Why and How a Wedding Photographer Captures the Entire Day Using Only Prime Lenses

There's a longstanding debate about using primes versus zooms in wedding photography. Much of it involves balancing a pragmatic approach with maintaining a level of creativity that shows off your style and encapsulates the life and love of the day. This wedding photographer will both tell you why she uses primes and walk you through a typical wedding using them.

Coming to you from Julia Trotti, this great video follows her as she discusses her reasons for using a set of prime lenses (24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, and 135mm) as opposed to something like the standard 24-70mm and 70-200mm zooms. As you might guess, a lot of her philosophy is centered around the creative factor of using primes and their generally higher image quality and wider apertures, which can be important in dimly lit venues. On the other hand, it's very interesting to listen to her walk us through a typical wedding day and explain just how much she has to anticipate the scenes as they unfold to make sure she has the right lenses on both bodies (she carries two cameras almost the entire day). It's a very different way of working as compared to using zooms that carries both benefits and drawbacks. It really comes down to what you're comfortable with and your creative vision.

Lead image by Terje Sollie, used under Creative Commons.

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12 Comments

If a lens stops working, wouldn't you just manual focus?

Alex Cooke's picture

Lots of things can happen. You could drop it and crack the glass, the focus ring could freeze, etc.

Steven Lelham's picture

I am a wedding photographer and I only own a 24-105L.

On wedding days I'm shooting with all primes: 24, 50, 85, 135.

I also like the author find primes to be better during venues and also give me that inconvenience of using my feet to zoom in and out.

Steven Lelham
https://www.lelham.com

Matei Horvath's picture

Steven, can you clarify your statement please? You own a 24-105 but shooting with primes, is that what you meant?

And Steven, the link for your site must be : http://www.lelham.com not https://www.lelham.com . There is difference

Reginald Walton's picture

Umm, OK. I'll keep using my 24-70 and 70-200, along with my 300 F/4.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I don't shoot a ton of weddings, but I typically go with a 2 prime setup all day, swapping as needed. 35/85 is my most common combo but I've also thrown in 50-ish mm, 100, and 135 as well.

So, she works with second shooter to capture both couple and parents/guests emotions. Good strategy, works for many.

It's great she found a system that suits her workflow. Here's some food for thought though.

I am a big guy and have no problems carrying heavy stuff, yet I find that carrying a set of prime lenses is really annoying to move and on a long day it's a waste of energy that can be used better. I'd rather carry 1 camera with a 24-70mm f/2.8 on it and an additional 70-200mm in a tiny shoulder bag to switch when needed. And use higher ISO and/or flash if needed. That's it. Feels much more comfortable to face long and fast paced events. Using zooms avoid the need of switching lenses constantly: it's annoying and makes you miss opportunities. And using a zoom should not prevent you from moving "to stay creative". Once you understand that "lens compression" is not about focal length but about your position relative to the subject and the environment that is creating the perspective, it just offers you the opportunity to have more coverage in a pinch.
And on the argument about backup: you can have backup lenses of your choice where you left the rest of your stuff. It's a backup, it should be available but it's not needed to carry it.

To sum up, of course everyone should work as they see fit. But the more I photograph, the more I find huge value in a light and simple setup of 1 (or 2) zoom, It's really one worry less and that frees me to concentrate on an already long list of other things: people, storytelling, coverage, lighting, composition, ...

Sandrigo Zoilo's picture

Funny, didn't know that it's special :D I shoot weddings occasionally, and only use my primes. 14mm for Church, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and sometimes 135mm for People/Bride&Groom Shots.. i never thought of getting an AIO Zoomlens. Maybe its because i mainly use primes on all my shootings and never used Zoomlenses at all. I just love those nice fast apertures all the way ^_^

Ben Bezuidenhout's picture

I shoot with 24mm for wide angle and 50mm for closer shots. Using two camera bodies and a dual camera slingstrap its easy to move from one lens to the other.

Need better bokeh? Let your bride move a bit away from the nearest background, move closer to your bride. Great clear shots everytime.

You get to move more using this sistem, but your more creative than just zooming in and out....leading to better angles most of the time.

Geoff Thompson's picture

A good article. When I started photographing weddings in 1975 I only had a 50mm prime. I also had a second back up film slr with a 50mm. Lens. Got some lovely shots. My zoom was walking backward and forward. The main thing to take out of this article for me is apart from the good technical reasons for primes is to have back up equipment. I always had 2 camera bodies and shot with 2 cameras during weddings.I did not have the luxury of digital where you know whether your camera is working or not.By shooting and interchanging cameras during the day I used to reason if something went wrong at least I had half the wedding captured.On one occasion I did drop my camera on a cement floor about 15mins before the Church ceremony was about to start.The lens, which was my go to lens, was totally jammed and I didn't have another to use on that body.Fortunately I had my original starter kit in the car and was able to successfully shoot the rest of the wedding.You must have back up.Even when I was transitioning from film to digital I initially used to take a whole film slr kit with me and enough film to shoot if my digital gear failed.It boils down ,as others have said, is what works with you; and are your customers happy with your images.These days we are spoilt with so many technical goodies to choose from but we can only use one lens and one camera at at time. I think a second shooter is a must also.