The Bare-Bones Minimum Gear Needed to Photograph a Wedding

The Bare-Bones Minimum Gear Needed to Photograph a Wedding

Having the right gear for the job is essential in being able to handle the barrage of lighting scenarios that a wedding photographer will encounter on each outing. I, like many others, am constantly thinking about the next piece of gear. What lens, what camera, or what lighting system will allow me to take higher quality images and provide a better experience to my client? This led me to think, what do I really need to shoot a wedding? I mean in reality, to walk out my door and provide my bride with the images she expects, what are the bare essentials I really need?

Whether you are a seasoned professional who is always spending that next bit of extra money on a new lens or whether you are new photographer thinking about jumping into wedding photography, it's important to nail down your essentials-only gear list.

It might sound nice to some to have two Nikon D4Ss or D810s, every lens under the sky, and a full Profoto lighting system to take with you on every wedding, but is it really what you need? And even more importantly, is it even ideal?

The Minimum Gear

Camera Body

Let's start with camera bodies. First, do you need two camera bodies or one? I personally shoot with two bodies, but I love the idea of shooting with one. I do, however, think it's important to have two cameras on you just in case something happens to the first. Part of the job of wedding photography is being foolproof, meaning nothing can go wrong that would stop us from recording that day. Now, that doesn't mean there aren't photographers who don't carry only one body. There are in fact some very good ones that do that, but it's a risk. The chances of a body failing during a wedding (especially a new body) are very slim. So you decide if you want to take that risk, but I personally wouldn't recommend it at all.

My current camera body of choice on wedding days is the Nikon D750, which is currently selling for about $1,900 new on B&H. I've often said that Nikon has made this camera too good, because wedding photographers don't need to spend $6,000 to get the low-light capabilities of a model like the D4S that was previously the standard.

If you are looking for a less expensive option, I think you can still photograph in most lighting conditions with very professional results with the Nikon D610, which retails for about $1,500.

The Nikon D7000 series is also a good value, and I would have no qualms with a D7200 or D7100 being a backup camera body. They perform decently in low light and also do a fair job of focusing quickly. One should keep in mind though that these are crop sensors. That means they are not full frame, and you need to be mindful of that, especially when making lens selections.

Final Verdict: If you are looking for your main camera body and the cheapest option to start shooting weddings, I would recommend either the Nikon D610 or the Canon 6D, with the 6D coming in at about $100 less expensive.

And if not? If you are to attempt shooting a wedding with a lower model like the Nikon D7200, I would suggest — in order to protect yourself and in the bride's best interest — that you be up front. There are certainly countless examples of beginner, entry-level camera owners being asked to shoot a wedding. In fact, that is how many get started in wedding photography. But you should be clear to your couple that, while you are confident that you can take photos for them throughout the day, you are not a professional and your gear is not professional gear. Your cost should therefore be in-line with your skill set and gear capabilities. If you can't ensure you will get all the shots with professional quality you shouldn't be accepting professional rates.

Camera Lenses

You need to be able to basically do two different things: shoot wide and shoot far. The usual choice photographers have to make is whether to go with zoom lenses or prime lenses (fixed focal-length lenses). My personal lens list looks something like this:

Full disclosure, here: I barely use my 70-200mm and only pack it just in case I need the longer focal length. Ninety percent of my wedding images are shot with either the 50mm or 85mm prime while a few images on each wedding are taken with the 24-70mm zoomed wide and the 105mm Macro. So, even on my own list, I could eliminate a couple of lenses if I needed to. What I need though is the ability to shoot wide at either 24mm or 35mm and the ability to zoom in with something like an 85mm. You also don't need the f/1.4 lenses if you are on a budget. Moving down in price range to the f/1.8 can work when dealing with primes. Note, however, that the difference in these lenses is not the two-thirds of a stop, it's the overall quality of the lens build and lens elements. If you would like to see my gear in action, check out some of my blog posts. All of my recent posts are using the D750 and D810 and this lens list.

You could probably make do with a Nikon 35mm f/1.8 (which retails for about $530) for your wider shots and a Nikon 85mm f/1.8 (which retails for about $500) when you need to punch in a bit. I would also recommend picking up a 50mm, mainly because the price point is so low for what you get. The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 retails for about $200, and the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G retails for about $450.

Also, let's look at the comparable Canon lenses and their approximate cost.

Lighting

First, do you need a flash in order to shoot a wedding? My answer is yes. You are going to have to shoot in situations that are not ideal. Not every wedding is going to have the perfect outdoor ceremony followed by the perfectly lit reception. Most first dances happen on a dance floor that requires you to light the subject. The bottom line is, if you are walking out the door without any lighting, then you cannot shoot in any situation. 

Second, do you have to be able to get the flash off-camera? And, my very hesitant response: No. You can light a group with your on camera flash -- not well, but you can do it. You can also light dark reception venues without having a light off-camera. It's not the look I like at all, but you can do it.

Also, keep in mind that if you only have one flash and no flash triggers, then you may be able to fire that flash with your on-camera pop-up flash. And while the pop-up flash isn't by any means the best, I have seen some pretty good first dance and exit photos using pop-up flash along with an off-camera flash as a backlight (this is a scenario where you only have one external flash).

Ideally, you should have two or three flashes and be able to shoot off-camera using a light stand, umbrella, and flash triggers. My wedding kit includes five flashes and an Einstein strobe with a couple of different modifiers.

For flashes, your two main options are brand or off-brand. The Nikon SB-910 runs about $550, and the lower end SB-700 runs about $325. In the Canon realm you can choose from the 600EX for about $470 or the 430EX for about $300. My other recommendation would be looking at a brand like Yongnuo. The newer model with iTTL for Nikon is around $100 and the Canon model is about $20 more. Yongnuo also sells a great set of triggers that allow you to change the flash power remotely. One transceiver and one controller combined go for around $85. Fellow writer Jason Vison recently put together a great article on them.

Also, I want to note that if you are shooting the wedding with only one on-camera flash, you need to know how to use it. Just pointing the flash straight at your subject is not going to cut it. Being able to bounce in multiple directions (left, right, up, back) and use the flash as a subtle fill in certain situations is essential to lighting and shooting in the constantly changing landscape of the wedding day.

The Bare-Bones Kit

Nikon Kit

Nikon D610 - $1,500

Nikon D7100 - $800

Nikon 35mm f/1.8 - $530

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 - $500

Yongnuo 568 EX - $100

Total: $3,430

Canon Kit

Canon 6D - $1,400

Canon 70D - $1,000

Canon 35mm f/2 - $550

Canon 85mm f/1.8 - $370

Yongnuo 560EX - $120

Total: $3,440

I mentioned earlier that you could very well decide to not pick up the second camera body, but that is at your own risk, and I do not recommend it. Also, if you were looking to expand this kit just a bit, I would recommend picking up the 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4, a second flash, a light stand, an umbrella, a set of triggers, and a 5-in-1 reflector. These additional items would probably run you about $500 and are well worth the money, given that they provide you with much more flexibility. You also need to keep in mind you will need memory cards for your camera, and I highly recommend extra batteries for your camera body. Heading out with one battery to shoot a wedding is asking for trouble. Lastly, you will also want something to carry your gear in as well. If I were going to build a starter kit that was a little bit more ideal, I would recommend setting aside about $10,000. But if you are looking to start off in wedding photography, you can set out with around $4,000.

Summary and Disclaimer

Finally, I want to again state that in my opinion if you are setting out with lesser camera bodies, without a flash (and the knowledge of how to light with only one flash), and without a wide and tight lens, you should be very upfront with your bride or groom. If for nothing else than to protect yourself. You don't want the expectations to be unsaid and then deliver images that are not what the client expected. (this statement is more for the beginners, I don't want anyone new misleading themselves and then getting themselves sued). As a wedding photographer the job is unique in that you need to be ready for any and all situations.

That being said, having all the best gear in the world does not replace knowledge and experience, nor predetermine success or "professionalism". Conversely, not having a D610 or D6 doesn't mean you can't shoot epic weddings, certainly skill and knowledge can over ride your gear budget (within reason), but having lower end gear, even with great skill, does mean you will be some what limited in particular situations. This article is simply a gear list intended for those looking to build their first kit, to have a starting point, or for those looking to stream line their wedding kit.

Log in or register to post comments

126 Comments

"If you are to attempt shooting a wedding with a lower model like the Nikon D7200 [...] you are not a professional and your gear is not professional gear."

I think you could've worded this better. Its pretty condescending.

Adam Ottke's picture

On the other hand, it's pretty true. I would never recommend a photographer to a friend for his/her wedding if I knew that photographer used a D7200 and was trying to charge typical, pro-wedding photographer prices. If the cost made sense for what was being offered, and if that was okay with my friend, then fine. But you can't say that person is a professional wedding photographer with professional gear. It's just different. And although you can get great images with the D7200, the capabilities and final images will just be better with more expensive gear, even if the difference is marginal, etc...

If someone has a D4, on the other hand, I know that if it gets dropped or whatever, they'll just pick it up and keep shooting. On a D7200 with a cheap lens....? They'd probably lose AF for the rest of the day or lose the pop-up flash functionality that they counted on as their only light... So it definitely makes a difference...and I think it's easy to say one is the mark of a professional and the other -- quite plainly -- is not.

And to that point...do you know ANY "professional" wedding photographers that shoot with a single D7200, shoot many, many weekends out of the year, and make a good living doing it? No...because somewhere along the way (after their 3rd/5th/10th wedding), they upgraded to something...professional...

Youve illustrated my point perfectly. The statement needs much more qualification and coulve been presented in a less condescending way.

Anjanette Arnold's picture

I shoot with a D7000 and a D300, and I'm not offended by this at all. I can get by as a professional portrait photographer in a studio setting with those 2 cameras, but not as a wedding photographer. After being a 2nd shooter for a few weddings, I finally shot a wedding as the primary shooter using those cameras and let me tell you, I'm really itching for a full-frame camera, especially a D750 right now. I'm really disliking the grainy shots that my D300 produced, which was my 2nd camera. I also understand I'm not going to charge as much as someone with a full-frame camera that's for sure!

Patrick Hall's picture

I have to disagree here a bit. I shot 2 full wedding seasons with the D7000 after selling off my more pro D300s and D700 cameras. At the time the D7000 actually had better image quality and video for the hybrid video/still work I give my clients. Things like better ISO, AF, and Dynamic range performance often hit the lesser expensive cameras first before trickling down to the more professional camera bodies.

There is the mindset that a professional charging the most amount of money should have the most professional gear and I do understand that. However many people still choose to shoot film which on almost all accounts is lesser quality than the latest pro camera (DR, sharpness, resolution, auto focus, reliability, etc etc) but the mood and tone of their images are still beautiful and "professional". Furthermore, every single digital camera on the market today, even a $599 rebel, is capable of taking a better photograph than the Pro Nikon D200 I started my wedding career with.

I honestly think gear does not matter at all anymore and the most professional thing a photographer can do is have as much experience shooting as possible and having back up gear in the event something breaks or gets stolen during the wedding. I would absolutely feel confident shooting a wedding with a 2.8 zoom lens on a 2 or 3 generation old camera.

The D7200 camera is probably perfectly adequate for weddings with a 2.8 lens and a speed light. Do not feel like you need a D810 or even a full frame sensor to get into the wedding industry because that's simply not true.

Lance Nicoll's picture

I used a D7000 as well when I was learning and 2nd shooting and shooting my first few weddings, but I wouldn't accept more than a few hundred back then, mostly due to experience rather than gear.

My point is more, if you are going to be accepting professional level rates then you need to be confident that you can shoot in any scenario and good high-quality images.

I can shoot a night time 2nd line on the D750 and it looks amazing, but I think if you are the only camera and using a D7200 you aren't going to be able to deliver that same high quality.

Mac MacDonald's picture

The 7200 is a low-light monster (-3EV). The DR is insane. If you have OCF all this low-light drama (between FF and crop) is immediately negated. Hell, my D7200 CAN shoot 1/8000 and does not have an AA filter. My 750 can ONLY shoot 1/400 and has an AA filter. BOTH the 7200 and 750 can shoot down to -3EV. I mean...the D7200 is pretty kick-a$$. My 750 is my primary, now, but my 7200 is a bad a$$ too.

Lance Nicoll's picture

Mac, you're making me think I should get my hands on a D7200 and give a first hand spin. Maybe you'll make a believer out of me!

Mac MacDonald's picture

I think you'll definitely have respect for it if you shoot it. It is almost a crop/FF hybrid! If you look at its specs you'll quickly see how awesome it is. I have this shiny new 750 but, at my last wedding, shot the 7200 (1/8000 shutter) way more on the outside shots as my 750. I LOVE to shoot wide open (f/1.4) and the 750 capped out at 1/4000 and either I needed to put on a ND or stop down. This kinda pissed me off. No way I could tell everyone to hold on while I take an ND on and off. I use a moneymaker and have the 7200 on the left with a Sigma Art 35mm and the 750 on the right with a Tamron 24-70 f/2.8. Also, I don't understand why the heck they put an AA filter on the 750?!?!?! So disappointing.

Felix Wu's picture

You guys are all missing it. I shoot with Sony A7s and I could shoot in moonlight and candle light. Ever had situation where power cut happens at reception? Bang! I nail it.

Kidding aside, we all shoot differently, some people shoot in natural light with high iso others prefer to light the scene, some have the grainier style in their photos others prefer it overexposed 1 stop. It's all relative. How well we master our gears and how experienced we are in the field will dictate how much clients are willing to pay.

Patrick Hall's picture

One thing that I never considered when it came to super high ISO is the fact that in super low light situations, there is usually a much smaller Dynamic Range than in brighter situations. So while the crazy high ISO from the A7s is pretty amazing, the photos it creates is sometimes not very natural looking or desirable at all.

We are about to release Elia Locardi's cityscape tutorial and for one of the locations, Angkor Wat, we shot Elia walking out to the location on a full moon night at 4am with the A7s. While it was unbelievable to capture usable footage in near pitch black that wasn't previous possible at all, the footage did not look like you would expect. The black sky went almost gray/white and the scene started to look like daylight. The whole mood of night time was completely destroyed. It's kind of like if you take a long exposure at night with only the moon as your light source....the resulting photo actually starts looking like daylight with the Sun lighting the scene instead of the moon.

If you ever watch movies where the scene is at night, you quickly realize they aren't simply shooting with insanely high ISOs but rather they are shooting at the blue hour or creating a false blue hour by scrimming off thousands of watts of lights. The actual lighting situation for night time shots is way more "lit" than you would believe from watching the final video on the big screen.

All this being said, my point is that while insane high ISOs are a neat feature that can be useful in certain situations, IMO the results are actually less desirable compared to what you would get if you gelled a few strobes and created the proper exposure at a lower ISO. High ISO can't bring back colors in a pure black scene and the high dynamic range we perceive with our eyes in low light is often much lower in contrast for a camera to accurately capture.

Felix Wu's picture

I was just joking with the example of A7s. I never shot one as I prefer Canon's SOOC colours and in particularly skin tone. 5d3 is my backup camera so I seldom shoot with it due to its limited dynamic range so the image looks a bit "thin" in bright daylight. That said, there are so many great photographers out there who only shoot 5d3 and considered it as their best camera. I am sure the story applies to the D7200 too.

I have to agree that to get descent night mood you will have to master lighting really well.

Will you guys shoot back in NZ again?

Patrick Hall's picture

I'd love to be back in NZ but there isn't anything schedule so far

The D7200 has to be one of the most underrated cameras out there, the crop factor means nothing as the feature set is solid. I have used all sorts of cameras professionally and the 7200 paired with the sigma 18-35 is my workhorse of choice right now and easily surpasses many that i've used including full frame offerings. The statement that it shouldn't be used professionally is an uneducated one.

Patrick Hall's picture

I don't know the technical details of the D7200 but if it is as good as you say it is and rivals the D750 in some ways, it's proof again that Nikon likes putting the newest technology into the lower end cameras first. Once the D810 and D4s get a proper upgrade, they will be using technology that is already on the market with other brands (sony) and other lower end Nikon cameras....but boy will those two cameras be badass!

Here's hoping the leading companies take some of the useful bits from the likes of Sony, I hoped that by now we would be there but i'm still in waiting for the carry over. It's still going to be the mushy bit in charge that makes the difference but I would think we're not far off. My a7 I wouldn't consider fitting of a "main" camera despite the good points, it lacks in departments like af, card redundancy and quick operability which all matter far more when photographing a wedding. I'm not one for internet quibbling over gear but what qualities qualify "pro" are not based purely on image format.
One things for sure, cameras have never been better!

Jeff McCollough's picture

I'm sorry but let me tell you about my camera history. I started with a Nikon D3100 then I upgraded it to a Canon t3i ( I have no clue why I went for a Canon but I am not going back) and then I sold it and later bought another t3i. Now I have a 6D and I can tell you that the image quality in a full-frame with my prime 24-105 lens is well beyond my other DSLR's. I'm not saying I can't take good photos with lower end cameras but still they don' beat my 6D.

As far as what Canon says, they consider the 60D and up to be pro cameras. Any camera below the 60D is not considered a professional camera.

I have two D7200s, I take great wedding photos. I have 11 weddings (they have seen my photos and booked) this year and the D7200s are lighter than my D800e on a long day. It's not the equipment at the end of the day, it's the user and I believe I can still take kick-ass photos on a Sony RX10 if it comes to that (it's my emergency-emergency backup when the 3 DSLRs fail for any reason)... If you have no confidence or is more dependent on your equipment to ever need the best or most expensive, then you NEED to rethink your creative and operative skills.

Lance Nicoll's picture

Anthony, I think thats wonderful, truly. I don't have anything against that at all, if you can create great work with a whole in a box then I'm all for that too, you know. My warning against it, was for newer photogs not to sell themselves as pro if they aren't in order to protect themselves.

Michael Kormos's picture

Easy there, Connor. Fstoppers staff is made up of working professional photographers who dedicate their time to write articles about what they know (and what they've learned - the hard way) at no charge to you. They're not journalism graduate students, so please forgive the occasional misspell.

And yes, if you're using a D7200 to shoot weddings, you shouldn't be. There's no sugar coating it.

Ben Sandness's picture

Woa, bro. I'm all for being condescending and judge-y on the internet, but don't attack a person's camera choice without seeing their photos.

Michael Kormos's picture

Not your bro. Not attacking you either, so drop the defensive posture. D7200 is not a camera well suited for the job in my opinion. Feel free to disagree :-)

I have to partly agree with MK on this one. I had a D7200 for a short time. The high-ISO performance, at least on my copy, was falling apart from ISO 2500 and higher. But what bothered me more was an APS-C camera practically the same size as Nikons lower-end FF. If you have a FF body in your kit, that means you also have a mix of either completely different lenses OR having to deal with differing effective focal lengths and effective loss of 1 stop of DOF when using the FF lenses on the D7xx. That extreme blurrying of background (bohek) at f2.8 is one of the signatures of most pro wedding photographers and it's a major factor of what separates you from everyone else shooting at the event. [Edit 2016-JUN-19: don't feel that 2.8 is a must and you can't have 4.0 as acceptable bokeh.]

If you pixelpeep just a little, you will see there is no real comparison in detail supporting overall IQ of a FF Nikon (even D610) and the D7xx. Wedding images are the event of a lifetime. If you don't capture a finely detailed image now, at 24+mpx, then, at least as a historian, you are not meeting the challenge of this event for the bride and groom and yourself in the long run. That's my perspective.

I returned the D7200 and kept the D610. Saving up for the D750, but to be honest, there is something about the ergonomics of the D750 that are inferior to the D610. The grip is slightly different and where my pinky finger ends up on the D750 it seems cramped. On the D610 my pinky can extend below the grip and the body comfortably.

Lance Nicoll's picture

missing the point. the line in the sand is not crop vs full or 4/3rds, etc its image quality, ISO, focusing. I would agree that the line between the high end DSLR and the crop sensor DSLR in terms of ISO has gotten smaller over the last 5 to 10 years, but I would not say that the mid-range to entry level Nikons or Canon can handle high ISO well enough to give you high quality and presentable images in extreme low-light scenarios and a wedding photographer has to be a able to deliver in any scenario. I love ZA and his blog, but he isn't a wedding guy, he is a portrait guy, different set of parameters and needs from your camera.

not elitist, practical. If a bride pays you 3, 4, 5k for a wedding and you can't deliver a high quality image in any situation then you have misled yourself (or where just not prepared for every scenario) and worse disappointed someone one the most important days of their life.

If I'm going to put a stamp on something and say to a newer photog, that "this" camera will be a capable of delivering presentable, printable, images in any lighting condition, I need to be sure I give them proper direction. (of course there is much more that goes into delivering high quality professional images than gear, but this is a gear list article)

Anonymous's picture

Just FYI Zack's reemergence into photography was weddings. I agree that your point wasn't full frame vs crop but I think someone with Zack's knowledge and skill could get some amazing wedding shots out of not so pro gear. Zack's point with this video was that it isn't what you are shooting with but how you are shooting with what you have.

Lance Nicoll's picture

definitely, agreed! and for the record I love ZA and his posts and agree with much of what he preaches and teaches. my point that may seem contrary but I would guess even ZA would agree, is there is a point at which even a great photog needs a certain standard of gear in order to get a certain shot. The biggest example is in low-light. Even if you are amazing and as skilled as ZA or whomever, you can't make an entry level camera do what an upper level camera can do when it comes to ISO.

michael andrew's picture

It tough to disagree with you because the price point of entry level "Full frame" DSLRs are so low and they are better to some degree. Heck I shoot weddings with a 5d2 and 1.2/1.4 lenses and I never go above ISO 1600 (even thats rare), If I need to I use flash. I shoot 100-400 ISO Film stock.

So in reality another thing that is "negligible" (overused word by ZA in that piece) is the price difference between FF and crop bodies.

In a nutshell if you shoot mostly things other than weddings and then book a wedding with not ideal wedding gear you should be upfront about not being a wedding photographer more than what gear you bring.

If you are trying to get into weddings as a full time career then you should always be upfront with yourself and your potential clients about where you currently stand and if the gear is "holding you back" then yes I agree with you, you should reflect that into your pricing and communication with clients.

I am not a wedding photographer, but shoot 2-5 per year for friends and friends of friends. I aways say "I am not a wedding photographer", my gear, which is as good as it gets for sports/wildlife/and architecture, never gets mentioned.

FYI the 5D2 sucks at focusing compared my 1D series, but with a Canon flash focus assist on it will focus tack sharp in a cave.

ZA is a very interesting person. But the gist of his talk is that all sensor/format sizes are relative with minor differences at each step up or down. I'm sure he could take great photos with a disposable camera. But he never really made a clear point about the factors that make a format no longer work for the effect/quality that you need. I agree its splitting hairs in the move up or down the scale. But if you braid enough hairs together you have a rope. At least for paid work, if you can tell the difference between a shot with a FF camera and APS-C/DX, then there is a difference that has potential impacts depending on what you are covering. As weddings are among the most demanding IQ wise, shooting with equipment as close to FF, if not FF itself, is your best bet. Trying to take ZAs video and say that everything is relative and sensor size does not matter at all, ever, never, is taking it too far.

Lance Nicoll's picture

Connor, if you are saying its condescending then you are taking it as an attacking tone, that I'm looking down on an individual and saying basically get out of here, you have no business doing this not the point or tone. I'm sure that you should state to your client to not treat or expect "professional" by telling them "i'm not a professional and my gear isn't either" you are protecting yourself (while you learn on the job) and protecting your clients memories/photos

your "..." left out a good bit of context.

More comments