What photography equipment do I need to start shooting weddings?

I remember being incredible confused and frustrated when I was trying to figure out what equipment was essential to shooting weddings. I had been a second shooter for a few different wedding photographers, but they had SO MUCH gear, and I knew I neither needed nor could afford all of that stuff.

What do you need to successfully shoot a wedding from start to finish? I’ve created a checklist for new wedding photographers that will help guide you in your purchases as you launch your wedding photography business.

A few things to note: I shoot entirely with Canon (or Canon-compatible) products, so those are the suggestions I will share below. For every Canon product, there is a Nikon equivalent. If you are partial to Nikon, don’t be discouraged! You can get extremely similar gear at a similar price. Also, I shoot almost entirely with prime lenses. This is a particular style that suits me and allows me to move with the motion and emotion of the day. While it’s not for everyone, it does influence my recommendations.

CAMERA

You need: a DSLR full-framed body.

Suggestions: Canon Mark 6D, Canon Mark III, Canon Mark IV

As a professional, you need to get a Digital SLR with a full-framed sensor. Crop frame DSLRs, like the Canon Rebel series, effects the focal length of the camera and creates a lower-quality image. The 6D is a good place to start and very affordable. The Mark series are excellent quality and you’ll eventually want to have at least one of these in your kit. A full-framed DSLR is a big investment, but it’s definitely one that you’ll want to make before you shoot a wedding on your own!

LENSES:

You need: a basic & versatile portrait lens.

Suggestions: Canon 50mm f/1.8 (“nifty fifty”), Canon 50mm f/1.4, Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4

A 50mm is my favorite lens to shoot on during a wedding day. It’s diverse. It can be used for portraits – both full-length and close-up. It can be used for larger groups and individual shots. You can shoot details, the ceremony and the reception with a 50mm lens. The price varies pretty significantly depending on the quality of the lens. You can get a “nifty fifty” if you’re on a really tight budget. I shot my first 4-5 weddings with one of these. If you have the funds, definitely invest in the high-quality Sigma Art 50mm or the Canon equivalent, which you will be able to continue to use for years. This is the focal length that I would most recommend for a brand new photographer.

You need: a quality telephoto lens

Suggestions: Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS Lens, Canon 70-200mm f/4 USM

Yes, this one is probably going to hurt the bank a little bit, but a quality zoom lens is pretty much essential to shooting weddings. You will want to capture close-ups of all the special moments and emotion of the wedding day, but you simply can’t be right up next to the bride and groom during the ceremony! I strongly recommend the f/2.8 IS lens, but if you absolutely can’t afford it, go for the f/4 USM.

You need: a wide angle lens

Suggestions: Canon EF 35mm f/2, Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4
Of the three types of lenses I mentioned, this is probably the one that you can get away with without purchasing for a little longer. However, a wider-angle lens will definitely come in handy on the wedding day and complete your set. In tight spaces or for extra-large groups, the lens will save the day. The Canon 35mm f/2 is affordable and willg et teh job done. The Sigma Art 35mm is higher quality and works great in almost any tight situation. 

OTHER GEAR

You need: a camera-compatible flash

Suggestions: Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT Flash, Canon Speedlite 430EX-RT

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could shoot an entire wedding in natural light? Unfortunately for us, 99% of weddings end after the sun goes down, meaning a flash is necessary at the reception! Eventually, you’ll probably want a couple flashes and stands at the reception. For now, you can start with a basic flash on top of your camera. I’d encourage you to invest in the 600EX-RT, even though it’s quite a bit pricier than the 430EX-RT. This is because you’ll be able to use it for years and years in the future. The 430EX-RT will only serve you until you upgrade your system, which will probably be in a year or two. I made this mistake, and it felt like I had wasted money on a flash of which I only got a year of use!

You need: memory cards

Suggestions: SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB CF, Sandisk Extreme Pro 32GB SD

Memory cards are an important investment! While CompactFlash (CF) cards are the most reliable, you may want or need to purchase both CF and SD cards. Most DSLRs have two-slot ability. If you have two CF slots, then all you need are CF cards. For the Canon Mark series, there is a CF and SD slot. It’s wise to shoot on to both cards simultaneously so that if one card fails, you always have a backup.

I like the 32GB size because it will last for a couple hours (at least), but I also don’t end up shooting the entire wedding on mostly one card!

As a side note, I usually use up about 180GB of space on my CF card at a typical wedding. I do tend to overshoot, BUT it’s always better to have too much space rather than too little. For that reason, I suggest purchasing several sets of SD cards!

You need: a camera bag

Suggestions: Photo Classic BP 300 AW

There are so many camera bags of so many different styles, so this last piece of equipment isn’t nearly as important as any other recommendation I have listed above. I do suggest making sure you get a professional bag that is large enough to carry all your equipment. A lot of the most stylish bags are smaller, and I definitely made the mistake in the beginning of my career of buying a bag that I loved for style but was not nearly large enough to carry all my equipment. I also suggest not spending tons of money on your first bag, because you’ll likely want and need to upgrade within a year or two. Get one that is sturdy and gets the job done!

Lowerpro isn’t necessarily the most stylish, but it is super high-quality and reasonably priced. A lot of well-established photographers I know have the Photo Classic. It’s versatile and allows you to move around a lot. You’ll also be able to use it forever – even when you upgrade to a larger or different bag in the future, this will always be a great option for an on-the-go shoot.

Final Thoughts

When you are just starting out, every purchase is going to feel risky. It’s a huge investment, and you’re not sure how fast you’re going to be able to make that money back! Hopefully this list has helped you feel more confident in the basics and also helped you scratch off some of the unnecessary stuff from your list.

A few final thoughts:

  1. As a general rule, always get the higher-quality lens if you can afford it.
  2. If you’re unsure about a product, consider renting it first (Borrowlenses.com is the most reputable and reliable company I’ve used).
  3. If you’re ready to start taking  your wedding photography business seriously, you’ve got to go for it! Save up, purchase this equipment, and start shooting!
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