What wedding photography gear and equipment do you need?
The very first video that I ever recorded for the Cole’s Classroom YouTube channel was “Our Must Have Wedding Photography Equipment” which oddly enough has still been our most viewed video yet. At the time that was our wedding photography kit that we loved to pieces and used at each and every wedding. Since then our Nikon wedding photography gear has grown as we’ve added lenses and gear that have enabled us to give our clients a more diverse set of wedding photos.
Today I am going to share with you our current set of gear that we use for weddings and also give you a detailed look into when we use each specific lens or piece of equipment throughout the wedding day giving you my “Ultimate Complete Wedding Photography Gear Guide”. In fact, to make this post as honest, unbiased and as transparent as possible I have specifically only included photos from the same wedding showing exactly which photos were taken with which lens.
At the bottom of the post is a section titled “Video Resources” – this is merely resources for you giving you more detailed and specific product reviews or tutorials related to our wedding photography gear.
When your done reading this detailed & lengthy guide, if you found it helpful, I’d really appreciate it if you’d “pin it”, “like” it, “share” it or simply leave me a comment at the bottom. These lengthy posts take a tremendous amount of time to put together. Thanks in advance! Here we go!
Our Wedding Photography Gear
See the photo below (taken with cell phone) for our current wedding photography kit. Items that aren’t shown that were packed away in checked luggage were: a LED video light, a Yongnuo YN 560 III speedlight flash, a collapsible nano light stand, and my favorite waist shooting bag, the Think Tank Lens Changer 3.
Quick note: for your convenience, links for all the products we use are included, some of these links are affiliate links to Amazon or Adorama, our favorite online retailers that we use for our own purchases. Any purchases you make from these links provide me with a small commission at no additional cost to you & help support me and allow me to continue to provide helpful free content like this post. Thank you in advance for your support.
When to Use What
Despite us having a complete wedding photography gear kit, we use only 3 lenses for about 75% of the entire wedding day and only use the flash gear for 2 segments of the day. Here is a detailed look at when we use each specific piece of gear.
Our power primes – It is no secret that we love shooting our prime lenses, to read why click here. These three lenses account for about 75% of the wedding day with the bulk of the events before the ceremony & portraits being captured with the 50 and the 85.
Nikon 28 1.8G: Primarily used for getting ready shots, group shots with bridal party and also family portraits, some wide shots during the ceremony and open dancing at the reception. When not working a wedding, I find this is a great go-to “walk-around” lens when traveling or casual shooting at parties and what not. Check out my full lens review of this lens here.
Don’t Leave Without Getting Your FREE Lightroom Presets Below!
Nikon 50 1.4G: The 50 is always on during portraits, getting ready shots and off and on during the ceremony. Taken from my Nikon wedding lenses article: “Our f/1.4 nifty-fifty stays on one of our cameras more than any other lens. Its super small and lightweight, allows for super shallow depth of field for portraits or details at 1.4 and is generally just a good focal range and value at $450. We find the 50 f/1.4 to be most helpful when doing getting ready photos if the room or location is a bit messy as the shallow depth of field allows us to naturally blur out the “messy” background. The 50 really shines for us during portraits of the bride and groom where we can get a tremendous amount of variety by simply moving or foot closer or further from our couple. The 50 stays on our camera until open dancing in which we prefer to shoot wider to get in closer to the action! Don’t think you “need” the f/1.4 version? Check out the f/1.8 version which is about ½ the price but certainly still an outstanding lens”
Nikon 85 1.8G: The 85 is used most during portraits but also used quite a bit during getting ready, ceremony, first dances and toasts during the reception. I love how lightweight this lens is and being a mid range telephoto I can give the couple plenty of room while getting portraits with gorgeous bokeh.
Nikon 105 f/2.8G VR Macro: Although this macro lens can double as an awesome portrait lens we only use the macro for close up detail shots. We use it to photograph the rings, other jewelry and even reception details on occasion. At the bottom of this post you will see my full review of this lens.
Zooms – As much as we love our lightweight and fast prime lenses, adding 2 zoom lenses to our wedding photography gear has really helped us get photos we couldn’t get before.
Nikon 16-35 f/4: This wide angle lens can either make you LOVE wide angles or hate them. To make it really shine you need to get up close to the action, otherwise it’ll simply flatten out your images and look boring and lifeless. For me, I have grown to love this lens for open dancing/party shots during the reception. The hard part is simply getting close enough to capture a cool shot without being “too close”. But when you get a keeper shot, it’s typically one that really captures the essence of the party. Other than that I only use this lens for a couple quick wide angles of the ceremony or the reception venue and if I need something wider than my 28 for a large group shot.
Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR II: This lens is a monster. It’s expensive, it’s huge, it’s heavy and it’s a pain to lug around all day (I am spoiled with small primes) but when you need it, you need it. When do we use it? During bride and groom 1st looks so we can give them plenty of room and privacy and throughout the entire wedding ceremony to get up-close candids of our couple and guests. Then it goes away! On occasion we’ll use it during reception toasts or 1st dances but I typically prefer the 85 and 50 for most of those shots.
Nikon D800: I love this camera. The images out of this camera shine with a resolution and color rendition that simply is leaps above anything else I’ve seen. The downfall? The RAW files are massive at 36 megapixels. Is 36 megapixels overkill for weddings? I’d say they certainly aren’t “needed” all the time, although every once in a while I come across a photo that benefits from more cropping than usual and the 36 megapixels is a true saving grace. I personally don’t shoot RAW the entire wedding. I use RAW for all the portraits and ANY TIME that I need the increased dynamic range (like an outdoor ceremony). But whenever I don’t need 36 MP RAW, like the reception using flash, I am shooting the medium JPEG setting which is plenty of resolution at 20 megapixels. Aside from the megapixel discussion with the D800, my favorite thing about the camera is its awesome low light auto-focus performance and it’s very accurate white balance and metering.
Nikon D700: The D700 is a workhorse. It’s faster (FPS) than the D800 which makes sense being it’s a 12 megapixel camera. The auto-focus and high ISO performance is great, but being that this camera is over 6 years old technology I’d prefer and recommend a newer camera model with an improved image processing sensor (like the D600 or D800). We will be upgrading this camera soon…
Nikon D7000: For a DX camera body, the Nikon D7000 is a great camera at a great price point. It lacks primarily in auto-focus precision and ISO performance compared to the D800 and D700. We ONLY bring this camera along to serve as a back-up in case one of our cameras break.
Flashes & Lighting Gear
For the most part we don’t use any flash throughout the wedding day except for family portraits and during the reception. We use the Nikon SB-700 flashes on camera mounted on a Phottix Stratos II radio transmitter to trigger an off camera flash in which we use the Yongnuo YN 560 III with a Phottix Stratos II receiver. We have our on-camera flashes set to TTL mode and our off camera flash is always set to manual mode. For more info on our camera and flash settings for off camera flash you can check out this tutorial.
Camera Bags, Straps & Other Miscellaneous Gear
Lowepro Pro Roller Lite 250 AW: I held off for a long time getting a roller bag to lug around at weddings primarily because I wanted to pack as light as possible and also I figured it would be harder to guard against potential theft. All those are still valid concerns, however, this rolling bag has been a necessity as our wedding photography gear has grown and also has helped out my back and physical fatigue. I specifically went with this bag because its dimensions are within TSA carry-on requirements which is a must have for our destination weddings that we fly to. As you can see above, we can fit a ton of gear in there given its size and it’s weatherproof with a lifetime warranty from Lowepro.
Undfind One Bag: This is one of our 2 waist “shooting” bags. My wife Nicole prefers this bag, while I prefer the lens changer 3 from Think Tank. This bag is more stylish and sleek than the Think Tank while my bag is easier to quickly change lenses. However, my favorite thing about the Undfind One Bag is its versatility to easily convert into a laptop carrying bag. This has come in handy every time that we travel for a wedding and lets us easily transport our laptop while keeping it safe and protected. See the video review below.
Think Tank Retrospective Lens Changer 3: As I eluded to above, my favorite thing about this bag is it easily forms around your waist so it doesn’t move and bounce around when working as much as the Undfind bag does and also its super easy to quickly get lenses in and out of the bag allowing me to change out lenses SUPER fast. It has ample storage space too for memory cards, batteries, your cell phone and business cards. This bag is a winner!
Black Rapid RS-7 Camera Strap: This camera strap simply gets the weight of a camera and lens off of your neck and distributes the weight evenly across your body. This is a huge deal when working weddings for 8-12 hours. Check out my full review down below in the video resources section to see if this strap is for you!
Sanyo Eneloop AA Batteries: Ever since using the rechargeable Sanyo Eneloop batteries in our speedlights our flash recycle time has been much improved allowing us to keep shooting rather than worry about missing a moment from a flash not firing.
Photo Post Processing & Workflow
Despite not being showcased or pictured above, I feel this article would be somewhat incomplete without at least mentioning a bit about what tools we use for our photo editing workflow and photo editing process. It’s actually super simple. We use Photo Mechanic for the image culling process (selecting the keepers vs the throwaways) and Lightroom for all the photo editing. Lightroom 5 has features that allow more refined local editing and really limits how much we have to go into Photoshop (which is just about never for our style). Our wedding post processing workflow has been refined and improved to the point where on average I have an entire wedding fully edited and complete in only 5 hours.
Here is a sample before and after from a photo completely edited in Lightroom.
You still with me? I commend you for making it this far! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts and insights, I sure hope that it was helpful to you. If it was, please hit the Facebook “like” button and leave me a comment or question down below!
Now you’ve seen my kit – what does your kit look like and what is YOUR favorite lens?
Here are some supplementary video/web resources to give you additional details and info about some of the gear I’ve mentioned above.
Video & Web Resources (Click on Title for Written Review)
Nikon 28 1.8G Lens Review
Nikon 105 f/2.8 Macro Review
Black Rapid RS-7 Camera Strap Review
Undfind One Bag Review
How to Use Your Speedlight Flash – TTL vs Manual