One of the biggest questions that I get asked all the time on emails is:
What lenses should I carry in my wedding photography gear?
This question baffles newbies like anything. They often get confused when to use fast lenses as against when and where to use telephoto lenses. My answer to it is:
You should always have a combination of lenses in your gear depending on the shot you plan to take and your photography style. As an example, if you are primarily into a photojournalistic style of wedding photography, where you like to take pictures without getting noticed then you must carry telephoto lenses, while if you are going to shoot group portraits then having a wide angled lens is a must.
Here is a run down of my lens choices based on the shots planned.
While today’s newest zoom lenses, particularly those designed for digital SLRs, are razor sharp, a certain contingent of photographers believe that a multipurpose lens jus isn’t as sharp as a prime lens, a lens that is designed for use at a single focal length (like a 50mm or 85mm). The 85mm (f/1.2 for Canon; f/1.4 or f/1.8 for Nikon) is a popular choice; it’s considered a short telephoto with exceptional sharpness. This lens gets used frequently at receptions because of its speed and ability to throw backgrounds out of focus, depending on the subject-to-camera distance.
© Candid Shot by Roger
Many talented, award-winning and consistently working photographers uses prime lenses (not zooms) in their wedding coverage and shoot at wide-open apertures the majority of the time to reduce background distractions.
Many wedding photographers employ telephoto lenses as their first choice (like a 100mm or 135mm), because it lets them far enough away to avoid attracting attention to themselves, yet close enough to easily and distinctively capture the moment. Wide-angle lenses are great for spontaneous shooting, as the photographer can snag unexpected moments without even looking through the lens.
© Inspirational Image by Rowen Atkinson
1 – Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S
This Nikon isn’t just a great lens for wedding photography, it’s just an amazing lens for ANY type of photography for several key reasons, it is remarkably sharp; it accurately reproduces colors, its bokeh* is sensational, and it is lightweight.
You can almost never go wrong with a 50mm prime, and this new “G” version lens is superb. On a full-frame dSLR, you will be able to get stellar full-body shots and vibrant portraits. This is such a great lens that is also works exceptionally well on cropped sensor camera bodies. If your budget is tight, and you can only afford to purchase one lens for shooting weddings, then go with this lens.
* Bokeh describes the appearance or “feel,” of out-of-focus areas
2 – Nikon 85mm f/1.4D/G
Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4G is the top choice for many, many a photographer for two reasons: first reason, its sharpness; even at f/1.4 (the maximum aperture) the results are jaw-dropping. Second reason, its ultra-vibrant bokeh; this lens is affectionately known as the king of background blur.
When set a f/1.4, the 85mm depth of field is so shallow that if you were to stand close enough to your subject and focus on her eye, her nose will be out of focus. Talk about your ability to create visual separation! This lens gets used frequently at receptions because of its speed and ability to throw backgrounds out of focus, depending on the subject-to-camera distance. With this lens, it is ideal to shoot portraits at f/2.0 or f/2.8, and if you want additional DOF then move up to f/4.
3 – Nikon 24mm f/1.4 G AF-S
This lens is probably the sharpest lens that Nikon has ever produced. Once you use this beauty and see the results, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll take it off your camera! It’s that exceptional. It’s great for full-body shots, groups shots, landscape/nature and for working it tight spaces.
Due to the short focal length’s distortion, it’s not ideal for portrait photography, but when set to its maximum aperture of f/1.4 its bokeh is delightful. What is great for (just like the previous two lenses) is shooting in low ambient light… that you’ll no doubt have at the end of the wedding celebration.
1 – Canon 50mm f1.2L II USM
This L-Series lens has an incredibly wide aperture (f/1.2!) that produces perhaps the shallowest depth of field available, and more than excellent for creating shots with a large amount of soft background blur, which ideal for the best portraits. Its super-wide aperture allows this lens to work phenomenally (with little digital noise) at very low light situations.
The price tag can make your heart skip a beat ($1,479), but the image quality, light weight and small size are hard to beat. You could go with Canon’s f/1.4 for only $300. The f/1.2L is a great lens to use for wedding photography because of the ability to capture great images without a flash and, as with all 50mm lenses, this “normal” lens shows you the closest approximation of what your eye actually sees. So it can work (and work well) is a many situations and conditions.
2 – Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM
This Canon lens is perfect for the photographer who desires a super-sharp portrait lens. It is so remarkably potent that is works well on both full-frame sensor and cropped sensor camera bodies (on the cropped camera the effective focal length is 135mm).
The auto-focus is a little sluggish and focus is most critical when shooting at full-aperture, these issues are easily supplanted by the resulting images – they pop like you wouldn’t believe. No zoom lens with produce as sharp as image as this 85mm can, and that’s important for creating remarkable images. The f/1.8 allows you to shoot in some exceedingly low-light situations without a flash, and that’s important for the wedding photographer who wants to stay out of the way, but still get effective shots.
It’s a compact and light weight lens that won’t even seem like its on the camera, but don’t be fooled by that – the photos that you’ll get will knock everyone’s socks off.
3 – Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
One of the qualities that you’ll need to master as a wedding photographer is being as versatile as possible and to execute a wide range of shots. Canon’s 100mm is dynamite for capturing details shots (thanks to the 1:1 Macro feature) of such critical items as the wedding rings, the table services, the invitations, the wedding cake, other jewelry. The Macro feature allows you to fill the frame with an item and render it in razor-sharp focus. Most lenses don’t have the Macro feature, so you wouldn’t be able to achieve these types of close-focus/close proximity images.
This 100mm can also function as super portrait lens due to its stellar sharpness and shallow depth of field. This shouldn’t be your first or second lens as a wedding photographer, because of the specific purposes that this lens does (and does so well); but it should be on your short list.
Fast lenses (f/2.8, f/2, f/1.8, f/1.4, f/1.2 and below) will get the lion’s share of work on the wedding day, as they will give you more “available light” opportunities than slower speed lenses.
Many award-winning wedding photographers from around the globe make these lenses their workhorse lens, for example the Canon 35mm f/1.4L USM lens get a tremendous amount of usage as one can shoot at “magic hour” (dusk) with a high ISO setting, the aperture wide open (this lens is still razor sharp at f/1.4) and a mix lighting sources to deliver incomparable results.
The comparable Nikon lenses are the 50mm f/1.4G AF-S, the 85mm f/1.4D/G – this Nikon is one of the ultimate lenses for wedding photography, so if you’re a Nikon nut then you’re in luck; if you’re a Canon man, you’re out of luck (but don’t be discouraged as Canon’s L-Series 85mm is superb, too… just not as superb as the Nikon).
© Great Shot by Carlos F
© Cake Shot by Talya & Matt
Wide-angle lenses are very popular either as primes or as wide-angle zooms. Focal lengths from 17mm to 35mm are perfect for capturing the atmosphere as well as for capturing larger groups. These lenses are fast enough for use by available light photography with high ISOs.
When photographing group portraits, you are often forced to use a wide-angle lens. When this happens, the background issues noted above can be even more pronounced. Still, a wide angle is sometime the only way you can cram the group into the shot and maintain a respectable working distance. For these kinds of eventualities, many group photographers bring a stepladder or scout the location in advance to find the best vantage point.
© Great Shot by Hector Villablanca
We talked about primes, and their amazing abilities – mainly the clinically sharp focus. So now let’s talk about the zoom lenses that you’ll want to have in your camera bag. Zooms are important for wedding photographers, because of the focal length dynamics that are available to you.
A possible ideal way to work a wedding is with two camera bodies, one outfitted with a prime lens and the other outfitted with a zoom.
1 – Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
This zoom by Nikon is the lens of choice for many photographers who shoot landscapes, but it is so versatile and effective that it is also a great wedding photography lens. Although it is not as sharp as Nikon’s 24mm (but hardly anything on the market is) and is victimized by heavy distortion and vignetting in the shorter focal lengths, it more than compensates for these issues when you’re shooting at the longer focal lengths.
What’s super about this lens is how it renders color, and while it’s not the ideal choice for isolating your subjects via shallow depth of field, if you set the focal length to about 35mm and stop down to f/2.8, you’ll be more than impressed with the final images. This zoom is ideal of shooting full body shots and group shots – two things you’ll be shooting a lot of in a wedding.
2 – Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
Nikon’s new 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II is a dynamic lens that produces incredible results, and it’s extensive focal length range gives you a great deal of versatility to play around with. Its reach is quite strong, so you can sneak candid shots without much awareness by the subject… this is always a good thing at weddings. When you’re using the 50mm or the 85mm, you’re forced to interact with people because they will see you, and with this lens that just isn’t the case. If you add on a teleconverter, you’ll have even more reach.
At all the focal lengths for this zoom you’ll obtain spectacular color and definitive sharpness, not to mention the bohek is super-smooth when at maximum aperture. The one drawback for this lens is its weight; you won’t want to keep it on your camera for too long a period of time (maybe an hour or two at most). If you’re shooting with a Nikon D3, then the weight will become a serious issue.
1 – Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II Lens
While the price tag of this lens might send you into cardiac arrest ($2,500), this L-Series lens is worth every penny… if not more. With this extra flexible lens you will be able to shoot the ceremony and retrain a great of anonymity and unobtrusiveness from the guests. Its f/2.8 aperture and intricate image stabilization feature allows you to effectively shoot in low-light hand-handle without a flash.
The 70-200mm focal length is exceptional for taking portraits and for when you’re shooting in an expansive location and you need a great deal of reach. This lens works very well on full-frame camera bodies, but is always more than good on a cropped sensor camera body like the 7D. If you can only afford two lenses, make sure this is one of them. It is costly, but it holds it value extremely well and will pay for itself for the dynamic and impressive images that you will deliver to your clients.
If the weight of this lens seems like it might be a problem (test it at a store first), then you might want to pick up the 70-200mm f/4, it is lighter and also have IS, however, as you’re giving up a full f-stop at the maximum aperture, you cannot achieve the extremely shallow DOF that you might want.
2 – Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
This Canon lens is one of the best walk-around lenses that you can buy and is therefore ideal for wedding photography. Canon doesn’t make a more versatile lens; just think about that focal length range… 24mm at the low end is a great wide-angle focal length, because of its increased angle of view, but without too much (i.e. distracting) distortion, and then all the way to 105mm, which is one of the best lengths for portraits and capture across the room candids. At that far end of the focal length, you have enough reach to avoid switching to a 135mm or even the 70-200mm.
The image stabilization allows you to shoot hand-held with longer shutter speeds and not worry (too much) about camera shake when shooting at f/4… this makes it a serious contender for Canon’s top lens. It’s a perfect companion for the 50mm or 85mm (especially if you’re using two camera bodies). Note: it’s ideal for a full-frame camera body like the 5D, but it does function well on a cropped sensor like the 7D.
3 – Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II USM
There are many instances when you’re photographing a wedding that you’re best served by a ultra wide angle lens, and Canon’s 16-35mm fits the bill for those happenstances perfectly. When you use this on a full-frame camera, like the 5d Mk 2, you’ll get excellent photos. This lens is silent, sharp, fast and accurate (in terms of color reproduction). There is a little bit of vignetting when its down at 16mm, but it is sharp from edge-to-edge and is, therefore, great for the receptions shots, wide group shots and shots on the dance floor.
So you have several choices of which lens to choose depending on if you’re using Canon or Nikon camera bodies. As always, it’s best to do some tests before making a purchase, and buying a used lens is always a good way to go if you want something that is a little expensive. Just rigorously test with the used lens to see if there are any problems that you’re naked eye cannot detect.
© Great Shot by João Paglione
One should not forget about the 50mm f/1.2 or f/1.4 “normal” lens for digital photography. With a 1.4x focal length extender, for example, that lens becomes a 70mm f/1.2 or f/1.4 lens that is perfect for portraits or groups, especially in low light. This lens’ close-focusing distance makes it an extremely flexible wedding lens.
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Tags: equipments, lenses, wedding photography lenses