions- a image stabilized, non-stabilized, a version that's f2.8, one that's f4..... It is truly worth saving for the 2.8 version, and I would really suggest splurging for the IS. It is a CHONKY lens, you'll thank yourself during your first dark church wedding when you have to bring your shutter speed down to 1/100!!
*you'll also thank yourself for investing in a wrist brace if you're going to use this lens a lot. I brace up when I have double-header weekends using this baby or I feel it for AWHILE!
Okay, now this one is my FAVORITE lens. She’s a beaut and a gem. Whenever we’re doing portraits, she’s going to be what’s glued to my camera. The sharpness and softness of this lens is everything! 85mm is usually too long to use for a full bridal party, but it’s the perfect length for capturing intimate romantic shots. I love that I can be a little farther from my couples to give them space to be themselves, but also close enough to give direction and guidance. This lens has a nice wide aperture, so it can also be a great choice for a dark ceremony space- though the focusing is a little slower than the 70-200mm or 24-70mm.
This lens comes with a pretty heafty price tag, but it’s baby brother, the Canon 85 1.8 USM is a great lens to start with if you love portraits! It’s not as creamy, but it’s a lot lighter on the camera body AND on your pocket. I kept mine to use in my second-shooter kit! Though this is my favorite lens, it's not a good FIRST lens. I would suggest the 50mm prime over this as a first, but this lens is key to getting the type of look I love in my photographs.
In a dream world, every ceremony would be outdoors under the perfect cloudy sky, with just a hint of backlighting. All receptions would have candles illuminating the dance floor, fairy lights wrapped around ancient trees, and starlight kissing your faces.
Unfortunately, that’s almost never exactly what it’s like! And for that, I have artificial lighting. I love these 1v units from Godox/Flashpoint- they contain transceivers (no need for pocket wizards or other triggers!) and are surprisingly powerful for being such easily portable units. Bonus points- they’re super affordable! Speedlites take a big hit during wedding days- I’ve watched them fall off of 9ft lightstands, get knocked off of doors when on camera bodies… they take a beating! I’d much rather save the money by buying them “off brand” opposed to from Canon or Profoto to put into my new lens savings.
The Godex/Flashpoint 1v is my current favorite on-camera flash. I love that I can control all the units from one spot as I usually have 3-4 lights set up, and that it has a modeling light feature for sparkler exits or dark receptions. I use a combination of two Godex AD200 units, which are incredibly strong for weddings. Their battery life can easily last me two weddings without a single worry, and in a pinch, I can sync both myself and my second shooter up to them- they're that good!
Edit to this post: I previously used Godex T685 units, but upgraded to the AD200s. If you're familiar with Canon gear, the T685 is basically equivalent to the 600rt or rt II. The Godex 1v is closely designed to the Profoto on-camera light, though less powerful. The cost is so comparable with the Godex 1v that I would suggest it over the T685.
I always keep Magmod modifiers on my lights to give them a more soft, diffused output. Usually, I'll have a magsphere (affectionally called the "mag-boob" among photographers) on each off-camera flash during the ceremony, reception, and if needed, prep- though I try to shoot these natural light, when possible, with exception of the reception. As the name suggests, these modifiers are magnetic for easy-on, easy-off set up. They have some cool trick items too, such as gels and grids, to be able to get unique back-lit images. These don't align strongly with my style, but I alway love throwing one in as an "end of the night" image!
I have a little system for my wedding days where I keep my gear at the ready by being organized into different bag systems.
- I keep a rolling bag for all my really heavy stuff that I don’t need straight away- this holds things like my backup lights, batteries galore, 70-200 lens, and backup body.
- During the very start of the day I have a bag with my styling kit- AKA, everything I need to capture my bride’s detail shots! This will include my macro lens, ring boxes, hand dyed-silk ribbons, loose flowers, trays, and even backgrounds! This bag pretty much stays away after the morning shots, and will get it’s own post later.
- My Kelly Moore Austin bag is on me at all times with the things I use all through the day- like my Sigma 50mm and 24-70. I switch these things out throughout the day into my rolling bag, based on what I need physically on my body at certain points. During the reception this usually changes to be my 24-70 and 70-200 or 50mm- it’s all about strategy!
- A long lightstand bag will help you move a little faster with multiple stands! Picture a big golf bag :) I’m not too committed to specific stands as long as they’re air stands, so I won’t provide a link for these.
The Small Stuff:
Batteries: Of course, everything with photography takes its own special battery. It takes time, but I highly recommend only using high quality rechargeables for the sake of the environment. I used to fly through a 24-pack EASILY for flashes on a wedding day, which is around 72 batteries a month! Yikes! Now I use eneloop pros. It took me sometime to make the switch, but it’s so worth it.
I also ALWAYS bring a memory-card case that is shock proof, waterproof, and easy to keep organized. The second a card is switched it goes in the case, which is the FIRST thing I bring inside after a shoot (am i setting myself up to be robbed?!). This does not leave my body once the cards are in. Stopping by a fast food joint after a wedding? It comes with me. Getting a nightcap with my second shooter and videographers? It’s there. Car gets hit and I have to go to the emergency room? You know that case is staying with me! I’m a fan of this case from Beeway- it hits all the above specs, plus it holds both SD and CF cards.
Up until this last year I would shoot dual-camera 100% of the time- meaning I’d keep one camera on me with a wide lens, and another on me with a telephoto. I realized this was pretty unnecessary for the way that I shoot, but I still have a nearly-new dual harness to keep the weight of two cameras equally distributed. I had mine custom made by a now-closed shop in the UK, but the Hold Fast Money Maker is very similar.
In 2021, I've added the Hold Fast Gear Money Maker Solo strap. I've used it at about three weddings as of May, and I haven't quite decided how I feel yet. The weight isn't as well balanced and I definitely have some neck pain after a wedding. But, it's far better and more handy than a neck strap.
Canon 90mm Tilt Shift: This was never a lens on my short list, but it came with a camera I recently purchased and I am so excited to play with it! A tilt-shift is a bit of a "trick" lens, letting you alter the perspective and fall-off of an image. This is the type of lens I'd use for a few pictures in the right location, but doesn't travel to every session with me. SO much fun though!