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.


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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Previous comments
Tony Carter's picture

This may be a a tad off-topic, but isn't your pricing (or worth) determinant on (among other things) your time + your experience + the expectation from your clients? I see PLENTY of wedding photogs who get by with outdated or non-top-tier gear who can produce amazing results, and sometimes, even results that are even too Instagrammy to produce a quality print from. One of the main factors in them continuing to get the gigs is that their name and reputation precedes their work. Brides know that of course they'd want great quality images, but not at the cost of a photog who is not a people-person, is known to miss key moments, or is known to drink a little too much at the reception he/she is shooting at. A person with reputable clout can charge whatever the heck they want, and people will pay him/her, even if the images aren't produced with the CanNikon D900D...most-likely, the bride and groom could care less, because they're paying for a great photographic experience and memorable images.

Lance Nicoll's picture

I would say pricing is more about client expectations and marketing. but there is certainly more to it than that.

Clinton Ausmus's picture

Do you think Kevin Mullins or Paul Rodgers are telling their clients they aren't professionals with professional gear? Are you telling them they aren't professional photographers using professional gear because they shoot on crop sensors?

This kind of attitude toward gear needs to come to a halt here and now. The camera doesn't make the image, the photographer makes the image and the photographer's knowledge of how to use his tools is what makes the image a quality image. That's like telling an artist you aren't a professional artist unless you use only red sable brushes and you aren't creating art unless you've hand stretched your own canvas. Or you have to have a specific pen and paper to create a true piece of art. I've seen a real artist create positively stunning images with Crayola Sidewalk Chalk on a 24x24 piece of crappy plywood, and not once did I hear someone say to them they weren't professionals because they were using 3 dollar chalk and 5 dollar piece of wood; in fact they were told how phenomenal they were simply because of what they can create with the limitations. That's the true mark of a professional...

So long as there are cameras and photographers there will be discussions like this. The camera is a tool and it provides a baseline of capabilities. Smaller sensor = less information. At each step smaller in sensor size you are forced into a different set of abilities of physics/photographic calculations. The larger sensor, generally, the larger potential for information. It is the information that is captured, along with the creativity of the photographer that make every foto. To claim the sensor size does not matter does not make sense. If you [repeatedly] get paid for shooting a wedding, you are a pro. Leaving the pro or not discussion aside, if you want to shoot weddings and deliver a competitive product with the highest amount of detail/information then you go FF. If you want to go smaller, then you learn how to deal with the compromises in DOF, amount of information, detail, etc. Either can work, and either can be pro.

Flemming Jensen's picture

Ok, so my clients must be photographers, because only photographers give a shit about FullFrame, crop,ISO etc etc. The only thing that matters to the client, is good pictures, period. Posting that you need FullFrame to be sure to deliver High quality pictures, be "Pro", and it has a connection to your rates, is, simply put, bullshit. There are tons Of fulltime Pro wedding photographers using ApS-c sensors, one Of the cameras that is uset a lot is the Fuji X-T1. But i gues that they need to lower their rates, and warn the clients, because even the are full time pros, they dont use FullFrame ;)

My kit was once a single body, three lenses, and a few film backs. That RB67 kit was over $10k. Switching to four EOS 1N bodies was cheaper. Now I use a 6D, 5D for backup, five flashes, and whichever glass I need for conditions.

its really minimal but without a 70-200 2.8 please stay at home :) fix lenses are cool but when the report thing need 70-200 is the ultimate with a FF body.

And have at least 2-3 flash if want some strobist fun , or battery pack big flashes.

Anonymous's picture

I shot most of my wedding season with Fuji/sony mirrorless cameras. All with crop sensors. Not once did I hear my clients say they wished I used "Pro" gear. If you are a photographer with vision and technical skill you can get a printable image out of a rock.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Its an interesting post, for sure... but it seems like the title is off... maybe it should be, "Choosing the best gear to make your life easier on wedding shoots" or something. The idea that tastes have evolved among clients is interesting, especially considering that the current trend is to make the photos appear LESS modern with VSCO and Mastin settings muddying up the images to make them look like they were taken on technology from decades ago. IMHO the clients dont care what the gear is until it fails. Redundancy is great, and i would say thats much more important than the age/format/size of the sensor, if the skills of the photographer are up to par. There are pros working professionally with nothing but Nikon F100s, 645 Medium Format, and negative film producing jaw-dropping work. We werent hired by our clients to impress other photographers. We were hired to create images they will cherish in a reliable, consistent way. If you can do that, day in and day out, and get hired for it, that makes you a pro.

Lance Nicoll's picture

Hans I think you summed up much of the debate here in one line, the client doesn't care about the gear until it fails. and my point is to direct those looking at gear, which would be mostly newer wedding photogs, towards the gear that is less likely to fail them in more extreme situations like low light. The client won't care at all, until you tell them you didn't get any great first dance pics, because it was outside and you couldn't shoot in that dark of a setting.

Swede Johnson's picture

I know y'all have heard this but:
How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: All of them, one to actually change the light bulb, and ALL the rest to explain in detail how they could have done it better. :)

Like your article but a few points

1) You want two cameras. If you have one and it breaks which happened to me you cant just stop the wedding and buy another one- amateurs rock up with just one. Also you want two so you can have two separate focal lengths going at the same time (so one camera with the workhorse 24-70 2.8 and the other with the 70 -200 2,8). Also having a camera that's not full frame (Especially with today's mega pixel count) actually works for you as you can gain increased focal length at a cheaper alternative.

2) Lenses and flashes you can go cheaper via Sigma and other 3rd party brands but also you can get away without the primes if needed and you definitley need flashes.

The other thing you didn't mention is its also about your style of shoot and you as a photographer. You may not need a D4 if you know how to get the best out of a D700/10/810/7000 etc. Also if you like to work light which is what allot of guys tend to do you may not want all these lenses and tools.

Finally with the summary I dont think its wise to tell a client you cant get the shots there after based on gear - especially if they are paying. If you are saying your pro and charging people you cant say that to people.

Great article

Lance Nicoll's picture

Cheers and thanks for the input!

Eric Lefebvre's picture

You need at least another Flash for each kit so that a- You aren't swapping and B- if you smash your flash and snap the shoe (or any other flash destroying event) you have a backup.

James Mlodynia's picture

Today weddings come in all shapes and sizes, I photographed my first wedding for a co-worker, it was his second marriage and having seen my work that I had done for the place that we work at he felt good about what I could do for him. First thing I told him is that I do not see myself as a pro photographer, but the equipment that I have would give him a good result. Many people today getting married for the second time can not afford a pro photographer and the fee I charge takes into account the equipment that I have, you can have the best photo equipment but if you are not ready to photograph a wedding none of that will matter. Shooting my first wedding was the hardest and most rewarding thing that I have with my camera equipment. I use a pentax K5ii as my main camera body and yes it is not a full frame sensor but it works real well, I shoot ,edit and print all my own work and being able to do this has made my time behind the camera much more rewarding.

Lance Nicoll's picture

totally agree

I, personally, don't think you need a dSLr to shoot weddings. I have shot digitally/film and just shot my first full year hybrid with a mirror less/film setup. 42 weddings with 2 Fuji xt1's and a Pentax 645n setup. I charge over 4 grand just for me to show up. They have to pay extra for digital rights. I don't feel less of a pro photographer shooting smaller cameras then I did when I shot full frame canon. They are tools and to be honest you can pro tools and still deliver crap.

Lance Nicoll's picture

I would agree Tim, I kept my list to the two main DSLR brand to be succinct, the article was already close to 2,000 words, haha. but ya 4/3rds have come a long way. If you can handle low light, moving subjects, etc then I'm all for it

Flemming Jensen's picture

The X-T1 is an aps-c sensor, not 4/3 ;).

Swede Johnson's picture

I shot my first wedding in 1972 while I was a Senior in High School, for two friends that had graduated the year before. I knew they couldn't afford a photographer and I couldn't afford much of a present, so I decided to borrow a camera from the school paper/yearbook which I shot for and shoot their wedding as my gift. So I took this Honeywell Pentax H1a with a screw-on 50mm, loaded her with Kodak ASA 100 and proceeded to fumble my way through my first wedding shoot. Luckily the wedding took place in the brides parents back yard on a bright sunny day, since I had no flash! Indoors I had to use lamps, and ambient light from the windows. For the background on the wedding party portraits, we used the shower curtain! Well, none of us really expected much in the way of fine art museum quality wedding images, but much to our surprise {mine especially] the pictures turned out great, some of them REALLY great. The bride actually cried while looking through them {with happiness :) by the way} They still have the pic of them sharing their first kiss as man and wife over their fireplace, and their son and daughter have the same picture in their homes.
The picture looks like it was shot shot in 1972, with what was available in 1972, and it is one of their prized possessions. I have photographed hundreds of wedding since that sunny day in Minnesota 43 years ago. Wedding photos are a sign of the times. You use what is available at the time. My great grandparents wedding photos are beautiful, as are my grandparents and parents. Would you use the same equipment today that were used for those exceptional images? Of course not, just like in 10 years the discussion here on Fstoppers is going to be why no one should shoot a wedding without the newest holographic imaging unit with 3 million Megapixel 3D 10K Resolution HD capabilities. I am using equipment much less capable than what is recommended in this article, and my last wedding, which was a few months ago, the bride cried again!
And it doesn't get any better than that.

This article was bound to generate some heated opinions! You should submit to Lance. We need some wedding photogs using more budget friendly kit ;-)

Lance Nicoll's picture

Hahaha, ya Mark, I knew that going into it. You can't bring up gear or photo tech without expecting debate, I love the discussion and for the most part our Fstoppers community have kept it about the article and are open to discussion which is amazing.

Going to submit to Shotkit!

I would note that if you shoot weddings professionally it's highly recommended that you get weather sealed bodies (and lenses) and bodies with dual card slots.
1. You don't want to chance losing a body in the rain
2. You don't want to lose images from a card that dies

Lance Nicoll's picture

smart - I've had to go to the camera in a plastic bag a couple of times haha

Nice article, just wish if i can shoot a wedding, any wedding in my area, but i think this will never happen.

About gear, well, i keep reading about the photographer, but i am lucky enough that i never let that "the photographer" factor to be the only factor, so i improved my gear and by doing this i can tell you that many people respected me for that and i feel very happy and confident because i know that i have a gear that i can rely on, heck even some people forgive my normal flat photos just because it was taken from high quality gear, so to a point, gear/equipment sure does matter.

About what to need or carry, well, the experience is always giving the answer, and to my opinion i think there is no answer to that, weddings can vary from here and there, i can't always g with 1-3 lenses only always forever, but there are lenses i call them as the top priority or most appropriate than others, if i can use all the lenses on the earth then it is unfair to narrowed it to 1-3, but if i will choose 1-3 lenses with 1-2 bodies then i have to know why i choose this and that, and my reasons of choice could be different than others and this will not make me right or the other one is right, it is about the condition of shooting and what is good for me to do it.

Last thing, with sites/forums around the net it became easier to shoot any kind of photography including weddings, i never shoot weddings before but i feel if i will do it will not be that difficult, the difficult just is to start as first time, but with all information here and there it will make my life and shooting easier, and your article is one of those subjects as information which can help, and i did read similar article in the past and i am sure i will read the same in the future from someone else, at the end the approach could be the same.

Nomad Photographers's picture

Wow ! That's a bare minimum. I didn't find this article elitist or condescending but very thorough and well written. On the other hand we wrote a very less complete post "The right photo equipment for a wedding" which you can read here :
and I am afraid we are even involuntarily more elitists and condescending (we shoot weddings at 2 photographers with 2 camera bodies each...).

Anyways I do have one question for the writer :

Why do you insist on both 35mm and 50mm ? I do own both sigma art f1.4 lenses and although the 50mm is superb I am trying to sell it because the range seems kind of awkward to me...

If bare bones means owning then yes, but I will never shoot an event without the 70-200 2.8, I will always rent it as I don't own one yet.

Long time reader just registered just to comment on how pretentious and ridiculous this article is.

I know so many talented people shooting weddings full time with fuji gear, you wouldn't even know the difference in their end product from Canikon. What a joke.

Lance Nicoll's picture

nothing against fuji or other brands. article doesn't mention anything against them. wasn't going to write about every brand out there, these are my suggestions for the general quality and flexibility of the camera models. Its a general standard that newer photogs look to the brands considered the "standard" at right now its still the leading selling brands "Canikon" as you put it. Certainly other brand work really really well.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

You said: " shouldn't be accepting professional rates." What rates are professional and what rates are for beginners?

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