Many of my clients have asked me at some point what, “what kind of gear do you use to photograph weddings?” Many ask because they’ve read somewhere that you should check that your photographer uses professional grade gear, and that he/she has backup equipment. Some ask because they are genuinely interested in camera gear (usually amateur or aspiring pro photographers themselves), and some ask because they’ve seen really bad wedding photos that are blurry, or grainy, and they want to make sure that their own photos won’t be compromised by their photographer using crappy gear. So this post is for my mostly clients, so that we don’t have an awkward back and forth about “well, how much knowledge about photo gear do you have?” during the initial consult. But it’s also for those photographers just starting out, who are – and should be – asking, “what kind of gear do I need to shoot a wedding?”
This post is split up into three parts. If you’re a wedding client, and you don’t know much about photography, the first part will tell you all that you need to know without going into a snoozefest of technical detail. If you’re a photographer (or photography nerd), part two will give you the (almost) complete list of my current wedding photography kit. The third part is a quick guide for asking photographers you meet with about their gear – whether or not you’re knowledgeable about camera gear yourself. And if you’re more visually inclined, you can check out my Pinterest board dedicated to my wedding photography gear right here!
At weddings, I always have two professional camera bodies with me, plus at least five lenses. During the key moments of a wedding, such as the ceremony, first dance, parent dances, and more I carry both cameras on me so that I can photograph with two different lenses. This means that you get a variety of looks (a close-up view, and a wider angle), and it also means that if one camera suddenly dies, I don’t have to run to my camera bag to grab the other – there usually isn’t time during these key moments!
In addition to my main camera bag which holds spare batteries for both cameras and flashes, I have a lighting bag so that I can professionally light your reception venue – essential to getting great photos when it gets dark. I use off-camera lighting which means that every time I click my shutter, then will be a tiny pop of light from a number of flashes around the room. This style of lighting gives a multidimensional and natural look to your photographs. This setup works in all sorts of venues, including bright tents, dark wood-lined halls, venues with huge windows, mirrored rooms, and so on. It may sound overwhelming to have multiple lights go off at one time, however this technique enables me to use my flashes at their lowest power settings so only a small amount of light is coming from each; this is in fact much less distracting than a big burst of light coming from a single flash attached to my camera.
In addition to the gear I keep with me, I have a backup kit close by, usually in the trunk of my car. This backup kit includes two professional grade camera bodies, and two professional grade lenses, one for close-up photos and one for wide angles. If someone walks off with my entire reception kit, I can still easily photograph your wedding with the backup kit in the car. Note that even my backups are pro grade.
Here’s what’s in my bags. First up, my main wedding gear bag, that I bring along to every part of the day:
Nikon D4 (pictured above)
Nikon D3S / Nikon Df
Nikon 35mm 1.4
Nikon 50mm 1.4
Nikon 85mm 1.4
Nikon 135 2.0 (pictured above)
Nikon 180 2.8
Spare camera batteries
Sandisk CF and XQD cards (three times as many as I typically need)
Holdfast MoneyMaker double camera strap (pictured above)
Sitting on top of the main bag is another bag that contains my personal items, snacks, and water as well as:
2 video lights
Small light stand
Here’s what’s in the backup bag (typically left in the trunk of my car):
Nikon D700 x2
Nikon 35mm 2.0
Nikon 85mm 1.4
Spare batteries for the Nikon D700 cameras
And here are the main components of my lighting kit that comes along to every reception:
Nikon SB-800 speedlight x2 (used on my camera)
Nikon SB-900 speedlight x3 (used off-camera)
Nikon SB-910 speedlight x1 (used off-camera)
MagMod gels and grids x6
Light stands x4
Phottix transmitters and receivers for my off-camera lights
Spare AA and AAA batteries for my flashes and transmitters
Nikon 24mm 1.4 lens – for photographing on the dance floor when it’s super packed
When you’re first meeting with photographers to chat about them photographing your wedding, you should ask them a couple of quick questions, no matter what your level of understanding is when it comes to gear. First up, do they shoot with professional cameras and lenses? Professional cameras should be able to handle most lighting situations well, and be able to keep up with the action on the dance floor. Recent professional cameras (Nikon D3S, D4, D4S, D800, Df and Canon 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III, 7D, 1DX) should also deliver clean files even when it’s really dark (no grainy or noisy photos) as long as the photographer exposes well. Professional lenses are also vital, in my opinion. They help ensure sharp focus, and they are critical for dark churches and evening receptions. If your photographer is using “pro-sumer” or consumer level equipment, be wary, especially if any part of the wedding will be held after sunset and/or indoors.
Second question, and even more important than the first: do they carry backup equipment? If so, is it also professional equipment? Do they have backups for everything critical, or just a lone backup camera? And to go a little more in-depth, where is the backup equipment kept? If it’s at home and your wedding venue is more than a 10 minute drive, that’s not much help. If the backup gear is kept with the rest of their kit, what happens if someone walks off with it during dinner? I’m absolutely not saying that my system is the only system, but make sure your photographer has thought through a number of worst-case scenarios!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this article. I’m sure it will bring up some questions, and I’d love to hear from other photographers too – especially if you have any other great tips for keeping your equipment safe!
Such a great post Kate! I will pass this along to potential clients. You are so spot on!
Jenny please see my comment below and let me know what you think as well:) Thank you:)
Well said, Kate! I always love seeing what other professionals carry!
Thank you Candice 🙂
Kate I was wanting to purchase my own personal camera. I have a nine month old baby boy that is growing so fast and I want to capture all the special moments. I want something that I can use with low light. He currently has rodeo events under a covered arena, loves to be outside and we are inside alot as well. I have done some research and I have asked a photographer that I normally get to do his pictures and she will not tell me what kind of camera she has 🙁 I know of all the money and I cant get a little help. SO this is what I have come up with: Nikon D5300 with the extra flash to attach to the camera. What lens do you think I need? Please help me:)
Hi Megan! I’m so happy you read this post. I don’t know much about the entry level D-SLR cameras, but a Nikon D5300 sounds like a good starter option. What I can tell you though is that getting a good prime (not zoom) lens will make a huge difference! I would forgo the kit lens (the one it comes with) and get a 35mm lens (something like this http://www.amazon.com/Nikon-35mm-1-8G-Digital-Cameras/dp/B001S2PPT0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398446484&sr=8-1&keywords=nikon+35mm) and learn to use it really well. It is the cropped sensor equivalent of a 50mm lens, the focal length that many recommend you start with. I would concentrate on getting good with natural light before trying to use a flash. You can use high ISO settings and a wide open aperture to help take photos indoors without a flash. I think if you can take a class – even online – to learn the basics of shooting in manual mode you will have the most success. Good luck!
Thank you so much for your help. This is the package I was thinking about getting:) http://www.costco.com/Nikon-D5300-DSLR-Camera-2-Lens-Bundle.product.100108920.html
Hi Megan, I’d strongly recommend getting the body only, not a package deal, and also a lens like the one I linked to. If you like the professional look of things sharply in focus with a nice blurry background (pretty bokeh) you’re much better off with a prime lens. “Deals” like that one are made to shift the goods out of the store, not make you a better photographer. 🙂
okayyyyy:) I understand better now:) thank you so much!