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.

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126 Comments

Previous comments
Lance Nicoll's picture

you are missing the point, just a bit, and also we are not completely disagreeing.

my point with the gear slash D5000 examples is, can you get all the shots, guaranteed. Getting lots of great shot or even an award winning shot can certainly be done with any type of camera, even an iPhone.

But, if you are going to be able to know for sure, you are going to all the shots, in any condition, you can't work with low end gear. Ghionis got a great and amazing shot on an iPhone, but he nor anyone else can make the ISO performance on an D5000 better. ya? You are even saying, yes the gear matters and then arguing against it. Seems like we are saying the same thing. You can get amazing great images on even an iPhone if you are skilled,but still a wedding photographer needs a certain standard of gear in order to be able to shoot on a 8 hour day in constantly changing conditions and often in very dark situations.

would you shoot your next wedding on 2 D5000's ? or 2 D5500's ? or even more importantly, back to the nature of this article, would you recommend to a new photographer to take a D5500 and go start shooting weddings and accepting thousands of $ from clients to do so, of course not. I think you are inferring that yourself. Can a great craftsman make incredible work with amateur tools, of course. Can a wedding photographer shoot in the dark with an entry-level DSLR, of course not.

Jacques Cornell's picture

"can you get all the shots, guaranteed."

What on earth does "all the shots" mean? The relevant question is can you get shots of sufficient quantity, variety and quality to satisfy the client. If you want total coverage, just set up a 4K cam in each corner of the room.

Well said, Jozef! "It is all about who you are, how you feel and know to express your vision and how capable you are to do it the way your clients will beg you to photograph their wedding day. Knowledge and capability to consistently deliver what you are the best at is the key."

Jozef Povazan's picture

Thanks, everyone has its own way how to see this :)

Paulo Macedo's picture

My gear for weddings.

Canon EOS 6D
Canon EOS 500D

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
Canon EF 135mm f/2 L USM
Samyang 14mm f/2.8
Helios M44 f/2

Yongnuo YN568 EX II

Eric Duminil's picture

* A wedding photographer with only one body is not a pro
* A wedding photographer shooting a D7x00 can be a pro, though.

Eric Duminil's picture

Finally, how is the Canon 6D more pro than a Nikon D7100?
The Nikon actually has better AF, comparable image quality and durability.

Paulo Macedo's picture

So, you're one of those "gear makes the photo" guys right? I own a 6D, i've owned a D300s (yes Nikon), i own a EOS 500D, and a film EOS 33. I'd recommend you the Zack Arias video about this subject, you might learn a thing or two.

Here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh6zr3wKRV0

Lance Nicoll's picture

where's the part where they shoot a wedding at ISO 6400 and then make 24 x 36 prints?

Paulo Macedo's picture

Buy a Medium Format camera then, the AF is slow as ass but still you can make those prints. Pentax has a very good one, the 645Z.
I use film for large prints, and hey, it's not that the bride will print 24 * 36 prints from inside the church or whatever temple they marry in.
The thing is, people look way too much at gear instead of looking on how to overcome the gear "flaws".

Lance Nicoll's picture

I can agree with that

Eric Duminil's picture

Sorry, my previous comments were split in two.
I really don't think that the gear makes the photo.
But that's what the original poster seems to imply, even though he used a consumer camera with not-so-good AF and one card slot as an example for a pro camera.
There just are too many flawed arguments in this article. I'm out.

I read the whole article and you never said why the Holga in the lead picture was part of the bare bones minimum kit!

Lance Nicoll's picture

Hahaha, hey Rick, the lead images is meant to be the opposite of the bare bones kit, I basically just grabbed everything I could find at the time. There's also 5 camera bodies and a roll of tape. :) meant to be funny

Currently I have the Nikon kit with two bodies zooms and primes along with speed lights and strobes. For my second shooter (wife ) she uses one of the bodies but I been meaning to get her own kit especially since a new D7000 the shutter got stuck during the isle walk (in 2012). After resetting the camera it worked again. I missed just a few shots since then I try to have two bodies with me for the "critical" shots along with a spare speedlight.

I thought about getting a fujifilm kit either for me to have as a second body on my belt since even the nikon DF with a 50mm seems a bit heavy. I use the DF for low light situations/no flash but this is my wife's camera.

For the Fujifilm kit
X-T10 with 35mm and X-T1 with battery grip 56mm 1.2mm (awesome lens). Fujifilm X100T for the 23mm lens. For light I can either get the nissin or fuji speedlight for TTL purposes but I can use my current speedlight/strobes but in manual mode only. For portraits this is fine but for weddings TTL is very useful. Now these are 35mm 50mm and 85mm equivalent. If I needed wider I would use the nikon kit or for tele shots since I don't "plan" on getting anything wider or longer for fujifilm. Thats is plan A.
Plan B is to get a D750 for my wife and use the nikon arsenal that we already have. The only reason I considered the Fujifilm is the everyday camera kit/street camera and light body.

Julien Duriez's picture

Can't understand that you say a D610 is alright, but a D7200 can't be. I usually use the both oh them and they are exactly the same unless the Crop Sensor for the D7200 (But the AF is better for this one). You can keep a clean picture until 6400 ISO without problem with the APS-C, and it's enough for almost all the situations.

An other point : I see now a lot of professional wedding photographer (and some of them are really, really good photographer) use the Fuji XT-1 only, and it doesn't seems to be a problem. Well, this is a Crop Sensor right ? So why it shouldn't be OK with a 7200 ?

People who want a wedding photographer don't care about the gear. They want a photograph with good skills and talent. A good professional with a D7000 or equivalent will make photo 1000 times better that a random people or a bad photographer with the best gear you can give to him.

(Oh, and apologize if my english is bad)

Lance Nicoll's picture

basing most of this off of high ISO test, had to draw the line somewhere, nature of writing an article like this. From what I've seen the 7200's / 7100's don't do so well in the ISO 5000 and up range, I had a 7000 a few years ago, it was great expect in extreme low light conditions.

Mac MacDonald's picture

Last weekend I shot my first wedding with a FF camera. Prior to that I shot only crop sensor cameras. I never felt handicapped. I never felt obligated to tell my clients what camera I used. I only felt obligated to know my gear, inside out, have plans A, B, C, and D mapped out, and be as courteous, respectful, and attentive to their needs as possible. Clients can look at my portfolio and if it doesn't tickle their fancy, then we aren't a match and I'd want them to find someone who better meets their needs. It's about them, not me or my gear.

A crop does struggle, slightly, in low light but not by much. Throw in off camera lighting and that problem is largely resolved. Not sure if you've heard but the Nikon D7200 is a lowlight beast and can lock focus in super dark conditions (-3EV). Sure ISO noise kicks in faster than a FF but you can account for this numerous ways.

Also, compared to the Canon MKiii, the current stable of Nikon crops hold their own (Canon fanboys are surely going to flame me for this). http://www.dxomark.com/Cameras/Compare/Side-by-side/Canon-EOS-5D-Mark-II...

I now shoot with D750s and am happy but in no way would I feel like I was handicapped if I had to pull out the D7200. These days it's the Indian, not the arrow. Know your gear, have a back-up,understand OCF and have solid post-processing skills and you'll be ok.

Lance Nicoll's picture

Mac, have you had the chance to shoot with you D750 in the higher ISO range, 6400 and up? even my D800 can't compete. D750 in low light is a whole other ball game.

Mac MacDonald's picture

Not yet, but I will at my next wedding as it is being held in the equivalent of a dungeon! :) I am super excited to see far far I can push my 750!

Paulo Macedo's picture

Ii've shot mine with a Nikon D300s and a EOS 500D and i'm alive and kicking. Like you say and well, the indian matters more than the arrow.

Lance Nicoll's picture

alive and kicking is different than thriving. Also to some of Adam's points The D300's a few years ago would have been seen as acceptable but as gear increases in its capabilities so do expectations and standards. If the people around you can shoot ISO 10,000 with acceptable results and you have to cap 3 or 4 stops lower, you are at a serious disadvantage. I'm considering this from a client's expectations today and a business being able to offer un-comprimised results in today's market. Nothing wrong with those cameras, but if today's bride expects amazing printable images at her post sunset ceremony and you say, well I missed some shots cause they were under-exposed, etc she will either be disappointed effecting your worth of mouth referrals or even worse.

But, if you read the entire post and comments you'll see I actually agree with the indian mattering more than the arrow concept.

Paulo Macedo's picture

Only if the couple understands about photography they will ask for such thing. The post sunset pictures are not the most important here where i live, but the couple pictures in gardens or so are very important. On those i use Digital and Film, 20 megapixel images allow prints up to 1 meter on the larger side, around here people don't go over 70cm on the larger side, at least not my costumers, or the ones i had. I feel that people are more worried with pictures to post on Facebook than pictures to print, but that's what's going on around here.

Lance Nicoll's picture

agreed, in well light scenario's the differences become minor, its in the more extreme examples. I regularly have outdoor receptions at night, or outdoor first dances at night, etc - thats where the gear helps

Paulo Macedo's picture

That's true. I usually lit those situations with speedlites and slow shutter speeds for those crazy light effects (dance), as for receptions, i tell my assistant to mount two speedlites with two brollies to create soft light (this given the fact that the reception is the same as here).

red cat's picture

For Pentax, my gears :
* Pentax K3
* Pentax K5 IIs (backup)
* FA 31mm f1.8
* FA 77mm f1.8
* Metz 52 AF1

True story. I. No one told me I was to be the wedding photographer, when I arrived in Denver for the marriage of my widowed brother-in-law.

Honest to god, I couldn't believe it when it was explained to me that Joe "really likes my pictures" and thought I'd do just fine. Except, he never told me, or his kids, or my wife. At least, not until I was 1,300 miles from my home, on the day before the wedding. I just kept muttering, "really ? no one could have told me ?"

I had just come from a week in San Diego (working remote and caring for my Dad), and the following week I was to be in Seattle. My camera gear was with me, and was just for my personal walk-around entertainment. Canon 6d, 35mm, 100mm (macro). No big flashes, umbrellas, no zooms, and no tripod. I went to WalMart and picked up a SunPack flash to have some means of illumination. Which was important because when I went to the rehearsal I discovered the church was very dark. Cave like. I used HDR to capture a single image of the altar. For the rest of the wedding, I would be shooting wide open at ISO 800. Fortunately, one other person was "volunteered" and was also a Canon owner. He had a Rebel T4i and an off camera flash. Best of all, he had a 70-200 f4 with a tripod. We decided to split up, he would take the close ups from the front pew, and I would take long shots, staged shots, and then from the side lines. I'm agreeing that there is no way that I'd have used anything less than a 6D, 35mm, 100mm. The end result worked, but the rehearsal, ceremony and reception were a tough slog.

Lance Nicoll's picture

That's a crazy story, and good on you for pull off the job!!!! ya the lower end gear is great in the well lit venue, its when you have to shoot in a "cave" that the lower end will disappoint and you'll have to say well I got the shot, but you know it was dark in there, so I did the best I could, sorry, kind of thing.

Thanks for sharing the story, that's one you'll have for a while!

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