Essential Lenses for Beginners: Weddings

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That time of year approaches again, and although weddings may look a bit different this year than usual, you can bet that come springtime, couples across the country are going to be tying the knot. Due to the pandemic, many of the ceremonies and receptions may be smaller than they otherwise would be, but look on the bright side—this may be a good opportunity to try your hand at shooting your first wedding. If that sounds like a good idea to you, or if you’d been thinking about getting into shooting weddings to begin with, then keep reading, because I have some lens recommendations that I hope will point you in the right direction.

Before I get into it, I should mention that these choices represent general recommendations that are historically popular among wedding shooters, but certainly are not the only options available. Also, keep in mind that the recommendations below assume the use of a full-frame camera, and that using any of them with a crop sensor camera will give you a new equivalent focal length, and effectively change the field of view. This may affect your lens choices. If you have a crop sensor camera, check out this convenient equivalent focal length calculator to learn what any given full-frame lens would look like when used with your camera. If you want to learn more about the subject, check out this informative article about crop factor, which was written by one of my colleagues.

The 70-200mm

A must for any serious wedding photographer, and a general workhorse lens that belongs in just about every photographer's arsenal, is the 70-200mm. Allowing you to get up close and personal without disrupting the moment, the 70-200mm is a great choice for shooting ceremonies in chapels and outdoors and is sure to come in handy afterward at the reception, as well. Although the 70-200mm is generally large in size and on the heavy side, its ability to get close-ups from far away, combined with the flexibility that the telephoto zoom offers, makes it well worth its weight.

You’ll also want to make sure to go with a 70-200mm that opens up to a maximum aperture of f/2.8. When shooting a wedding, it’s common to find yourself having to deal with dimly lit scenes, so low-light performance is key. You’ll also certainly want the ability to achieve shallow depth of field for those beautifully blurred, bokeh-laden backgrounds, which of course are a must for those tight portraits that really make your newlyweds the center of attention

A few popular choices for mirrorless cameras are the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Lens, and the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens. Or, if you’re a DSLR user, check out the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens and the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens.

The Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens (left), the Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Lens (middle), and the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens (right)

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens (left) and the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens (right)

The 24-70mm

Because of its size, relatively far minimum focus distance, and longer focal length, the 70-200mm zoom is not ideal for shooting in smaller, more intimate spaces where you need to be closer to your subjects. This is where the 24-70mm becomes invaluable. Often the first lens purchase that an aspiring wedding photographer will make, the versatile 24-70mm can go wide enough to capture the entire wedding ceremony from the back of the chapel and can also get you in close enough for environmental portraits. It also has a shorter minimum focus distance than the 70-200mm, making it great for off-the-cuff, reportage-style shots during the ceremony, at the reception, and in-between.

Some popular options for mirrorless shooters include the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S Lens, and the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens. And for DSLR, check out the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens and the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Lens.

The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens (left), the Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S Lens (middle), and the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens (right)

The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens (left) and the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Lens (right)

Conclusion

While there are many focal lengths that would be useful at a wedding, a 70-200mm and a 24-70mm could get you through the entire event on their own. Once you start to build your tool kit of lenses, you eventually may want to add a solid 16-35mm zoom for wider shots, and maybe a sharp 85mm prime for a different look for portraits, but, to start off, you can’t go wrong with the recommendations above.

If you have any of your own recommendations, or questions, please feel free to leave them in the Comments section, below.

15 Comments

Great advice! I have the 70-200GM, but honestly 2 bodies with a Sigma 35 ƒ1.2 Art and Sigma 135 ƒ1.8, with the Sigma 85mm ƒ1.4 Art on my waist is hard to beat. Those are super sharp and have wonderful bokeh. 😍. After shooting primes, it’s hard for me to put the zoom back on. 

Thanks for your comment Dustin!

I don't do weddings (if I can help it!), but I have both (Sony) focal length zooms you suggest and both are top performers.

If I were to add a prime to the list it would be the 100 STF.  Nothing else compares.

Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading Richard!

I'd look at having a f/1.8 or f/1.4 prime as well, in case the light is real low and flash isn't suitable or desirable

Don P. wrote:

I'd look at having a f/1.8 or f/1.4 prime as well, in case the light is real low and flash isn't suitable or desirable

Great suggestion Don!

You may want to consider, instead of an 85mm lens for portrait, something like the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens.

It takes great portraits and can be used for close up shots of the rings, flowers, cake  etc. since it is a Macro lens.

Great suggestion! Thanks for reading!

Excellent suggestion George

George G. wrote:

You may want to consider, instead of an 85mm lens for portrait, something like the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens.

It takes great portraits and can be used for close up shots of the rings, flowers, cake, etc. since it is a Macro lens.

The Article that you did, is really important to me!!! I will going to love by doing Wedding Photography like I just did Wedding Anniversary Photography in which I just did in Black and White Film as well as in Color Film for The Gilbert's and the other one The Nelson's, indeed!!!

Stay Blessed!!!

Great to hear, James! Thanks for reading!

This article was very informative.

Thank you for reading Mike!

Thanks for the list. Beginners really need to buy those lenses.

I agree, Elise! Thanks for reading!

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