Required Gear for Professional Wedding Photographers

I have a lot of information in this post about various cameras, lenses, etc. but I thought I would give a small, easy to see breakdown of the minimum equipment I would feel comfortable going to a wedding with.

  • 2 capable camera bodies
  • Lenses that range from 16mm-200mm f2.8 (on full frame)
  • Tokina 11-16mm f2.8, Canon 24-70mm f2.8L, Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS II are the zooms I have.
  • Backup lenses that you can use if your other lens breaks (should cover a strong section of your primary lenses. You should be able to shoot a wedding on the backup kit alone
  • Canon 28mm f1.8, Canon 34mm f1.4L, Canon 50mm f1.2L, Canon 85mm f1.8, Canon 135mm f2L are the primes I use to supplement/backup the zoom range
  • At least 2 flashes.
  • Canon 580ex2 (x2), Quantum Qflash Trio, YN-560 (x3) are what I have. If one goes down, I have plenty to choose from.
  • Batteries and memory – enough to photograph 2 weddings on.
  • As far as other specialty lenses go (fisheye, macro, etc), they can be fun to have, but not 100% necessary to shoot your first wedding. If you are doing this professionally, I do think it is important to have some sort of macro capability.

Recently I received an email from a friend who informed me that his camera was stolen and asked for my advice. He was looking at getting a new camera (Canon) and wanted to know what I recommended. Although I am sure he was only expecting a few lines saying – “get this camera, its a good one” I proceeded to break things down for him, giving him quite a few options, something I am sure he did not expect.

I have a confession to make – I love having new camera equipment. The gear does not make the photographer, and I completely agree, but I sure do love buying it and being able to give different looks to my images. In this blog post, I will be giving my opinion on equipment to use for weddings, which I feel would be a great read for those just starting out or looking for their new toy tool. Then I will talk about my camera bag, what is in it and why, and what is on my wishlist. I will also talk about some of my gear that I feel every photographer should have. So buckle your seatbelt (click it or ticket), because this is going to be a long one.

Wedding Photographers and the necessary equipment.

A few disclaimers before I get too detailed. First, this is just my opinion. There are photographers out there that can do amazing work with less, and those that can do poor work with more, but this I feel is a good “rule of thumb” so to speak. Second, I am a Canon shooter. I think Nikon makes great imaging equipment, and has some things that are better than Canon, but I will be talking about my experience and my knowledge base comes from Canon equipment.

I truly believe that something more important than the top of the line gear is knowledge of how to use that equipment. It is IMPERATIVE that the photographer knows the basics of the camera; this includes everything from shutter speed, ISO, aperture, AI Servo and One Shot focusing, the difference between spot, evaluative, and center weighted modes, how to use flash and manipulate your camera, knowledge of post processing and editing your images, the difference between Av, Tv and Manual mode, etc. You dont have to use everything listed here, but you should know how to use it all. Failing to do that will leave you ill-prepared for the challenges and diversity of shooting a wedding. Now that I have said my piece, here is the equipment which I will break down into categories.

Camera bodies: It is obviously important to have something to take photos with, and in my opinion (as all of this article is) is needs to be something with interchangeable lenses. I prefer the semi-pro/pro bodies, but even a couple of rebels can suffice when you are just starting out. Some things to keep in mind when buying a camera.

  1. Know your budget. Figure out your entire budget, including all of the extras. This includes lenses, batteries, memory cards, bags, etc. Make sure you leave enough left for those items.
  2. Don’t buy it because of the marketing buzz. For most of us, video is not a big deal, and megapixels are not fully utilized 90% of the time I shoot. Basically, everything on the card in front of the camera at Best Buy or Frys isn’t as important as what isn’t placed there. Things like focusing, sensor size, usable ISO range, etc. How will you know this? Research, ask professional photographers, and really understand the differences before you buy. Buying the most expensive camera is not always the best decision.
  3. Plan for at least 2 cameras. If you are doing weddings, you HAVE to have at least 2 cameras. If you don’t, rent or borrow an extra. If one fails, saying “Sorry, but my camera broke. I am going to go home now” will not cut it. I have 3 camera bodies, and hire assistants/second shooters that have at least 2. Will I ever use all 5 cameras? Hopefully not. Do I need them? Absolutely.
  4. Should you buy the kit lens? That is up to you. On 2 of my cameras (40d and 7d) I did buy them, with the intention of either reselling them for a larger profit or using it as an extreme back up. That being said, almost no kit lens (with possibly the exception of the 24-105L that you can usually buy with the 5d2) should be used as a primary lens for weddings.
  5. Buy used or new? All depends on what your budget is, what you are buying and how much cheaper you are getting it used. Canon 40d’s can be had for $400-$500 on craigslist pretty easy (I got mine there for a third camera) and are great cameras. Cheaper than a rebel and can do many things better is a good option in my book.

So what camera options are you looking at?

Canon Rebel: This is the cheapest option, and best if you are looking to add some nice glass to it. While this will get you started, it isn’t something I would consider using full time for too long. The smaller, cheaper made bodies are not nearly as rugged as the larger ones, and many of the features are somewhat crippled.  They are much smaller and do not balance nearly as well as some of the larger cameras, but getting them with a vertical battery grip would be beneficial.

Canon 60d: In my opinion (and many others) this has turned into a “super rebel”. Basically everything I said above applies, with a slightly larger price tag and a few added features.

Canon 7d: I just bought a 7d to compliment my 5d2, and absolutely love it. It has a super fast auto focusing system, and quite advanced. The way the camera feels is great, and with a nearly 100% viewfinder, it makes it much easier to see your subject. It also has a wireless flash command unit built into the popup flash which is great if you need it in a pinch, and of course video mode. It has a burst rate of 8fps (which is really fast) and can put out some great images. It also uses the same battery as the 5d2, which works great for me.

Canon 5d Mark II (5d2): What a beast of a camera, and I absolutely love mine. 21 megapixels, video mode, full frame censor which allows better color, more shallow depth of field, and great high ISO noise rendition (I often use 6400 without thinking twice), this is one of the best wedding cameras out there. Of course, it does have its flaws. Using a nearly archaic focusing system (especially compared to the 7d), achieving focus can be difficult. Also, using those large file sizes will fill up your hard drive, fast! And of course the price tag that comes with it, and the fact that you can no longer buy/use EF-S lenses with it somewhat limit your options, and is a big step when upgrading to buy all new lenses. If you are planning on buying this camera, plan so from the beginning so you do not have to re-buy all of your lenses.


Now that we have your camera body figured out, lets look into some necessary lenses. This obviously can change, but I feel it is the duty of the photographer to cover as big of a range they can, preferably covering from 16mm-200mm (full frame equivalent). Personally, I cover 15mm (fisheye, and then 16mm with my Tokina 11-16) to 320mm (with my 70-200mm on my 7d). I think it is my duty as a wedding photographer to be able to shoot when the lights are low, which is why I do not recommend variable aperture lenses (ones that change your f stop when you zoom) or anything slower than a f/2.8 lens as your main lenses. I will go over the gear I use in the next section and why I use that gear in particular.

So which lenses/ranges are a must? In order of importance: (I am only listing a few Canon lenses. There are third party lenses that are more affordable, but lack things like image quality and focusing speed/accuracy. I will mainly be posting Canon lenses

Normal Zoom lens: This will be your bread and butter lens. It can get you things from wide shots, formal shots, dancing, etc. A full time pro could most certainly shoot an entire wedding on this lens (not that they would absolutely want to, but it is doable). I prefer to use lenses at least f2.8, but you can do it with f4 and some good flash technique.

Canon 24-70mm f2.8L
Canon 24-105 f4L IS
Canon 17-55mm f2.8L IS (Crop sensor only – great focal length to match up similarly to the 24-70mm)

Telephoto Zoom lens: This will get you places your feet cannot. Close up shots at the ceremony, great candid expressions and wonderful background separation.

Canon 70-200mm – there are many versions with different price tags, but as I have been saying all along I prefer f2.8, IS is a plus.

Edit: I just bought a the 70-200mm f2.8 IS II and it is AMAZING. Before when I said IS is a plus was right, but after using it more, I find the lens is severely crippled without IS. Not to mention how sharp this lens is, wow! If you can afford it, go for it!


Still to come

Wide Angle Lens: Sometime the group is too big to get everyone in with 24mm. These are some popular options.
Canon 17-40mm f4L
Canon 16-35mm f2.8L
Canon 10-22mm
Tokina 11-16mm f2.8


Still to come

Primes: Primes go from wide to telephoto, and of course there will be more than I list here, but these are some popular ones, most I have had experience with.

Canon 24mm f1.4L I’ve heard great things, but 24 is a bit too wide for my shooting style.
Canon 28mm f1.8 I own it, and its a good lens, but it now sits in my backup bag, waiting to be sold.
Canon 35mm f1.4L Amazing lens. 99% of my dancing shots come from this lens, and it does great for getting ready too.
Canon 50mm f1.8 This is an affordable prime that will be the first prime for many people. I do not find it reliable enough for wedding work, seeing that at my first wedding, it broke and would not even allow me to manual focus.
Canon 50mm f1.4 Good lens, but I was worried about the build quality. So I bought the L
Canon 50mm f1.2L Great lens, and I could probably shoot an entire wedding with it if I had to. If I had the choice of 2 lenses though, they would be the 35mm and my new 70-200mm
Canon 85mm f1.8 Great little lens – sharp, focuses quick, light and doesnt take a lot of room in the bag.
Canon 85mm f1.2L I dont own this, but it is a great lens. That being said, I dont feel the need to sell my 1.8 to buy this.
Canon 135 f2L Great lens, and is my go-to for dark ceremonies and speeches throughout the night. It can create some magical images,
Canon 200mm f2.8 A lower priced option for a longer lens. Although I havent used it, I have heard good things about it.

Obviously I am still in the process of writing this blog, and will update it as soon as I can.

3 thoughts on “Required Gear for Professional Wedding Photographers

  1. Pingback: Are you ready to shoot your first wedding? | Red Tie Photography

  2. Pingback: Are you ready to shoot your first wedding? | Red Tie Photography

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