Documentary Wedding Photography – the gear that I use
This will probably only be of interest to other photographers interested in the kind of gear needed to photograph a wedding in the always sunny UK..but it might interest a few of my wedding clients as well, who knows! I’ll start with the cameras, my main camera is a Sony A9. Please note this gear set was put together for documentary wedding photography, so the whole point is to be unobtrusive and for the couples to not really notice me being there. For that reason, the main camera I use is this one….
This camera, in my opinion, is the best wedding camera in the world at the moment. It is completely silent, has amazing low light performance and best in class autofocus. It also has a very deep buffer. I’ve used other cameras where I’ve filled the buffer when shooting certain parts of the day, namely confetti shots and the bride walking up the aisle. That just doesn’t happen with the A9. It also has eye AF, which means it can pick the eyes out on someone’s face and use that to track them, very useful for confetti shots like this one. Even though Sam’s eyes were sometimes closed the A9 tracked her all the way through this confetti run. Battery life is also much better than most other mirrorless cameras. For weddings the A9 is paired with the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4, which is a fantastic lens and I use it for around 70% of the day ( I prefer primes to zooms in general ). It’s a great low light lens and I love the 35mm focal length, I also find it to be very fast to focus but most of all its the look of the images I get from this lens that I love.
My second camera for weddings is the Sony A7R3.
Some people may wonder why I use the A7R3 rather than the cheaper A73. Well, the A73 was not out when I bought the R3, and I also wanted one high megapixel camera for my commercial work. I also use it when I shoot fashion and portraits, which I do quite a bit of, and occasionally I also shoot landscapes and wildlife just for fun, and all that resolution can come in handy. The dynamic range is also better than on the A9 so if I think I will need that range I can always switch to this camera.
I do also find that for big group shots it is nice to have a very high res image in case the couple want to print it big or I need to crop in for any reason. It’s not as quick as the A9, but its no slouch and the AF is still very good indeed. I pair this with the 85mm 1.4 GM lens which is superb for portraits and if I want to keep my distance.
The 85 1.8 from Sony is also a great lens and not so big and heavy as this one, if I could afford both I’d probably just used the 1.8 for weddings, but I can’t justify having both. The 1.4 does, like the 35mm, have a certain look to the images that I really love.
The other two lenses I have in the bag are the 70-200 f2.8 GM from Sony and the 28mm f2 from Sony.
This thing is big, heavy and very expensive, but it’s sometimes absolutely essential for weddings. There have been weddings where I’m only allowed to stand at the back of the church for example, and then I need this zoom. There was also a wedding last year where the bride and her dad walked down a long slope to get to the outdoors ceremony, and the zoom came in very handy then. It’s superbly sharp and renders the background beautifully. I also use it to shoot sports, and its a very fast to focus lens. But it is heavy, so it doesn’t get used at every wedding ( I know some wedding photographers use this lens all the time for weddings )
Those are the main bits of gear but of course there are a few other lenses that are more situational, and one more camera, the Fuji XT-3.
This is my main backup camera and I have two lenses for it, a 35mm f2 and the amazing 16mm 1.4. This latter lens I use for close ups and wide shots, as it is a lens that can focus very closely to an object and act as a sort of macro lens, but with more context. It’s great for wedding details. I also use the Fuji for family photography ( my family, not other people’s! ), which is very important to me. It’s a bit more fun to use than the Sonys, but still a very serious bit of kit.
Obviously I have loads of spare batteries and memory cards to go with all these cameras, but I won’t list them here. I tend to use memory cards with a very high write speed as the A9 writes a lot of images, and the A7R3 writes very large images, so they both need very good memory cards, which, as you would expect, are not cheap!
Now, onto the lighting! Some people may claim to be natural light photographers and not to need flash, but in my experience that usually means they don’t know how to use it. I have gone through many flash systems over the years in an attempt to find one that works for me, and I’ve finally settled on the Godox system. It’s relatively cheap, and the flashes mostly use lithium batteries which last all day, so I don’t have to charge up 30 AA batteries before a wedding anymore. For speedlights I use two of these…
They last all day and are great either on or off camera, providing TTL and HSS should I need them, although I mostly shoot flash manually as I prefer to have more control over the light. I have a couple of wireless triggers for these, and an AD200, for bigger venues and for when I want to use off camera flash ( generally the dancing ).
I also have a Westcott Icelight in the bag, as there have been a few weddings where someone with epilepsy has asked for no flash to be used ( that never seems to stop people using their phones with flashes though!! ). This was shot with an Icelight outside in the snow last year…I love this thing, it’s like a mini lightsaber!
I have some more heavy duty lighting, both continuous and flash, for when I need to light group shots indoors. Luckily that has not happened much recently, but if it is needed, it’s there ( those lights usually stay in the car ). I’m sure I’ve missed a few things out, like tripods and monopods, but I don’t use them very much. I hope some of you found this interesting, all this gear has been put together over many years, gradually evolving until it’s now at a state where I don’t need anything else, and feel quite confident going into any wedding scenario that it won’t be my gear letting me down!