Courtney receives a lot of questions about what is the best lens for wedding photography, so I decided this would be a good topic to write on this month. I think lens choice can be a personal thing, but I’ll do my best to share what I have experienced along the way. Not interested in wedding photography lenses? Be sure to check out our Everything You Need to Know About Camera Lenses Series.
The Absolute Best Lens…is it really?
When I first started shooting weddings I heard that the 70-200mm 2.8 is THE ABSOLUTE BEST when it comes to wedding photography lenses. One website I read even called it the “ultimate wedding lens.” I HAD to have it. I saved & saved, then was so excited to use it at my next wedding. I liked it for sure & it had it’s moments where it played a big role in allowing me to capture something special from far away (ex: the final I Do & kiss while standing from the back of a large church).
But surprisingly what I found was that it wasn’t necessarily my favorite weddings lens or even my most used wedding lens after all. What I found was that there is a time & a place for it where it is very helpful, but that I still gravitated toward my other lenses when I had the appropriate opportunity.
I like prime lenses & feel that in low light, the 70-200mm sometimes just isn’t fast enough. Plus, I worry about camera shake because it’s so heavy. It has an incredible ability to separate the subject from the background when zoomed in & really allows the subject to pop. It is very helpful when you can’t stand as close as you’d like, so although it might not be my favorite, I know that I wouldn’t want to be without it. If you only shoot a few weddings a year & don’t want to invest in the 70-200mm, consider renting it. Renting lenses is actually pretty reasonable!
What is the best lens for wedding photography?
The answer I’ll give is just an opinion based on my experience, but here’s what I have found: each wedding is different & unique! They all have their own special scenarios that will make lens choice vary. There are many factors that will play a part in what your best choice will be.
The bottom line is that you can never have TOO many lenses when shooting a wedding. I carry two bodies (the D700 & D3S) so I can have two lenses going at all times & use a wide variety of lenses through out the course of the event. Let’s talk about some of the things you want to take into account when choosing your lenses.
How to choose your lenses for wedding photography
1. The spaces you are working with will play a huge part in your lens choice.
For instance, while the bride & bridesmaids are getting ready the 35mm would be a fun focal length, but if you have enough room to back-up the 50mm might be a better choice on a full frame camera so you don’t have any lens distortion. The 24-70mm would also be a good choice in this scenario if you would like the flexibility of being able to zoom in & out.
2. What is your second shooter shooting with?
I always shoot with something different than my second shooter. They can capture things differently from a unique angle & perspectives. Talk about it with your second & decide who will shoot with what & when.
3. What kind of available light are you working with?
If you’re in low light, choose a fast lens (lower aperture number)
4. If the wedding takes place in a church, the church’s rules will guide what your lens choices are.
Some churches require you to stay no closer than the last row of guests (obviously in that scenario, a long lens is best). Some churches are more liberal in letting you move around & allow you to come in closer. Outdoor weddings have less rules & are especially fun for that reason!
Now that we’ve discussed that there are many factors that come into play when choosing your lens, I will give you a quick run down of a typical wedding for me. Like I mentioned, I do use two bodies & switch lenses out quite frequently.
Lens Choice for a Typical Wedding
1. The ceremony
I will use the 70-200mm with either the 50mm or 24-70mm (and my second will use something different than what I’m using). If the venue is extra dark, I might switch to my 50mm or 35mm so I can shoot more open.
I almost always try to get at least one wide angle fish eye shot from the back as well using my 16mm 2.8 fisheye lens (or I can use it for novelty shots).
During portraits, if I have room I’ll use the 85mm. If I’m in tighter quarters I’ll use the 24-70mm or the 50mm.
3. The reception
50mm for inside portraits (or 24-70mm in tight spaces).
However, during the first dance I will choose the 24-70mm or 50mm.
35mm for candid, fun, in-the-moment shots.
4. The details
105mm macro for close ups if details, rings, etc.
35mm for tables, etc.
5. Shots of bride/groom getting ready with bridesmaids & groomsmen, it will depend on the size of the space, amount of people, available light.
I have used a mix of the 50mm, the 35mm, & the 24-70mm for these shots.
In conclusion, I think all of the lenses listed above are helpful & have their place. I am a sucker for prime lenses…I love the speed, the clarity & the fact that they aren’t as big & clunky. With that being said, I rely heavily on my 24-70mm & 70-200mm to get me through weddings & wouldn’t want to be without them. I like the 24-70mm at the 24mm focal length & I like the 70-200mm at the 200mm focal length best.
Be resourceful & use what you have if you think your current lenses will have you covered or rent!