Whether you’re a curious client, just launching your photography business, or have been at it a while, you may find yourself feeling curious about what others consider essential equipment to do their job to the best of their ability. I wanted to give you a little peek into my bag(s) to get a feel for what we use and how we use them.
Firstly keep in mind that there’s no ‘right’ way to shoot a wedding, so you should take everything I say with a grain of salt. Except for the backing-up parts: those are totally vital. Everyone has different approaches that work for them, and there are no wrong answers here, just good things to consider. If I come across as a gearhead, I want to clarify that I’m more of a doomsday prepper for what’s the worst that could happen. I just like to be over-prepared for every scenario.
While I personally shoot Canon digitally, I truly don’t think brand preferences are too big of a deal. Every brand these days offers pros and cons, and varying specialties that may serve you best for the things you consider priorities. Whatever you’re shooting with, as far as I’m concerned, your number one priority should be backups in all the ways you can supply them. One of my first solo weddings about a zillion years ago was a destination wedding. I brought very few lenses and then managed to break my only long lens right when we were about to begin shooting portraits on a sheep farm far from the reception. I had no long backup… the rest of the day was shot on a 35. I made it work, but how wonderful would it have been if I could have just pulled the next longest size out of my bag and keep shooting? Lesson learned!
- Camera Bodies: Canon R6s and 5D Mark IVs
I shoot with double-cameras (on each shoulder, essentially), which means I always have two full-frame dual-slot camera bodies in action at any given time, plus at least one backup body (but generally two for good measure). Do not sell yourself short on protecting the images and your ability to handle a bad situation. If you don’t have a backup body, you’re not ready to shoot a wedding. At the very least, rent one. I upgraded to two new Canon R6 bodies in 2021, which can do some modern and amazing stuff. The image stabilization and focus tracking are bonkers great. My other associates shoot on a combo of R6s as well as 5D Mark IVs which are excellent workhorses. I still use 5D Mark IIIs as my backup bodies, and they’re still hella reliable.
Full-frame should go without saying for anyone doing professional work. Dual slot, to me, is also essential as far as I’m concerned, because backing up your work as you’re shooting it is pretty much a no-brainer. Some photographers treat the second slot as an overflow slot. That’s where horror stories about file losses happen. Get a dual-slot body, and use that second slot to write to. I shoot full RAW, so I write RAWs to both slots. That way even in an unlikely worst-case scenario, it’s smooth sailing.
- Lenses: Broad Focal Range of Pro-level L-Series
Every event has me carrying a minimum of five of the following Canon L-series lenses (often all) covering a range from wide to long: 16-35mm F2.8, 35mm F1.4, 45 tilt shift, 50mm F1.4, 85mm F1.2, 100mm macro F2.8, 135mm F2.0. I cover all my focal-length bases, basically! I occasionally will rent a 70-200 2.8 for weddings that call for a really long zoom (often larger events or events in long and limited-access churches), but it’s rarely necessary. I usually find it’s easier to just hire a second shooter that has one, so that as a team we have that range covered. Though the new RF 70-200 is super duper tempting and probably next on my list!
80% of the time I’m shooting with a 35/85 combo on each of my cameras, and that covers most of my needs. My approach involves relatively close proximity and engagement with guests, and being in the heart of the action, so in being so interactive, that’s what makes the most sense for me. Everything else is for specific circumstances, such as a 135 during ceremonies and some speeches, a macro for jewelry and tiny details, the 16-35 for crowded dance floors and small spaces, etc.
- Flashes: Godox V1Cs / AD200s / TT600s
At every event, we’re armed with at least two Godox flashes, I generally have two V1Cs on-camera, and two TT600s or AD200s off-camera on stands, though we may not always use them all. These all have built-in triggers, but if you’re using older flashes without built-in triggers, you may need to add transmitters to your kit so you can start experimenting with off-camera flash. We know many newer photographers are a bit uncomfortable with artificial lighting, but we can assure you that it’s transformative to be able to handle absolutely any crummy or complex lighting situation that’s thrown our way.
We also carry a handful of other convenient lighting-related items for certain scenarios, such as a continuous dimmable LED videolight and flash modifiers (I use MagMods) that help us direct and control the light we create. While we never want to make our clients feel like we’re doing a big setup of an artificial production (since we’re all about them feeling natural and not performative), we are usually pretty stealthy in where we’ll locate our stands to position light somewhere it’s needed. I’m partial to by a DJ’s speakers or in the corner of a room.
- Miscellaneous Essentials
So, most people only think of gear as the major technical (and expensive) equipment, but some of the most important stuff in our bag is the smallest or cheapest. Here are some essentials in our bag, worth considering:
- Double camera strap and a backup double strap. Like I said, have backups of everything essential to doing your job! I use Op/Tech straps. They’re not as hipster-looking as the leather and metal alternatives out there but they’re WAY more comfortable, significantly cheaper, AND they also have a muuuuch more secure connection point for your camera bodies: at the actual strap location. Keeps your camera hanging at a much more natural angle for your wrist.
- Memory cards and a card wallet to keep all backups or filled cards in. I use 64gb cards that read at 170mb/second (I’m a fan of SanDisk SD cards), so I almost never have to swap them out through the day (except for longer events such as a 12-hour day), and I am secure doing this because I have dual slots. I always have many more cards than I would ever need—you just ever know. I store them in a Mindshift House of Cards wallet. Note that once the cards are full and back in the wallet, I carry it in a zippered pocket on my person until I’m back in the studio uploading. Safety first!
- Tons of rechargeable batteries (both for cameras and flashes). I carry six spare LP-E6NH camera batteries in addition to the two in my bodies. I usually need to swap camera batteries one or twice throughout an 8-9 hours wedding. For my flashes, I use the Godox batteries that are designed for the V1Cs (one charge will last multiple weddings) and eneloops in the TT600s.
- Lens cloths, a reflector/scrim, and fun items like prisms to do creative stuff with when the opportunity presents itself.
- In-case-ofs: rain protection gear, dress/suit hanger, lint rollers, fashion tape, sewing kit, spare pins. I’ve saved the day more than once with these.
- Printed timelines, worksheets, layout plans, etc. While this is all on my phone to keep handy, I use the printouts as backups and easier to review together with my second shooters, plus I like physically checking off family formal groups and being able to hand off the list to a family member if I need to lean on them to track people down (I actually print a spare to hand to family wranglers). I don’t like to rely on tech even though I do find my Apple watch helpful in this context, since you can lay out a timeline on it, and have it haptic buzz you to keep you tuned into your timing without looking at it. All that said, you never know, phones die, batteries run out. So the paper printouts are yet another backup.
- Hydration, towels (these are great for if a couple wants to sit on a bench but it worries it’s not clean enough, but also just helpful if it’s a hot day and the couple needs to wipe off any sweat), sunscreen, wallet, phone.
- Spare outfit change and spare shoes. I’ve seen and experienced the unexpected, you never know what weird shit may befall you, or that your clothing may get compromised. People run into drinks being spilled on them by inebriated guests, menstrual issues, or split pants more than you’d expect. I’ve even seen shoes break. You don’t have time to drive to a shop in the middle of a wedding event. Backups matter, including clothing items. Am I sounding like a broken record? BACK. UPS. BACKUPS!
- Bags: I use a rolly suitcase for the bulk of my gear (I primarily use the ThinkTank Airport Advantage because it’s super slim and fits under airport seats in a pinch), a stands bag, and a main lens/general bag (Peak Design Messenger or Everyday 20L Backpack) that I carry on my shoulders throughout much of the day. I also recently got a Peak Design Everyday Sling (aka fanny pack) lens bag in case I can safely stash the larger bag somewhere and then be a little more streamlined and stealthy with the smaller one that holds one large or two small lenses. Bag-carrying takes a physical toll, so this is something I hope to lean into more and give my back a break.
I get it—getting started in this business is never just a snap. Building out your arsenal of gear isn’t going to happen overnight, and there’s a lot that you will learn as you go. For those interested in breaking into this market, be warned it’s a rather saturated one. But if you bring something new and different to the table, if you’re passionate about this kind of work, and above all, if you understand that when running a business, the creative part you love is going to be at best only 50% of the actual whole job (and more likely 30%)… well, then this may be the right endeavor for you. So here are some other tips for you as you get started:
- GAIN EXPERIENCE AS A THIRD-SHOOTER. Many people I’ve worked with just didn’t have the experience, knowledge, skills, or gear, to be able to serve as a second shooter right at the start of their career. It’s a complicated role, and to be able to rely on my seconds and send them off to take care of important things without my help, they really do need a certain amount of experience, training, equipment, and skills. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get those. Get in touch with a photographer you admire, and offer your services as an assistant/bag carrier, or third-shooter. Think of it more like an internship opportunity to get experience and build out your skills. You’ll certainly learn a ton. I’ve graduated assistants to thirds, thirds to seconds, and seconds to lead associates! And if I’ve trained them from the ground up, I can vouch for their reliability to other photographers as well.
- BACK EVERYTHING UP. You don’t have to be a gearhead like me, but be sure that anything that’s essential to you doing your job has a backup option that’s either a duplicate or similar enough to the primary item to work. As I mentioned earlier dual-slot cameras to me are an absolute non-negotiable for securing your photos in-camera as you’re shooting them. So be sure you set your settings to write to both cards at once. I write RAWs to both though some photographers prefer to write JPGs as the backup since that’s faster and saves space. But since I’m a worst-case scenario prepper, I want to know that if a bad thing happened, I have full raws to work from if a card fails. In over twelve years shooting weddings I have only had a card fail twice, and had a second shooter have one fail once. But that was enough, believe me. Don’t forget that backups go beyond cameras—this includes back home in your office, on your computer. The images you’re holding at the end of the night are SO much more valuable than any of your gear. Use a time machine drive, a separate external drive or home server to back up to, and an offsite storage system or online cloud storage of some kind. And leave the images untouched on those cards until you deliver the client their files. Seriously, cards are cheap. Buy lots of them, and have a safe storage system for full cards.
- CARRY SPENT CARDS ON YOUR PERSON. Life happens and you just never know… cars get broken into, things get stolen or dropped in water… when you are finished this one-day-only wedding event and are holding those immensely precious memory cards, leave one card in your camera(s) and move one card to your card wallet and keep it on your person. Hook it to a belt, keep in a zippered pocket… just keep it somewhere secure and on you even if you’re only popping out of your car briefly to grab a soda at the gas station. You now hold your couple’s most valuable item in your hands so treat it as such.
- BUY A MULTICARD READER. Especially if you shoot dual-cameras. Backing up all my cards and my second’s cards after a wedding day is a zillion times easier and faster when I can load all three or four cards in at once. I don’t know why they’re so rare/unheard of. But I have a Lexar four-bay hub for CFs, and a ProGrade Dual-slot Reader for SDs. Being able to set it and forget it to upload several full cards from a wedding at once, while I do something else entirely, has been a huge timesaver. This isn’t a must-have, but it sure is a convenient-to-have.
- DRESS RESPECTFULLY. When it comes to the array of wedding vendors we work with, I see egregious casual wear most often with less-experienced videographers, but many vendors are guilty of jeans and t-shirts. It honestly reflects back on us photographers as people confuse often confuse us with video teams. So frustrating! Dressing appropriately for a wedding event lets your clients know you respect the significance of the event, and that your comfort or aesthetic is not more important than respect for their vision, their families, and their months (and sometimes years) of hard work on this event. Your clients are paying you good money to capture their most special day. Dress like your outfit will be reviewed on Yelp or Google, ‘cause guess what? Dress poorly enough and it might just be.
- TAKE YOUR SWEET TIME BUILDING YOUR GEAR ARSENAL. You don’t need to be a gearhead to do a great job. Start small and grow slowly and intentionally. I’ve been at this for over a decade and my gear was acquired steadily in that time. Slowly upgrading from a lower-end lens to a medium to a higher one, or adding an always-wanted to my collection, or selling an underused lens to go for something that turns out to be a better fit—this is the stable route to having a kit that works best for you. I have absolutely shot weddings with just three lenses. You do not have to be a gearhead to be a good photographer. But it sure makes my life easier when a circumstance comes up when I need an ultra-wide lens, or a macro for rings, or what have you. Best practice is to make a priority-ordered list of essentials to do your job excellently, and then make a plan to slowly acquire items as they are needed (and as your profit allows). If you’re unsure about what you need or undecided between two options, renting lenses is a fantastic way to try before you buy. A good rule of thumb on the lens front, ensure you’re covering wide (24-35mm territory), mid-range (50-85mm territory), and long (at least 100, but ideally 135-200mm). Some zooms can cover a lot of this. Personally, I use zooms sparingly since I shoot dual-cameras and I love me a top-of-the-line prime, but whatever works best for you is the right answer.