Most blogs, books or courses about starting a wedding photography business will tell you that it’s not about the gear. They emphasize that you don’t need the very latest gear and thousands of pounds worth of equipment to get off the ground and I would agree.
However there is a right way to evolve your gear, prioritizing those items that will have the biggest impact on your photography and give you the best chance of not missing a shot. So, where should you start?
Phase one: Your First Camera and Lens
I’m going to start here with the lens because it is far more important than your choice of camera. The fact is that any camera over ten mega-pixels is going to have the capacity to shoot images big enough and sharp enough for most people’s needs but without a decent lens you won’t be able to capture images in the varying and often low light conditions that can be found at a wedding.
Before ever shooting a wedding I invested in a 50mm f1.8 lens and at around £100 it was an amazing buy and one that I recommend for all photographers. It won’t be versatile enough to shoot an entire wedding but it will give you beautiful portraits and low light performance at minimal cost. Teaming this with a fast standard zoom that is f2.8 through the range will give you everything you all the lenses you need to get through your first wedding.
Your choice of camera may be dictated by whether you are comfortable shooting with flash. If you are, then high ISO performance is less of an issue. However, you must remember that during most wedding ceremonies, flash is forbidden.
When making your purchasing decisions, don’t worry about buying brand new, there are plenty of bargains on eBay and make sure that you have a second camera body. Even if it is of a slightly lesser standard than your main camera, you can’t afford to show up to a wedding without a back up.
Phase two: Early editions
Adding off camera flash and additional lenses will provide you with more creative options on a wedding day and don’t have to break the bank. I purchased some low cost Yongnuo manual flashes which, paired with a low cost radio trigger set, have proved invaluable during the reception, first dance, and for capturing detail shots around the room. If you are not already aware of the benefits of off-camera flash then check out the Strobist blog. It really does make all the difference!
One major investment I made early on was in a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. This is a hugely versatile zoom which, thanks to its vibration reduction feature, allowed me to increase my ability to shoot in low light. I shoot the majority of the wedding ceremony with this lens and having invested in a good quality version, I doubt I’ll ever sell or replace it.
I added a variety of other important but relatively low cost accessories to my gear bag during this phase. These included light stands, reflectors, a softbox and an umbrella all designed to help me overcome hurdles and increase my creative options.
Phase three: Marginal Gains
I’m a huge cycling fan and the king of marginal gains, Team Sky Principle, Sir Dave Brailsford lives in my hometown! His mantra of finding small tweaks which add up to major improvements is one I apply to my wedding photography. A great example is the purchase of a rolling camera case for all of my equipment, a purchase I made after pulling my back during an early wedding.
An upgrade to a full frame camera was another small change which will improve my consistency and ability to shoot in low light. However, the returns are diminishing on your financial investment in this phase. For example, a recent edition to the camera bag is a set of Pocket Wizard radio triggers. These will perform the exact same function as my cheaper radio triggers. However, on too many occasions, the triggers would misfire leaving me without usable shots.
Of course, the evolution of your gear will depend on your own shooting style but I would recommend thinking ahead to what will give you the largest return on your investment and ensure that you are constantly looking for the weaknesses in your set up which you can iron out with additional gear over time.
Mark Dolby is a professional wedding photographer based in Leeds in the UK. To read more about mark and for some fantastic photography tips and beautiful examples of his work please visit www.markdolby.co.uk.
Hanimex 75-300 mm macro lens By Colin-47 via Flickr shared under CC BY 2.0 license.
Billingham 335 & Gear By Bluesguy from NY via Flickr shared under CC BY-ND 2.0 license.
Wedding party photographed outside Red Lion, Burnsall, North Yorkshire By Alethe via Wikimedia Commons.