Being a wedding photographer carries a huge responsibility. You are the person responsible for capturing all the precious, priceless memories of a couple's biggest day. All those details that are meticulously planned, all the friends and family attending as guests, the emotional moments shared between the bride and groom, the tear slowly falling down the cheek of the father of the bride. These are the photos that will be cherished forever. And all of this responsibility comes down to you. You have one take and that is it.
Sounds like a lot of pressure, doesn't it? It is, and being a professional means taking it seriously and being properly equipped. I use only the best lenses that produce sharp, consistent results. These lenses cost several hundred to thousands of dollars each, but using anything less would be an unfair compromise. Below are the lenses that I use at every wedding and highly recommend for anyone shooting weddings professionally. (Note that I am currently a Nikon user, but formerly used Canon gear for ten years).
Taken with Canon's 70-200. I love the depth of field, allowing me to isolate and focus on the best man giving the toast while maintaing an outline of the bride and groom.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II
This is my absolute favorite and most used lens during weddings. The sharpness is superb, second-to-none when compared with other lenses of this focal range (I can say the same thing for Canon's version of this lens - superb). The focal range allows me to keep some distance between me and the subject, making my presence less intrusive to help with natural emotional responses. At the longer end (150-200mm) I can get great compression in photos to help isolate my subjects from the background. At the longer end and a wide f/2.8 aperture I can also create a beautiful background blur (also known as "bokeh"). At 70mm I can frame small group photos. The VR part of this lens stands for Vibration Reduction, which helps keep my photos sharp when I need slower shutter speeds, such as dark receptions.
If I could only recommend one lens for wedding photographers, this one would easily be it. I use this in close to 90 percent of my photos.
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(price as of Aug 14, 2015)
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
This is one lens that makes me miss my old Canon gear. Canon's version is an f/1.2, which was capable of creating spectacular background blur and still maintain sharpness. Despite missing the Canon version, I still love Nikon's. I use this lens for portraits when I want to isolate the subject from the background. It also allows for a creative focus by providing a very narrow depth of field.
The 85mm with a wide open aperture allows me to get a narrow focus and blur out the rest.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
Only recently have I strayed away from the big name lenses (Nikon and Canon) and purchased from third parties. Sigma somehow came out of no where and began making very high quality, sharp and well built lenses. The Art series is where it began, and many wedding photographers are looking at them as another option.
The 35mm focal range provides a great wide angle of view to capture your subject in the context of the environment. It is also a classic focal range, along with the 50mm. At f/1.4 I can let more light through the lens to photograph in dark environments, such as wedding receptions. For some photographers a 35mm lens could be welded to their camera and they would never notice.
At 35mm I can frame the couple in the context of their environment - in this case they are in a golden field with the moon off in the distance. The f/1.4 aperture allowed me to obtain more light through the lens to get some of the colors in the sky.
Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 VC
Again, this another new third party lens I recently added to my toolkit. This ultra wide angle lens might be one of the most underrated. The focal range is very wide at 15mm, providing a great creative perspective for weddings. At 30mm the lens acts a bit more traditional, close to the common 35mm. At f/2.8 this lens is a stop faster (or lets in one more stop of light) than its popular competitors - such as the Canon 17-40 f/4. Add in one extra feature - Vibration Control (VC). This allows the photographer to shoot at slower shutter speeds and still maintain sharpness. It is the equivalent to Canon's IS and Nikon's VR. So far I have had luck shooting as slow as one-half of a second at 15mm. Best of all, this lens is much cheaper than the Nikon and Canon lenses that are similar, but performs equally well or better.
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(price as of Aug 14, 2015)
Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR
This is a lens that I only recently considered after reading a review from another photographer. Turns out, this a great general use lens that can be used as a wide angle (24mm is a fun focal length or wide angle shots) or to the longer 120mm end. The VR allows to shoot in darker environments at lower shutter speeds. Despite f/4 being the widest aperture, I have been very pleased with this lens to have on one of my cameras during the wedding day. I can grab it and shoot just about anything - wide or zoomed. It works great for that moment when I need to react and shoot quickly, without the time to change lenses.
Make the Right Investment
I know there are photographers that will disagree with my recommended lenses. Some despise zoom lenses and only use primes. Some believe that it is not the lens, but the skill of the photographer that matters. Whatever you believe is needed, be deliberate in choosing your lenses. Remember the responsibility you carry when photographing a wedding, the expectation to capture all the memorable details and precious moments. Invest in whatever equipment you will need to ensure you can fulfill your obligation. And always make sure you are adequately equipped with backup equipment.