One question that pops up pretty often is, "What gear do I need to shoot [fill in the blank]?" In other words, if someone's planning to do weddings, sports, landscapes, etc., they often want to know what they need to have in their kit. On the one hand, it's easy enough for me to just tell them there is no standard equipment list, and that would be true. After all, not everyone shoots with the same equipment, some photographers are minimalists, and some bring in loads of gear (and enough assistants to help schlep it around and set it up). You'll really have to find out for yourself how you're going to capture a given type of event or image. But with that said, I know there are plenty of people who'd simply like a good starting point.
I think that's fair. Except where weddings are concerned.
Many of the gear questions are about wedding photography. These usually come from aspiring photographers interested in breaking into this market, because they think that it might be a glamorous, exciting, and lucrative career choice. And it is, for some of the talented and dedicated professionals who are doing it right. But when the question is, "What equipment do I need to shoot weddings?," the answer is almost always not what someone wants to hear; "If you're asking that question, you shouldn't be thinking about shooting weddings yet."
Let me put it this way, if you're putting yourself out there as a professional, taking on the responsibility of documenting one of the most important life events for a couple and their two families, you should at the very least be a skilled portrait and event photographer already. That's what weddings primarily consist of, portraiture and event work. Being able to capture the location, details, and candids goes without saying. So, if you're already well practiced and competent at shooting the type of photography that you'll be doing on a wedding day, you should already know what equipment you'll need; the same equipment you use for your portrait and event work. What? You don't do portrait and event photography? Then you shouldn't be shooting weddings yet!
But if you'd like to put the cart before the horse, I'll give you a list of the very basics off the top of my head:
- At least two cameras. In fact, as many backup cameras and lenses as you can afford, and carry
- The best lenses you can afford and for my work, I've used: wide-to-normal zoom, a fast medium telephoto, and a 70-200mm.
- A good flash for each camera in use, including a good craft foam bounce card for each
- Portable strobe units with umbrella modifiers
- Plenty of recording media (you never want to run out of this)
- Plenty of power; batteries for your camera and flashes
There are tons of other things to consider when shooting weddings, only a few of which I'll note here:
- You need a shot plan/schedule. And even though it almost never works out the way you and the wedding coordinator/planner have set it up, you've at least got a game plan, and it needs to have built-in flexibility.
- You need to know how to arrange all of the bridal, couple, requested traditional, and formal group shots. There are plenty of good resources on-line and at the bookstore that can give you a step-by-step plan for each of the traditional shots.
- Don't miss a key moment. The ring exchange, the cake cutting, the father/daughter dance, etc. There are a slew of key moments both expected and unexpected that it will be your responsibility to document, and you'll have to do it beautifully.
- Have an organized workflow. A system that involves backing up all images, organizing them, doing edits, when and how you'll finish out images (retouching, etc.), how you'll present/sell them, fulfillment of prints, albums and other products to the bride and extended family.
So, when you've already got the chops and gear to do portraiture and event photography, and you're considering getting into wedding photography, the questions should really be about how to navigate the event, handle the people and the posing, and how to deliver the services and products to meet your customers' expectations (or as they say, exceed them). We haven't even discussed marketing, defining your brand, finding your niche, having a solid business plan, and all that good stuff.
Getting into wedding photography is about taking on an entire business workflow, where the basic product is the type of photography that you should already be well acquainted with; portraiture and event work. If you're ready to be a wedding photographer, then you already know what equipment you'll need.