You do not need to own the fanciest, most expensive photography equipment to get started in weddings. It’s a very common misconception that having a “nice camera” is what allows photographers to capture the amazing shots that they do. But if you have any experience in photography, you know that this is simply not the case. Your equipment is simply your set of tools for doing your job.
That said, weddings do require the ability to adapt to many different situations, and having the right tools can make all the difference in your ability to get the photos you want.
Here’s a list to get you started. Keep in mind that you do NOT have to spend thousands of dollars investing in equipment right away. We still rent a lot of equipment, so we highly recommend doing the same.
A modern DSLR is a base requirement. While you might be able to achieve high resolution photos with point-and-shoot cameras, you simply don’t have the flexibility and control that you can get with a DSLR. The Canon 5D Mark III is the industry favorite for an all-around wedding camera, but many photographers do great work with lower models as well. We used Canon Rebels for our first 3 wedding seasons, and were able to achieve great image quality.
While we don’t always recommend top-of-the-line camera bodies, we do recommend having the highest quality lens you can get. Lenses really are the key to fantastic pictures.
- The All-Around Top Performer: 24-70mm f/2.8 – Our favorite lens (and the one that is on
my camera about 75% of the day) is the Canon 24-70L f/2.8. The mid-range zoom capability makes the lens adaptable to many situations, and the fast aperture makes low-light situations much easier to work with. If you only have one lens, it should be this one.
- The Close-Up Capture: 70-200mm f/2.8 – When you can’t get close to your subject, or
when you are simply looking for the sharpest possible close-up photos, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is our go to lens. Many wedding ceremonies present space challenges for photographers, and very often constrict you towards the back of the church. Obviously the mid-range zoom of the 24-70 won’t quite cut it, so the telephoto capabilities of this lens are very (very) useful. And the fact that the max aperture is 2.8 means you can still cut through poor lighting conditions with no problems.
- The Nifty 50: 50mm f/1.2 (or f/1.8) – The 50mm lens is a must — not just for weddings,
but for all photography. If mobility isn’t an issue (that is, you can zoom with your feet), the Canon 50mm is one of our personal favorites. The insanely fast aperture allows you to shoot in extremely low light situations. For receptions, where lighting is notoriously terrible, this lens is a life saver.
Flash / Lighting
Having at least one speedlight is a very good idea. Two is even better. Two with remote triggering
is even better yet. We still use the Canon 430EX II, and have been very happy with them. There are newer versions of this flash, that you may want to look at, but if you’re budget-conscious, this model is a great addition.
We also swear by the use of a large reflector for outdoor photography. You will be AMAZED by the difference that such a simple, inexpensive piece of equipment can make. We use a 42″ disc, that has both silver and gold material, and it works out pretty well. If you have a couple weeks before your gig, check Amazon — you should be able to find a super cheap one like this.
Depending on the format of memory your camera uses, this answer will vary. Most high-end DSLRs will accept both CompactFlash and SD Card memory cards. CompactFlash is typically more “professional grade” in terms of construction and reliability and usually has higher read/write speeds. There are two rules we abide by when considering memory:Don’t buy the cheapest card — Cheaper cards are more likely to fail. Period. It wasn’t until I lost several hours worth of photos (luckily not from a wedding, thank God) that I really got serious and invested in higher quality SD cards. You will have to spend a little bit more, but you will be very thankful for the security of knowing your data is safe. (Disclaimer: Even high quality cards can fail — they just don’t as often. Always back up your data as early and often as possible)Bring more than you’ll need — We shot our first wedding with about 32gb of SD cards, and will NEVER do this again. I literally spent an hour of the reception sitting in the corner downloading all of our images onto my laptop, just so we could keep shooting for the rest of the night. You never, ever want to run out of memory during a wedding, because you never know what you might miss. We currently pack at least 80gb. Also remember that it is wise to use more smaller capacity cards, rather than fewer higher capacity cards. That is, bring 10 8gb cards rather than 1 80gb card. Sure, you have to switch cards more often, but if you do have data issues with a single card, you will only lose a small portion of your photos… and not the whole day. We have a cool little card holder that keeps our cards organized.
You will hand-hold your camera for most of the day, but there are a couple very important instances when a tripod becomes a necessity. First, and this is especially relevant during ceremony photos, you will notice more and more “hand-shake” the further you zoom in. So if you are zoomed to 200mm standing at the back of the church, you will quickly find that it’s difficult to take a sharp photo. With a tripod, however, the quality of your images won’t be effected by your ability to keep a steady hand. Second, during large group photographs (You know, the ones where family members rotate in and out of the photo), you will be thankful to not have to worry about the position of your camera every single shot. This consistency will also make editing a heck of a lot easier.
With tripods, you can spend $20 for the most basic model, or you can spend $500+ for super-stable, indestructible models. If you have the money, I definitely recommend getting the nicest model you can. However, a $20 tripod will ABSOLUTELY work in most situations. So if that’s what you have already, there’s no need to break the bank for your first wedding. This may tarnish my street cred among photographers, but I actually prefer cheaper tripods for weddings. They are a fraction of the size/weight of other options, making them much more portable. Don’t tell anyone I told you that.
Like I mentioned before, you do not have to go out and purchase all of this equipment. Sites like BorrowLenses have awesome rentals that give you access to the nicest equipment, but without having to invest in purchasing it outright. Borrowlenses.com also offers rental packages — you can get everything on this equipment list as a bundle for a pretty good price.