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FAQ: What’s In My Bag

I get asked a lot by both photographers AND clients what gear I use to photograph weddings, so I thought I’d address the issue in a fun FAQ blog post. I’m going to go through what basic gear I use to photograph weddings, and also what I use for back up gear. Because like any good photographer, I OF COURSE have back up gear in case emergency should strike. If you are a photog shooting weddings, please please make sure to always have at least one extra camera body and back up flashes and lenses. Brides, you should always make sure you hire a PRO photographer for your big day (and part of that is of course making sure they have back up gear).

Camera Bodies:

I have TWO Canon 5D Mark II’s. One is my main camera and one is my back up. Also sometimes AJ uses it when he second shoots for me. 5D Mark II is the top of  the line for a pro camera. If you are paying at least $2500 for your photographer, I think you should expect that they have at least a 5D, 7D (even though it is crop sensor) or 1D (if they are Canon shooters, not sure what the Nikon equivalent is!) However, I honestly don’t think the camera body is EVERYTHING.  I know plenty of people with 5D Mark II’s who don’t know how to use it properly and definitely do not deliver pro-quality images. On the other hand I know super skilled photographers, who don’t yet have the savings for a 5D, and they shoot AMAZING stuff on a crop-sensor camera. In fact, the first 1.5 years I shot I only had a 40D (a higher-end crop-sensor camera). So I definitely believe a skilled photographer can deliver high quality images with anything from a 40D or higher. They key is really having skills to shoot in manual and having an eye for composition and an ability to direct people on camera. The fancy camera? That’s icing on the cake!

My back up to my back up is my 40D. As I mentioned above this camera is what I used at the inception of my business and it has always yielded fabulous images! It’s definitely still a handy and old reliable part of my bag!

Lenses:

Before we start, I will let y’all know that I ONLY shoot with PRIME lenses. That means fixed-focal length (they don’t zoom). I often get asked why I do that? It started back in college when I was minoring in photography. My professor forbid us to use zooms in class projects. He wanted us to play with moving our bodies, interacting with subjects to create composition. The classes I took with this professor were the foundation of my knowledge in photography, and so I just always learned by using primes. It’s natural to me. In addition primes generally are superior in terms of clarity and color. And they have much lower apertures, and I LOVE shooting low apertures. So that’s why you won’t see any zooms listed below!

The 50mm 1.2L – This is my go to lens. It’s medium range and basically sees what we see with our eyes. I absolutely LOVE the colors & bokeh (blurry backgrounds) it produces. I also love shooting at low apertures so being able to go down to 1.2 is always fun! This lens also focuses pretty fast and holds the focus well! So that’s why I LOVE it and use it the MOST! I use it for details, some portraits, and getting ready.

The 35mm 1.4L – I use this lens a LOT! Not as much as my 50mm, but I still love it. This lens is wide but not too wide. There is no distortion on the edges which means it still can be used in portraits. I don’t use it too much for portraits but I will use it a little to mix things up and some variety to a portrait session! I love the low aperture– the bokeh and colors are just beautiful! I use this lens for most group shots on the wedding day– family formals, and bridal party. I also use this lens for the majority of the reception because it’s wide angle allows me to tells a great story.

The 135mm 2.0L – This is my prime alternative to the 70-200mm which most photographers use for ceremonies. I like it more for a few reasons– it’s lighter and I can hold it steadier, it opens wider which lets in more light for dark church weddings, it’s still very close and can capture reactions in a big church, it produces beautiful color and focuses fast. This lens is also beautiful for portraits and sometimes I do use it in portraits…but mostly this is my ceremony lens!

The 85mm 1.8 – I LOVE this lens! Eventually I probably will want the 85mm 1.8, but I do love this one just how it is! It focuses fast (where as the 1.2 focuses much slower), and it’s much lighter than the 1.2! It also yields beautiful color & images. I use this lens primarily for portraits, along with the 50mm and a touch of the 35mm. It gets close up for beautiful expressions and gorgeous headshots, but you have to back up far if you want a full body shot! I sometimes will also use this lens in smaller ceremonies.

The 100mm Macro 2.8 – This is a fab macro lens and of course I use it most for ring shots and other little details at a wedding, but it’s also a GREAT portrait lens! I use it for jewelry details, lockets or brooches on bouquets, beading and lace detail on a wedding gown, and anything else little and special that might pop up! I also use this lens TONS in boudoir sessions as both a portrait lens and to capture small sexy details like a woman’s eyelashes.  This was one of the first lenses I ever purchased, and while I don’t think it should be every photographer’s first big purchase, I think it is might lovely and handy!

The back ups: 28mm 1.8 + 50mm 1.4– These were the two lenses, along with the Macro and 85, that got me through my first 1.5 years of business. They are affordable prime lenses and work FANTASTIC! The quality is amazing. While I definitely see an improvement in color and clarity with my L lenses, these lenses still rock and get the job done. Again, it’s more about the photographer’s skill than the gear itself. An L lens can only deliver so much without a good photographer using it, and conversely these more affordable lenses don’t really hold a good photographer back! So while I don’t really use these two much anymore, I still think they are awesome and recommend it to any photographer starting out or looking to experiment in shooting PRIME only. These lenses now act for me as a back up, in case GOD FORBID, a lens should break at a wedding. This awful scenario does seem to happen a lot so it’s always good to make sure you’re covered with back ups. And that’s what these lenses do for me!

Flashes:


I have THREE 580 exII’s! These are the fastest flashes by Canon and rely on them for receptions and dark spaces! I use one of these off-camera at the reception. And one is my back up.

Other goodies:

LED Video Lights  + Pocket Wizards + Reflectors + Lightstands. These are little extra things that make the day run smoothly. Pocket wizards allow for me to fire flashes remotely so I can do some fun off-camera flash stuff at the reception or for a few fun night portraits if a couple is into that sorta thing! I use the video lights to shoot lovely details in a dark reception space. They create a nice soft light, and you can adjust the color, so I like the look much better for details than I like the look of harsh flash. I also have a 5-1 bounce reflector, and I use this rarely but it does help for bouncing flash in specific situations. Also sometimes it can be helpful when light is ridiculously harsh and there are no “natural reflectors” around.

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So that’s what’s in my bag! Every photographer has their own style and own lenses of choice and this is what I like to shoot with. If you’re a photographer, I hope this helps you in knowing what works for me and why I choose the lenses I do in any given situation. I also hope you remember to ALWAYS HAVE A BACK UP!

As a bride or potential bride, don’t get too caught up in what lenses your photographer uses. If you like the images on their site, trust they know how to deliver that caliber and quality to you with the gear they have. It’s most important for you to know from your photographer if he or she has a variety (at least 3) lenses and back up for all their gear (extra camera bodies, extra flashes, extra batteries for ALL gear) in case something goes wrong! From a bride’s perspective, knowing your photographer has enough to gear to not only shoot the wedding but shoot the wedding assuming one or two key items breaks, THAT’S what’s important!

Also, for brides, while I don’t advocate evaluating a photographer solely based on gear (because as I’ve said 100x above, good gear does NOT always equal good photographer/ and mediocre gear doesn’t always equal mediocre photographer), I do think if you are shelling out over $3000 for photographer you should expect good gear (like 5D Mark II bodies and a few L lenses if they are Canon). If you are a low budget bride on the other hand (meaning photography budget $2000 or under) I don’t think you can or should except the TOP gear from your photographer. If the photographer charges less than they make less which means they have less to invest in gear. OR they are just starting out and starting to build their bag. That’s just my two cents on the matter, but I do think in general people “get what they pay for” so some one paying more can expect a little more from their photographer on the gear front. 😉

  • candee - Thanks for such an insightful post! I’m a prime shooter as well, and I’ve rented the 70-200 a few times for weddings as a second shooter and gosh, it’s just so heavy. I’m going to try the 135 before my first wedding as the primary next month!

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