Wedding Photographers Equipments

Should you try to take professional quality wedding images with a Canon Rebel XTi and the kit lens? The answer is no. However, any digital SLR body combined with a decent lens (see below) is a good start. This article will explain the equipment that a typical wedding photographer uses and some of the reasoning behind those choices.

When you are responsible for documenting something as important as a wedding day, there is no excuse for not having the right tool. How do you get your hands on a $1500 Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM (review) when you only have $100 in your wallet? Rent it! Most professional photography stores have a rental department. Prices for a digital body range from $50-200/day and most lenses range from $10-30/day. Most rental operations offer a discount for multi-day or weekend rental as well. This is good because you get the chance to become familiar with a particular piece of equipment before you have to use it on the job. No photography rental businesses near you? Many of the larger rental operations will rent via Fedex/UPS.


Lenses with a large maximum aperture of f/2.8 or larger are extremely valuable for weddings. The option to use available light, even in dark churches or dimly lit reception halls, is a strong tool for the wedding photographer. Even more important is the option not to use a flash, as few people would describe the light cast by an on-camera flash as romantic. Furthermore, some locations have restrictions on flash photography during the ceremony itself, or a bride might specifically request that a flash not be used. The extra two stops of shutter speed between a f/2.8 lens and a cheaper f/4-5.6 kit lens can make the difference in getting the desired photograph.

There are photographers who make wonderful images with three to four fast primes and photographers who have every focal length covered with multiple lenses from 15-300mm. Most professional wedding photographers, however, use a set of three zoom lenses: a wide-angle zoom, a wide-to-tele zoom, and an image-stabilized telephoto zoom.

Wide-Angle Zoom

The wide-angle zoom lens is indispensable. This lens makes it possible to photograph in confined spaces, such as the bride's dressing room or a packed dance floor. The wide angle perspective creates a sense of expansiveness and grandeur by showing the entire church or ceremony location. Wide images are easier to create with a full-frame sensor camera, as there are no f/2.8 lenses in the 10-22 range that gives and equivalent field of view with a small-sensor camera.

Wide-to-Telephoto Zoom

The wide-to-tele lens is the single most important lens for wedding photography. It is wide enough to take a group photograph, but still long enough to take a three-quarter portrait of a couple without the unflattering effects of wide-angle perspective distortion. Given just this lens, most professional wedding photographers could cover an average wedding to their usual standards of quality. Both Canon and Nikon offer high quality f/2.8 wide-to-tele zooms designed for a small sensor-body. These lenses are less expensive and physically smaller than their full frame counterparts.

Image-Stabilized Telephoto Zoom

The 70-200mm focal length is an important range for ceremony images. Very few wedding parties want the photographer in the way during the ceremony. Most likely, you will be photographing down the aisle from the back of the church. This is where an image-stabilized telephoto zoom shines. 200mm is long enough to be able to take 3/4 length images of the bride and groom without creeping too far forward down the aisle and 70mm is wide enough to take in the bridesmaids or groomsmen as a group without switching lenses.

When using a small-sensor camera as your primary or backup body, the bad news is that neither Nikon or Canon make an f/2.8 lens that gives you an effective 70-200mm focal length. You are going to have to pay the price and carry the weight of a lens designed for a full frame camera. The good news is that the small-sensor camera's 1.5x focal length multiplier can be a huge advantage. The 200/2.8 long end of the standard zoom becomes effective 300/2.8, a lens that would cost $4000 for a full-frame camera and be large and heavy enough to come in its own suitcase. The effective 300mm length allows for more creative options than a shorter lens, such as tightly cropped images of the bride and groom's hands while they put rings on each other's fingers.

Whether you are using a full-frame or a small sensor body, 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. Canon's Image-Stabilization and Nikon's Vibration-Reduction systems are indispensable in allowing you to hold these large and heavy long lenses by hand, especially in low light situations. No wedding photographer should be without IS/VR on their long lenses. Image-stabilized telephoto zooms are expensive and this is another situation where rental may be a good way to go.

Prime Lenses

Many photographers keep their lens kit to the three zoom lenses discussed previously. These lenses would probably cover 80-90% of the photos for any given wedding. It is worth including 2-3 fast prime lenses in your bag as well. These lenses are small, light, and fairly inexpensive. There are times at a wedding where, either for artistic or technical reasons, even an f/2.8 aperture is not enough to get the motion-stopping shutter speed or shallow depth of field desired. The faster prime lenses are ideal in these situations. An image that requires a 1/10th of a second shutter speed at f/2.8 will only require 1/30th of a second at f/1.8. That can be the difference between making a sharp image and a blurry one. However, for most professional wedding photographers, the best reason to include a few prime lenses in their wedding kit is that they provide an economical backup to their zoom lenses. Nothing is quite so terrifying as having equipment fail at a crucial moment. At a wedding in 2004, the aperture blades of a Canon 28-70/2.8 froze during the formal portraits. I remembered the 35/2 and 85/1.8 in my backup bag. After telling everyone to "take five" so I could run to the car, the backup lenses allowed me to finish the wedding without anyone noticing the failure.

My preferred three lens prime kit consists of a 28/1.8, 50/1.8, and 85/1.8, all used on a full-frame body. The 28mm takes in the full scope of most ceremony locations and also works in crowded spaces, the 50mm is good for small groups or a dancing couple, and the 85mm is long enough for ceremony vow/rings/kiss images. A wedding can be successfully photographed with just these three lenses. What is better, telling a bride that you missed the kiss because your one long zoom lens malfunctioned, or providing her with an image, even if it isn't the absolute best photo you could have possibly taken?

Three-Lens Prime Kit:

Camera body

Most professional wedding photographers would agree that the essential tool for wedding photography is one of the current full-frame Canon or Nikon digital SLR's. As of late 2007, the best choices would be the Canon EOS 5D (review) or the Nikon D3 (review). These bodies offer the best wide-angle capabilities with current lenses and the best image quality in low light. Does this mean that weddings cannot be photographed with a less expensive camera? Absolutely not. There are many excellent wedding photographers who use small sensor cameras such as the Nikon D300 (review) and the Canon EOS 40D (review). These cameras have excellent imaging and AF systems and, as mentioned earlier, provide a welcome boost in magnification for telephoto work. Their main drawback is the lack of f/2.8 wide-angle lenses.

What about the entry level DSLR bodies? Could you photograph a wedding with a Canon Digital Rebel or Nikon D40? In theory, yes. The imaging systems in these cameras are very good and skilled photographers have no problem creating excellent images with them. However, these cameras do not make our list of recommended primary equipment for several reasons: (1) slower handling due to increased use of buttons/menus, rather than dials; (2) reduced AF speed; and (3) inferior low light/high ISO performance. Despite those limitations, these cameras make excellent and economical backup bodies.

Only a fool would try to photograph an event as important as a wedding with only one camera body; bring a back-up body. If you do not own a back up body, or only have an entry level DSLR, look into renting.

Flashes and Accessories

  • 2-3 500-800 w/s monolight heads
  • 2-3 "speedlight" on-camera TTL flashes
  • light stands for each flash
  • umbrellas/softboxes for each flash
  • flash triggering device (radio slaves, optical triggers, or PC cords)
  • hand held flash meter

There are two schools of thought regarding electronic flashes for wedding work. Photographers with a lot of studio experience usually feel most comfortable with the flexibility and power that a set of studio monolights provide. Photographers with more editorial experience often feel more comfortable with "speedlight" TTL flashes due to their light weight and speed of setup/takedown. Studio flashes have the advantage of significantly more lighting power and many options for light modifications such as softboxes, snoots, and barn-doors. This can be an advantage when you have a large wedding group to photograph, or when the location calls for some creative lighting to achieve the proper romantic feel. In my experience, time is the scarcest resource at a wedding. The faster you can set up and tear down, the happier you and your clients will be. For my personal wedding photography, TTL flashes' quick setup and lack of need for extension cords or electrical outlets have proven to be a far greater advantage.

With either studio strobes or speedlights, you will need light stands and light modifying devices for each flash. Umbrellas are very popular due to their easy setup, but softboxes have better light softening and directional abilities. The real-world answer is that you should use whatever you can afford and are comfortable with. Monolights require fairly sturdy dedicated light stands. Even the small ones are somewhat heavy and require a lot of support. Small TTL speedlight flashes can be mounted on just about anything, but most photographers find that investing in a set of sturdy light stands is a worthwhile investment. For those new to working with external flash, the Studio Photography Primer and Lighting Equipment and Techniques Forum will be useful resources.

500-800 w/s Monolight Heads

On-camera TTL Flashes

Light Stands


Remote Flash Triggering

When setting up remote flashes for formal portraits, radio slaves are very handy. They allow you to eliminate long cords that wedding guests may trip over and to place flashes in locations where a cord would never reach. However, they are not necessary and many photographers successfully rely on optical flash triggers or infrared devices that allow the duration of remote flashes to be controlled by the camera body's through-the-lens flash metering system.

Optical Triggers

PC Cords

Hand-Held Flash Meter

With the instant preview available on digital cameras, it is easy to take a test photo, check the exposure on the rear LCD, and adjust flash exposure if needed. However, a hand-held flash meter can be valuable when setting up flashes for formal portraits. It is easy to stand in front of the flashes with a light meter in one hand and a radio slave trigger in the other. You quickly get an accurate idea of exposure and ratios among the different flashes you are using. Given how small and inexpensive a flash meter is, it is wise to make one a part of your wedding photography kit.

A bag to hold it all

Split your wedding gear into two bags. One bag holds your main body, the most frequently-used lenses, an on-camera flash, batteries, and the most important accessories. The second bag holds your backup body, specialty or backup lenses, extra flashes, battery chargers, and other accessories. With a backpack as your large bag, you will be able to carry all of day's equipment without back- or shoulder-strain. Unlike larger hard-sided gear cases, a backpack can easily be tucked away in your car's trunk or under a reception table. This allows it to be easily accessible while still protecting your gear from any bumps and jostles. The shoulder bag gives you something smaller and easier to work out of moving around a lot, particularly in crowded spaces. Bridal dressing rooms, reception areas, dance floors, and limousines are a lot easier to navigate with a shoulder bag instead of a large backpack. Keep in mind that a single giant shoulder bag negates any mobility advantages and will give you a serious backache after a long day. For more advice on the overall topic of camera bags, visit the camera bag section.


Shoulder Bags-Large

Shoulder Bags-Small

Battery Packs

External battery packs for speedlight flashes yield faster recycling time and more photographs between battery changes. The disadvantages are their extra weight, awkwardness of use, slow charging time, and high price. Many photographers prefer to use high-capacity rechargeable batteries instead. You can carry 20 of them for the weight and space of one external battery. Rechargeable AA batteries, costing $1-2 each, provide fairly decent recycle time and capacity. In a battery shortage crisis, AAs can be recharged quickly enough to get you through an unexpectedly dark reception.

Light-Stand Weight Bags

Even a gentle breeze can knock over a light stand with a flash and umbrella mounted. This is an easy way to break some expensive gear, and will cause the whole portrait session to grind to a halt. The solution? Nylon or canvas bags filled with sand or water can be used to add weight to the bottom of the light stand. A strong gust can still knock them over because an umbrella makes a great sail, but lighter winds pose much less of a threat.

Tripods and Monopods

When in dim churches, your shutter speed may dip fairly low. Since few parts of a wedding ceremony involve fast subject movement, you can usually get away with it, especially if you are using a monopod. But there is a limit to how low your shutter speed can go before camera shake ruins the image. A general guideline is a handheld image will be acceptably sharp if the shutter speed is faster than 1/focal-length. For example, for a 50mm lens, a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second or faster. For a 200mm lens, use 1/200th of a second or faster. IS/VR lenses will provide at least an extra two f-stops of practical stabilization, meaning that you can use 1/50th of a second on that 200mm lens, but there are situations where IS/VR is insufficient. A tripod provides the ultimate in stability and sharpness, but isn't as useful for weddings as for, say, landscape photography, because people at a wedding move around a lot more than mountains. The tripod stabilizes the camera, not the subject. The tripod is most useful with long lenses, e.g., when photographing from a church's choir loft. A monopod provides less stability, but is easier to move around.

See the tripod section for specific recommendations in this area.

Gaffers Tape

Gaffers tape is surprisingly handy in almost any situation. You never know when you are going to need to tape down a veil, cover a power cord, or hold together a bowtie. It is the kind of thing that can save the day in hundreds of different situations. In the past year alone I have used gaffers tape to hold up a dress, keep a veil from blowing in the wind, tape down a power cord, hold a broken flash together, and make an emergency shoulder strap. It is more expensive than duct tape, but is also much easier to tear and leaves less glue behind. Throw a roll of it in your case, and you will probably forget it's in there until the moment you need it most. Then it will be worth its weight in gold.


Any digital SLR can be an effective tool for wedding photography, if combined with a high quality high speed lens. For most photographers, three professional-quality zooms are the standard outfit. Bringing studio strobes or wireless speedlight flashes to a wedding is a big step up in complexity, but opens up a lot of creative possibilities. Remember to spend at least a few days working with bodies, lenses, and flashes before the wedding. A wedding should be the third or fourth project that you do with a new piece of gear, not the first!

For further advice, please visit the Wedding Photography forum, where many experienced photographers will be happy to answer your questions.

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