The Wedding Photographer’s Gear Guide: 2018 Edition with Michael Anthony
Photographers are well known for investing money in their toys. In fact, I would be willing to bet that many of us got started on this career path after realizing the cost of their new toys, and that we needed to charge people for pictures in order to just afford them. I am no exception to that. I love cameras, lights and new technology. We have so many options to choose from, but many that we crave are unnecessary.
I have allocated more money toward my marketing and less toward my gear after realizing what matters most to our wedding business. But let’s say you are just starting out. How do you choose the best tools to purchase? In this article, I break down my recommendations. I go a bit deeper than just camera and lens selections. When we compare brands, keep in mind most of my recommendations are subjective. Whether you use Canon, Nikon or Sony is not a concern. You just need to use one that works best for you. There are many other brands that I have not had experience with that may be a great fit for you, but this guide should give you a good idea of some of the things I think you should have in your wedding kit.
Items with an asterisk are recommended but optional.
Primary Cameras (Action): Sony A7III/A9, Canon 5D Mark IV/1DX II, Nikon D810/D850
Needs: Your primary camera needs to be focused on capturing moments. These recommendations excel in both autofocus and low light. They have full-frame sensors, excellent battery life, dual card slots and a buffer that can capture a significant number of images in a short period of time. This is your primary tool, so invest significantly in it. Just keep in mind that technology improves over time, and cameras have a working life of four to five years for most wedding photographers.
Uses: This camera will be used to capture the majority of the day: ceremony, reception, first look and any other time of the day where you will need to capture fast-moving action, often in low light.
Secondary Cameras (Portrait): Sony A7RIII, Canon 5D Mark IV/5DS, Nikon D850/D810
Needs: Your secondary camera may be different from your backup camera, but I recommend a camera that can shoot in high resolution. This is particularly useful if your business model includes selling prints. If you are printing your images, having a camera that can excel in high resolution and dynamic range is a great option for adding high-quality imagery to your client’s final product. For a backup camera, consider the APS-C or Micro 4/3 systems.
Uses: You will employ this camera when you are shooting portraits or when your primary camera fails. Stick to the same camera brand as your primary camera so you’re using the same glass and keeping your kit as small as possible. If you travel a lot, consider the smaller MFT or APS-C systems.
Invest in the best glass you can afford. It will stay with you from body to body, and makes a huge impact on your final image quality. Good glass retains its focusing ability and image quality over time. I recommend the Sigma Art line, which costs a bit less than native glass but performs well and even outperforms native glass in some areas.
Ultrawide Zoom: A 16–35 or wider is a great option for dance floor images, large groups and dramatic portraiture.
- 24–70: If you were to shoot a wedding with only a single lens, this is the lens you would want. It can be used in a variety of circumstances.
- 70–200: This lens is incredibly versatile for wedding photography, especially when you need extra reach, like in a church. It is useful for portraits because it allows you get close, midrange and semi-wide, allowing for many different proofs in a single shooting set.
- 50mm prime: This glass is a must-have because we always need fast glass, and if you had to choose one focal length, this one gives you the most versatility.
- Macro lens: Although there are ways to shoot macro with minimal gear, such as turning your 50mm upside down, for good detail images, a macro lens is a necessity. Because it’s not used often on a wedding day, a less-expensive option is not a bad idea for this category.
- 85 Prime*: This lens is a great choice for portraits, pushing creativity, great perspective and subject isolation.
- 35 Prime*: Like the 85, this offers great perspective and subject isolation, at a wider view. I love shooting with this lens. Along with the 85, it’s one of my favorites.
Lights are where things get interesting. Unlike competitively priced cameras with similar offerings, lights can range dramatically in price. Your brand loyalty will depend on what you find important. Remember, getting into brand superiority is like the Apple versus PC debate: As long as it gets the job done, you can work with anything.
For me, it’s a no-brainer: Profoto has been reliable since day one. And while other brands are becoming increasingly more competitive with their product offerings, as a Sony shooter, I have experienced triggering reliability issues that are frustrating at the very least and devastating during important moments. The new offerings from Flashpoint are good options for those starting their gear kit, or for experienced hobbyists who do not need perfect reliability every time they press the shutter if it comes at a much higher price.
Large Monolights: Profoto B1x, Flashpoint Xplor 600 Pro
These lights are used to overpower the sun in bright conditions. I recommend either of them depending on what you are looking for. At 6.6 pounds with the battery installed, the B1x is much lighter than the AD600 Pro, which comes in at 7.11 pounds (Godox advertises the weight of this light without the battery or bulb). The Godox produces about two-thirds of a stop more light. For reliability, Profoto is time tested, and for me, never misses a beat. When moments count, reliability is the largest differentiator in price.
Build quality on both of these lights is very good, although at $1,200 more expensive, the B1x definitely has the edge here, but Godox has continued to produce new products to compete with Profoto and other manufacturers. This is one of their latest offerings, and a darn good one (although it is currently selling at double the price of the previous iteration of this light). These are primarily used as a keylight to overpower the sun in bright conditions or with large modifiers. I take a single B1x to every wedding.
Medium Monolights*: Profoto B2, Flashpoint eVolve 200, Flashpoint Xplor 400 (untested)
These lights are great travel options and are used the same way as the larger lights above. If you have a heavy kit, these offer great ways to lighten the load a bit. I have never had my hands on the new AD400, but it looks to be very similar to the AD600 Pro that has been out for a few months.
The AD200 is a very popular light because it is not much larger than a speedlight, but puts out a lot of power. These are great for travel, but they are very fragile, so be careful if you put them on a high stand.
Speedlights: Profoto A1, Flashpoint Zoom Li-Ion R2
You’ll use these lights most often on a wedding day, and it’s essential that they are easy to use. I don’t recommend brand speedlights anymore because for whatever reason, camera brands have not embraced lithium batteries, nor have they opted to make larger lights.
The A1 is the easiest light I have ever put my hands on. It comes at a high price point, but the quality of it justifies it for the photographer who wants the best quality. The light features a round head, which many critics say does nothing for the light quality. It’s been shown through tests that the round head creates a more gradual light fall-off on the edges and more even distribution throughout a scene. The A1 has a built-in modifier set that is proprietary to the light, allowing you to pack less gear.
Check out the MagMod system for modifications to these lights. MagMod is an innovative company that’s always creating new products like their MagBeam and new MagBox.
Memory Cards: Hoodman Steel Series, SanDisk Extreme Series
Quality memory cards are often overlooked, and I can’t understand why we don’t place more emphasis on the importance of these crucial items. The last thing you want is card failure, so it’s imperative that you purchase the highest-quality memory cards you can afford. We shoot with 128GB cards because a card is much harder to lose in your camera than in a memory cardholder or your pocket.
Light Stands: Manfrotto 1052-BAC or Kupo Click Stands
I love these options mainly because they combine sturdy quality with portability. They can be clicked together and attached to a strap for ease of use. Take a look at the Manfrotto Snap Heads for a great way to mount your speedlights to your light stands.
Camera Bags: Think Tank Airport Security V2.0 or V3.0 (we use the V2.0), Sal Cincotta’s Bug Out Bag or Vanguard Camera Backpack
You may be thinking: Who cares what bag I use? It won’t affect your photography, but it’s important to have a bag that’s durable enough to stand the test of time and allows quick and easy access to your gear. I recommend a combo of a rolling bag along with a messenger bag for times when you need quick access. We use the backpack when traveling.
Reflectors: Profoto Handheld Reflectors
This is an easy one. Profoto puts solid grips on its reflectors that allow them to be bent and controlled easily. Your assistant will thank you. We use the silver/white combo reflector.
Modifiers: Profoto 24-inch OCF softbox or Westcott Rapid Box
You want to have at least one soft light modifier with you. I prefer softboxes because they allow you to make the most efficient use of your lighting in an outdoor environment. If you are shooting in lower light where it is not windy, an umbrella can do the same thing as well.
So there you have it: everything you need for a solid wedding photography kit. Check out the video that goes along with this article to see what we carry in our camera bag.