What Gear Does a Wedding Photographer Need?

dslr for wedding photography
A Bridezilla and her prey 🙂

Gear isn't everything.  We all need to recognize that a truly great photographer could do 95% of his work with a point-and-shoot.  However, shooting a wedding is mission critical work.  If a photographer has any respect for her client, she will show the courtesy of using the proper gear for the job.  I wrote this post in response to several readers who asked what gear they should buy as they slowly improve their skills to the point where they are brave enough to shoot a wedding.

Wedding photography gear #1: A mid to high-end DSLR. I cringe to write that a Canon Rebel or Nikon D3100 would not be suitable for a wedding.  I know perfectly well that I could shoot a wedding with those cameras without any problem.  The trouble is that nearly everyone these days has a Canon Rebel or entry-level Nikon DSLR, and it doesn't instill any confidence in the client if their camera is nicer than yours.  The fact is that lay people simply don't understand that the quality of the photo is determined by the photographer, and not the camera.  If the couple doesn't have confidence that the photographer is competent, they won't like the pictures and they won't feel comfortable being photographed.  It's an unfortunate fact of life.

Wedding photography gear #2: Proper lenses. Whether you shoot Canon or Nikon, the two most popular lenses for wedding photography are the 24-70mm, and the 70-200mm.  There are lots of other lenses that would be handy and suitable for wedding photography, but thousands of wedding photographers can't be wrong in choosing these lenses.

Wedding photography gear #3: At least two flash units. I really don't care what brand of flash it is, but a decent speedlight is essential.  If you know how to use manual flash and want to save some money, a YN-560 is a popular choice among strobists.  If you prefer ETTL/iTTL, then you'll probably want a Canon 580EXII or a Nikon SB-700.

Wedding photography gear #4: Some type of lighting equipment. There are so many choices here that it is almost impossible to even make a recommendation, but I would say there are two basic approaches: (1) If you'll be shooting with an assistant, then I would recommend you choose a studio strobe with a softbox and battery pack.  (2) If you want to save some money or you don't have an assistant, go strobist style and use speedlights with softboxes or umbrellas.

Wedding photography gear #5: Lots of reliable memory cards. You might want to check out this post on memory cards if you're in doubt about which one to buy.

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11 thoughts on “What Gear Does a Wedding Photographer Need?”

  1. Hopefully, the client will have already seen my work before the wedding, so the type of camera I use should be immaterial. I could maybe see your point if I was also shooting with a kit lens, but I’m going to have some nice glass attached to that Rebel.

  2. Don’t forget to pack a white umbrella. Not a reflector, a rain umbrella. For the bride and groom, just in case. Don’t produce it until you absolutely have to.

  3. I don’t agree with #1 … As a wedding photographer I think you need camera that can handle the light well based on the situation not because your gear have to be look cooler than your client. Your client dont need to know what your gear using, all they need to know is your results.

  4. Hi,

    Dave’s comment is a good one…buy a couple of large white ‘golf’ umbrellas…if it is raining or very windy, they can be used to protect the bride and groom from the elements and will reflect light as well (can also be used in very strong direct sunlight). Go to a wedding shop – they are very reasonably priced!

    I recommend carrying a large collapsible reflector and I do use a monopod on a regular basis.

    The argument about the camera itself – a better camera doesn’t mean better pictures – a mistake a lot of people make – better pictures are as a result of the skill of the photographer. However, carry backup equipment (minimum of two cameras) and if you are doing this commercially – rather than a one off – it is recommended to use a camera that has dual storage just in case you have a failure of one of the cards.

    A non-equipment tip is always visit the venues (church, reception location etc.) before the day and plan out what you are going to do…if possible look for shots taken by other photographers at that location to get a feel what is possible.

    Have a little black book to write down the shots that you want to take – so that you remember any special/different requirements for the wedding that you are on.

    There are so many other tips that can be given…



  5. I was looking for some inspiration to write a similar article at my blog photlogic.com, but man you nailed it so well I’m just going to send people your way.

  6. As a recent bride and avid hobby photographer… I would say a good, non-technical tip is to have the bride and groom show you pictures of weddings, etc. that they like so that you can blend your shooting style, etc. with what they have in mind. When I got my wedding photos back I was only disappointed in that I didn’t share my love for large-scale (re- a shot that isn’t zoomed in but includes a lot of landscape, etc) and for the “obscure” shot (pictures from a variety of angles- more pictures of the little kids dancing, etc.) I also agree with Mark that you should visit the site of the wedding- BEFORE it is rehearsal or wedding day- so that you have some “quiet time” to plan your shots. Great article, helpful for a “hobby” person like myself. I also agree that having good “taste,” and having “an eye” lend more to a shot than the type of camera- I have great hot air balloon pictures from a festival I took photos of years ago- with a little Cannon Elf!

  7. a really small addition, I would highly recommend adding a ‘rain‘ bag/sleeve of some sort – protective coat for your camera/lens setup. Better safe than sorry, and you can pick up two of them for about 15 bucks and just keep them in your pack. I think this is a great comprehensive list. Oh, and maybe assure you have a ‘reliable’ vehicle. Cheers.

    -a note to those starting out, you don’t ‘absolutely’ need all of this right away, it’s something to build towards and can take a year or more to acquire.

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