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!
What is your favorite lens for wedding photography?
thank you! this was very helpful! I want to start doing weddings in 2014. What external flash(es) do you recommend? I have used a nikon sb-800 before but not sure what the best is for distance during a reception?
thats what i have too :)
Awesome advice! Thanks for sharing KG!
This was very helpful! Thank you for sharing.
Very helpful advice. I do love my 70-200 for portraits and ceremonies and I also love my 50 1.4 . I am currently saving for the 24-70mm.
Great Advice!!! Love me some off camera flash. Keep up the great work!!!
Thank you so much for this post! It was incredibly helpful! Out of curiosity, what mode or modes do you shoot in during the wedding (manual, AV, etc.) and when? Thanks again!
Thanks for the help and advice -just in the process of setting up my business and found your tips very informative. Best wishes!
Very valuable post indeed Kelly, you are a very talented photographer! Keep up the great work :).
omg thank you so much! made my day :)
Thanks for a lovely article .
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It looks like a lot of the links on the page to specific lenses are no longer valid. Can you update?
i will try to get to this when i can…promise! sorry for the inconvenience.
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I love your advice! Especially the notes on appropriate lenses.
How are you able to switch lenses quickly enough to keep up with the fast paced hustle and bustle of wedding preparations? Or is that not a very accurate description for weddings in general? (I’ve never shot wedding photos, I’m just curious).
Thanks for your patience, it’s always good to prepare and learn ahead of time in case an opportunity pops up!
hi! i carry two bodies so i have two different lenses ready to go at any given moment! switching gets quicker as you shoot more and more weddings though…only takes a few seconds really. thanks for reading!
Hello everybody, What nikkor Lenses no need flash in the dark?
there’s really no lens that needs no flash in the dark no matter how fast of a lens it is…sorry :/
I’m just curious but have any of these photo’s been edited?
I shoot with a Nikon D5100 and I can’t seem to achieve a finished unedited photo such as these.
I love how bright and clear the photo’s are.
When shooting in natural light sometimes I need to increase my ISO to 250 and make other adjustments but I can’t seem to get pictures like this…
Thank you for this post, I’m doing my first wedding next Friday so I’m researching, researching and researching… this was very helpful.
I’m wondering though, I have a 35mm and a 50mm lens and actually use the 35mm almost all the time, what benefits would I get by using the 50mm aside from distance?
If you have any other tips, I’m all ears.
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Okay, I’m confused. Why would you want a fast lens in low light? Shouldn’t it be slower to capture more light? Lenses confuse me!
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I really love my 105mm for ring shots. It’s the best!
its just awesome photos there!
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Great tips for wedding photography shooters. I use primarily Canon 24-70 f2.8 l II + 70-200 f2.8 L II IS and I want to buy a new lens – Canon 16-35 f2.8 L II for wide angle shots – what do you thing about the last one?
Great post!!! I want to purchase my 2nd lens – I have the 50mm 1.8 now. Which would you recommend for events/weddings – the 24-70 2.8 or the 70-200 2.8. On limited funds I want to get the most versatile lens.
all picture and the description so awesome , i will try your sett up in my camera
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Great tips for wedding photography shooters.
Thanks for a lovely article!