Over the years of photographing weddings I’ve learned how to edit the amount of gear I take with me. In the beginning, I was unsure of what I’d come across so my car would be stuffed silly with all kinds of things that I never ended up touching. Here’s what has stood the test of time and why:
1) Roller Bag: Do your back, neck, and shoulders a favor and use a roller bag. Even a small amount of gear is heavy, particularly when you’re carrying it for 7-12 hours while running around a hotel, venue, and reception site. I use ThinkTank’s Airport Security bag but there are lots of bags out there that can suit this same purpose. If you have a well stocked camera shop near you, it’s worth going to check them out and see how they feel and if their customization options will work for you.
2) Two Bodies: I shoot Canon 5D Mkiii’s and I always have two bodies with me. You never know what might happen, from damage, to theft, to malfunction, so you always want a second body nearby. A third back in the car if you want to be super careful!
3) Telephoto: My 70-200 2.8 is crucial for ceremonies so that I’m not forced to be in front, blocking everyone’s view and being distracting. The 2.8 aperture is critical with low light, indoor ceremonies.
4) Wide Angle: My 16-35 2.8 is my favorite “go to” lens when I want to create an “epic” shot of the couple within the scene of the wedding venue. It’s also integral in my reception and dancing photos. When couples want table shots, often I’m in very close quarters with large groups. The 16-35 accommodates those situations with ease. With dance floor shots, I can easily hold the camera up above my head and use the wide angle lens distortion to get fun, action packed shots. And yes, the 2.8 aperture is also extremely helpful with low light.
5) 35mm prime & 85mm prime: You might be wondering why I have a 35mm prime (the Sigma Art lens for Canon) when I have the 16-35mm zoom and it’s because while the the two lenses both have that focal length, I get a different “look” out of both of them. Plus, the prime opens up even wider than the 2.8, so I can really play with those shallow depths of field, which is also why I love the 85 prime (Canon 1.8), plus the 85mm focal length is just perfect for bridal portraits as it produces a gorgeous bokeh with minimal distortion of facial features.
6) Flashes: I carry 2-4 Canon 580exii’s depending on my reception lighting situation. I use the flashes throughout the day if necessary during the ceremony or portraits, but come reception time they go up on light stands and become my off camera flashes. If I have a particularly large area, or multiple areas for the reception, I’ll use 4 flashes. Otherwise, I use two.
7) Off Camera Transceivers & Receivers: I carry two (one for each camera) Phottix Mitros + Transceivers and four Phottix Odin receivers. The Canon 580exii flashes go on the Phottix Odin receivers and the Phottix Mitros+ goes on camera like a normal flash and can control all the Canon 580exii flashes remotely. It’s the easiest and most foolproof off camera flash setup I’ve used. I used to avoid using off camera flash for receptions (or portraits) because of the tedious and inconsistent nature of some options out there. At a wedding, there’s no time to troubleshoot. So once I tried this solution, it worked for me instantly and I’ve been a fan ever since.
8) Light Stands: These go along with the off camera equipment. I have 12′ stands. The higher the stands, the more natural the light will look falling of the subject, plus the less you’ll see of the flash heads in your photos (if you don’t like that look). Just always remember to sandbag the stands and put them in areas where guests won’t easily trip over them!
9) Camera Harness: My days were made so much better by the addition of a camera harness. I use the Black Rapid double strap, but there are lots of solutions out there for over the shoulder as well as hip holsters. Play around with them at the store or a trade show to see what fits you best. All I can say is, like the roller bag, your neck, shoulders, and back will thank you.
10) Timeline/Shot List/Pen: I don’t do any wedding without a timeline. At my final meeting from clients we put together a timeline of events, where I need to be, nuggets of important info & names, as well as a list of the formal combinations the client would like. Their day is a blur to them. So many people are taking photos with them that it’s hard for them to remember what they’ve done with us and what’ they’ve done with someone else. Plus, it’s impossible for me to know who are cousins, or school friends, or whatever group of people they’d like a photo with. Having it written on a list so I can easily check it off is crucial. I’ve seen some folks do this on their smart phones, however, I find looking at a smart phone is easy for guests or clients to misinterpret as a lack of focus on their day, so I always have it on a paper instead (with a backup copy with my second shooter).
11) Memory Cards: Lots of them. And I keep them all in a ThinkTank Wallet, looped onto my camera harness so they’re always within reach. When I’m done shooting a card, I flip it upside down in the wallet so I know which ones I shot.
12) Snacks: The wedding industry caterers seem to think photographers are super humans who can photograph for 9 hours in 90+ degree weather and humidity, while carrying gear, while running to and fro, while super concentrating on what we’re doing, without water or food. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “we’ll feed vendors after all the guests have been fed” which, really means if dinner is served at 7:30, we’re not eating until 8:30 or 9 which is right when all the reception events are happening that I have to be photographing, so I have no time to eat. And this is after starting at 11 or 12. Do yourself a favor and bring granola & protein bars with you to help tide you over and stabilize your blood sugar! Conscious photographers are good photographers!
There you have it folks! My list of essential wedding day gear. While my list used to be much longer (and I occasionally add more for specific requirements of certain weddings), these are the items that I’m never without. I hope it gives you some ideas on things to add or how you can pair back to make your life super efficient, but still prepared, on wedding day.