Not only are weddings particularly fast-paced, they can also be quite gear intensive, and often require some specialised bits of equipment at different times of the day. As these are moments that can’t easily (if at all) be recreated should something go wrong, it’s important that wedding photographers have a degree of redundancy with their equipment, or at least make the couple aware when booking that there are certain limitations they should be aware of. Sudden equipment failure is rare, but it can and does happen, or more likely something can be dropped and damaged, rendering it out of use for the rest of the day.
This list is not exhaustive and many photographers may consider items that should belong under either category, or argue that some items aren’t regarded as either essential or desirable for them. The key thing is that whatever equipment a photographer has and brings to a wedding, they should know how to use it well and appropriately in a way that befits the location and their particular style.
If you are meeting with photographers and you have a bit of background knowledge about photography, feel free to ask them if they own and plan to bring some of these items with them to your wedding. Some couples feel they should ask because it’s on some ‘things you need to ask your photographer’ list without really knowing the reasons behind certain bits of equipment, or appreciating the answer they may be given. Hopefully this provides a bit of insight into what it all does!
Camera with two card slots – higher grade cameras allow photos to be saved to two memory cards simultaneously. This is a great instant backup should one card fail. This is rare but can happen, and can render any images taken on that card corrupt or inaccessible. Many photographers start out using a camera with just one card slot, this doesn’t mean they should be automatically ruled out, but take the risks into consideration.
A second camera – more redundancy. Should the photographer have a major technical fault with their main camera, they need a second to fall back on. It can be the same model or sometimes a slightly lower spec, but if they don’t have a backup then coverage for the remainder of the day looks questionable. Again only having one camera shouldn’t rule someone out. As for card issues, major camera faults are rare, but this should be taken into consideration.
A standard zoom lens (or equivalent) – sometimes when you buy a camera you get a lens bundled with it, this lens (sometimes called a kit lens) is often what’s referred to as a standard zoom lens. In essence it gives the photographer a range of between 20mm to 90mm – depending on the type of camera used. This is a good starting point, and most photographers are happy to continue to use this lens, although typically it doesn’t perform well in low light and the quality of photos taken with it isn’t the best. Those who replace it often get a similar or extended range and better low light performance and optical quality. The wider focal lengths are great for group photos and when you want to incorporate the surroundings more.
A low light lens, ideally a good portrait length too – to compliment your standard zoom. It’s always a good idea to have not only a second lens (again, as a back-up) but one that is more suited to low light and can also double up as a portrait lens. Most photographers opt for a 50mm (which is more versatile in its use) or an 85mm (traditionally used as a portrait lens). The low light performance also means you can achieve lovely out of focus backgrounds to really make the subject of the photo stand out. Lenses which are fixed in focal length are called prime lenses. You can’t zoom in and out, so you have to use your feet to move physically closer or further away, however they are smaller, lighter and typically have much better image quality.
A telephoto lens – while standard zooms tend to be more about wider angle photos, a telephoto lens brings you closer to the action. Ideally this will extend to between 105mm – 200mm, to give you adequate reach in certain situations. A good telephoto lens is imperative if you’re stuck at the back of a church, or for focusing on specific people during the speeches, and is great for candids in general as you don’t have to be right in someone’s face. They can also work well as a portrait lens, giving a sense of ‘compression’ in an image - the illusion that the background is much nearer than it actually is.
One flashgun, or have a built in flash – whether a photographer relies on natural light or not, having the option to add extra light can be a huge advantage, as some wedding venues can be dark or have limited ambient light available. Some cameras have a built in flash, but this can be quite harsh coming from the front, and tends to be underpowered at distance. A much better option is an external flash that can be mounted on the camera (or even off of it), pointed in a certain direction and even bounced off the ceiling or walls. This gives much more versatility.
Several memory cards in a safe place – again it’s all about backups and redundancy. While some photographers may use one memory card for the duration of the wedding, others may swap for empty cards at certain times to spread the images over several cards. Again this is to prevent one card from containing all the images and there being a problem with that card. This way, some of the wedding images are safe! This is perhaps even more essential if the photographer is using a camera with one card slot.
Several charged batteries for the camera – hopefully this goes without saying. Photographers should be using fresh batteries and have spares at the ready to swap out at quiet times ideally, to make sure there is no sudden loss of coverage during important moments.
Several charged batteries for flash (if using external) – external flashguns can use a lot of power, so an ample supply of spare batteries are vital to keep the unit in operation. When batteries start to get low, it can take longer for the flash to recycle and be ready to fire again, so key moments can get lost if the photo is not properly lit.
A second flashgun – again it’s good to have a backup flashgun if the photographer makes use of their own lighting on the day. Having two flashguns can also give greater lighting possibilities and the chance to be more creative and dramatic at certain times of the day, giving your images more of a refined look and feel.
Flash triggers – used in tandem with flashguns positioned off-camera, triggers and receivers enable the camera to send a wireless signal to ensure the flash fires at the right time and with the right amount of power.
Light stands – because you need to have a stand for your flash to be attached to. Flash tends to work best up right pointing down as this mimics the illusion of sunlight and it’s what we’re most used to, but it can also be pointed up in certain situations too.
Some form of light modifier, or umbrella – a light modifier is something we use to adapt the often harsh light from a flashgun or other light source. Often we want to soften this light to flatter our subject, but sometimes we also want to direct or enhance the power too. An umbrella allows us to either diffuse (spread out) or bounce the light (change direction) depending on the situation, and is one of the cheapest and easy to use modifiers for flash.
A second low light lens – As mentioned above, lenses that really excel in low light are known as prime lenses, and they only have one focal length. Sometimes moving closer or further away doesn’t quite give the right perspective, so a second prime lens at roughly double (or half) the focal length of the first will give a great deal more variety in perspective to the images produced.
A macro lens for rings and details – while not strictly a necessity, a macro lens offers better performance and quality than adapting another lens to do the same job, and will be able to focus much closer than any other lens for those really tiny details on rings and other things. They are more of a specialised lens, but they can also double as a portrait lens as well, so serve a bit of a dual purpose in a pinch.
A tripod – tripods are rarely used for something as fast-paced as wedding photography, though they can be used for video work at times, for example during the ceremony when you want a static camera covering a certain angle, while another camera is moved around closer to the action (or vice versa). When you know there is a tripod in use, it often means an elaborate set up is underway, and you’re likely to have to keep still for any photos that follow.
Reflector – great when paired with a good natural or artificial light source like the sun or a powerful flash, reflectors are often used to illuminate shadows and balance out the natural light a bit more (for example if your back is to the sun). However the larger ones can be ungainly and difficult to control in the wind, and an assistant is often needed to hold and position them.
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