Whether you’re just starting out, or a seasoned professional, there are times when shooting wedding photography can be a terrifying prospect.
After all, there are many factors that are beyond our control. Things like the weather if you’re outdoors, a guest wandering through your perfectly composed candid shot, or worse, the dreaded bridezilla who needs to direct all aspects of the wedding, including you!
Uncontrollable factors can lead to an incredible amount of pressure for any photographer, so instead of dwelling on those, let’s talk about the factors that you can control. Namely, making sure you have the right tools to complete the assignment and provide photos that will not only WOW your client, but will also make them want to recommend your services to others.
In the more than 10 years that I’ve been shooting weddings, I’ve made use of a lot of different types of gear. There are, however, a few staple items that I would recommend that everyone should have in their bag.
Speaking of bags…
I have several that I use on a regular basis, but whenever I packing up my gear for a wedding shoot, I reach for my trusty rolling case. Because rolling cases are generally larger than their backpack cousins (and to be honest, not as potentially backbreaking when fully loaded), I know I’m going to have the necessary room to hold all the gear I need for the day.
When considering a new rolling bag, these are the things that I’m looking for:
- it needs to be able to carry all of my gear
- they need to be rugged
- has to be airline suitable for those potential out-of-town shoots
The bags listed below, each with their own individual options and added benefits, meet these criteria.
Okay, so now we have a great rolling bag, but what should be in it?
Every pro wedding photographer that I know, travels with two DSLR bodies, an assortment of lenses, and at least two portable on Camera flash units.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, wait a minute, I’m just starting my journey as a wedding photographer and I’ve only got one camera, flash, etc, what am I going to do now?
Well, in the immortal words of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…
It’s ok! If you already own a DSLR you’re halfway there. However, as the saying goes, you should…
Always be prepared!
The most important thing you’ll want to do when shooting a wedding is to ensure that there is always a backup camera available for you to use and I really can’t stress this enough.
If your camera has a catastrophic failure, and you can’t get it working again, you have to be able to switch your gear out in a matter of seconds. If you can’t, you might as well pack up and go home.
Not only could you lose out on your fee, but you could potentially lose future clients if word gets around that you weren’t prepared.
The solution to this is to consider renting what you need for the day.
The benefits of renting are:
- it’s relatively inexpensive (compared to buying the necessary gear)
- you’ve got your backup camera needs covered
- you can get gear that you wouldn’t normally have access to
Having two cameras going at the same time also helps if you shoot in a more photojournalistic style and let me explain why. Let’s say I’m shooting the ceremony and things are happening quickly.
At any given moment, I might want to change from a long shot to a wide shot and need to be able to do this quickly and quietly. Rather than having to swap the lens out as I would with a single camera setup, a two camera setup allows me to simply put the camera with my long lens off to the side while quickly switching over to my camera with the wide lens setup.
Easily done, and it means less of a chance of missing out on an important shot.
*Pro Tip: if you’re worried about extra costs being incurred, with a little preplanning, you can build the rental cost into your client’s quote.
Normally, I like to work with various zoom lenses, but keeping with the mantra of always be prepared, I keep the following lenses in my bag ready for use at any time:
- Super Wide Zoom 16-35mm & 17-35mm with or without VR (most are with these days).
- Wide-Tele Zoom 24-70mm & 24-105mm
- Super Tele 70-200mm (VR is very helpful here).
- 35mm Prime
- 50mm Prime
- 85mm Prime
- Macro lens, 50mm or 100-105mm range (for close up and still life shots, rings, cakes, flowers, etc.)
The power of zoom…
Zoom lenses allow you to act quickly, especially during those times when you need to, such as during the ceremony or for reception candid’s. I also get a lot of use of those super wide zooms listed above, as they allow me to get some special effect overview shots of the entire wedding.
When I’m shooting Bride and Groom portraits, I generally rely on my 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8 primes. By taking advantage of the fast aperture these lenses provide, either by shooting wide open or close to it, I can capture the images with a beautiful bokeh (sharp foreground, slightly out of focus background) that are so popular today.
The “Bridal Portraits” are the most important shots of your wedding day shoot, so take the time to do them correctly. I suggest taking an extra 30 seconds to do a custom white balance.
Trust me, this small amount of extra time at that moment, will save you many hours of corrections in post processing later.
To do this, I recommend the Colorchecker Passport by X-Rite and I’m specifically calling this product out here because of its portability. I keep it in my back pocket and use it every time I see the lighting change.
When you’re inside the Church or Reception hall, place it on a chair, pew, table, or wherever you can find, and then take a photo of it using the ambient light or ambient light mixed with flash.
Once you’ve done this, you can easily set all of the white balance settings during your post process editing sessions.
Lighting the Bride
Given how important the Bridal Portraits are, and also the fact that not everywhere you travel to will have great available light, you’re going to want to make sure you have the right gear to correctly light these shots yourself.
I’ve found that portable flashes are usually a good way to go (I usually have at least two with me). Add to that some good light modifiers, and multiple battery packs and you’ll be ready for just about any lighting situation that they throw at you.
Here are the lighting essentials I recommend:
- Speedlights (Canon, Nikon, Godox, Voeloon, Metz.)
- Battery Packs (Godox)
- Light Modifiers (Illumi, Expodisc, Lastolite )
- Reflectors/Diffusers (Illumi, Lastolite)
- Pro Strobes (Elinchrom, Profoto )
Strap yourself in…
Since I shoot in a photojournalistic style, in order to get the shots I’m after, I like to have at least two cameras slung around my neck during the ceremony and reception and I find that these strap/harness systems make it much easier to keep control of both cameras.
The Lowepro S&F 75 AW Lens Pouch is another essential piece of gear in my kit, and you will often find it attached to my belt loop. This lets me keep one extra lens with me and gives me the ability to quickly change one of the lenses on my camera in minimal time.
Remember the rolling bags we mentioned off the top? Well, you will often find my mine parked off to the side (but within easy reach) during the ceremony and reception.
You’re also going to need lots of good quality memory cards. Sandisk offers a huge selection that would fit the bill. You’ll want to make sure you have enough to cover your full day of shooting, and some backups just in case. After all, you don’t want to have to borrow memory cards from “Uncle Bob”.
Stability is key…
I’ll tell you, I couldn’t make it through shooting group photos without having a good quality tripod with a ball head.
Having a tripod with me means I can set up my shot, and then if necessary, run over to the group to help pose them. Then, when I get back my camera is setup and ready to take the shot.
With all the other gear that you are going to be carrying around with you, the last thing you’ll want is a heavy tripod. That’s why I always opt for one made of lightweight carbon fibre.
After all, if you don’t have an assistant, you alone will be doing all the heavy lifting.
When I’m shooting the ceremony, I will often drop my camera with 70-200 onto a monopod (again with a ball head), for extra stability. It also has the extra benefit of easing the amount of stress placed on your neck and shoulders.
*Pro Tip: Monopods come in many different heights. Make sure to choose one that is appropriate for yours.
I know it’s a lot to take in, but if you want to shoot weddings like a pro, all of these things should be considered your essential gear.
Am I going to tell you what brand to buy? Absolutely not, purchasing camera gear is a very personal choice. Nikon, Canon, Sony etc, all make fine cameras and you’ll have to find the brand that works for you.
Lenses are a bit more subjective, and the major brands all make excellent optics. However, there are also many manufacturers that make extraordinary optics for those cameras, such as Zeiss, Sigma, Tamron & Tokina. Sure, you might pay a little more (or less in some cases) than the major brands, but the thing to remember is that it’s “glass” that’s the really important part of the camera so it’s worth investing a little more in a great lens.
As I mentioned with the cameras, if you’re not sure what the capabilities of a particular lens are, try renting it for a weekend. That way, before your big shoot, you’ll have shot with it, gotten to know it and made it your best friend!
Here are a few other tips that I think are worthy and essential to having in your bag.
- Keep a small LED flashlight, good for finding stuff in the dark, lots of extra batteries, for your cameras, and flashes.
- A bottle of water, a towel, a candy bar, or granola bar (I’ve often given these to brides, when they’re hungry and about to faint).
- Summer weddings get hot, and a towel is good for getting rid of sweat, whether it be on your bride, groom or yourself. It is also good if you need to kneel on the grass, and don’t want to get grass stains.
- Oh, I also always carry and extra undershirt and dress shirt.
*The images supplied in this post are from various stock image sites and were not taken by photographer Gary Goldberg.
Originally from New York, Gary Goldberg has been a working professional in the photographic field for more than 22 years. A graduate of The School of Visual Arts in New York City, Gary began his career as a photographer’s assistant before quickly pursuing commercial clients of his own. Gary has been with Vistek Ltd in various roles since 2004 and is currently the Product Manager for our pro-photo department. Gary is also the owner/operator of Toronto-based Fast Focus Productions.