The cat’s out of the bag! Part 1

May 2, 2017

Gear and Top Tips for Wedding Photographers

So, one of the questions we’re most frequently asked is – what gear do you use to photograph a wedding, Faircloughs?

I think there’s a natural curiosity amongst photographers, especially if you’re just starting out in wedding photography, as to what gear someone used to make a certain shot. Could what they’re using be the magic solution I’ve been searching for? I know, I’ll just go on eBay for five minutes and check what I can swap of the kit bag!

To some extent, choice of equipment for wedding photography plays a role in how the final image comes out. But, it’s too easy to be tempted away from what we have, when other photographers are making beautiful inspiring imagery with either a LOT of expensive equipment, or in other cases very little indeed. Which is the right answer? Which avenue should you pursue? What’s the best equipment for wedding photography? A lot of photographers go through this; you’re not alone!

There’s one top tip we’ve learned along the way, which can be used every time you feel frustrated with your gear – every time we make something simpler, we get happier with our gear.

When frustrating choices are taken away and all that’s left is to shoot with what’s in your hands, creativity can be more in the front of your mind. And that’s all that matters. Our current gear is far from as-simple-as-can-be. But it’s not always a shopping trip that cures the itch to try something new. So try simplifying.

With wedding photography in particular, there seems to be such diversity in our bags that it’s hard to know where to start when building up a kit. When we started photographing weddings, we didn’t have a guide to the best kit around, or any clue what the other professionals were using. It was all a process of trial and error, and personal preference.

For the most part, we’ve found that learning to work in a different way with what we’ve got, is what makes the biggest difference, not going out and changing our gear. We started off with good cameras, but we were always looking to the next big thing rather than squeezing the last ounces of performance out of what we had.

That’s not to say buying new kit isn’t fun or inspiring, but it’s often not the instant transformative experience you’re hoping for. Just remember, cameras don’t make pictures, photographers do. It’s the experience and creativity you have to develop far more than your camera bag. Your uncle Bob with a fancy DSLR in most cases would be no match for a professional with an iphone, for example.

So, what should you use? What should you buy when starting out as a wedding photographer? What do the professionals use and how can you improve on your current setup? There’s no easy answer to that; we’re professionals and we still sometimes contemplate our setup. But we know what we like and we’re happy to share our experience to make the process a little less painful for you!

To help you out trying to decide on what to use, we’ve put together a couple of articles showing you the contents of our camera bags. There really is no secret to what’s in our bags. It’s just a collection of tools we’ve acquired to help realise our creative vision. They’re not modified in any way, they’re available for you to buy and shoot with exactly the same gear if you want to.

It doesn’t mean you’ll come out with the same pictures, photography has far more to do with your creative process than what you look at a scene through, but good reliable gear certainly helps!

So what did we start out with?

When we were starting out, our wedding photography kit was pretty basic but the best quality we could afford. We spent our money on cameras instead of food, and had a couple of Canon 5D bodies, a pair of 24-105 zoom lenses and a pair of 50mm f/1.4 primes for when it got too dark. Not too shabby for a starter kit.

We always loved natural light and shooting without on-camera flash. For one it was easier for us as it was a simpler way of working. We also discovered early on that it made us less obtrusive without a flash firing. We loved that. It let us get closer and into moments without ‘hey, look at the big camera and flash going off’. Having f/4 zoom lenses was a bit counterintuitive to this on the dark English winter days when we shot our first weddings, so we had to find a better solution.

We needed faster apertures, simple. Since these are *pretty much* only found on prime lenses, after a few situations in the dark where we just about managed to keep up, we knew we had to pay for the upgrade to f/1.4 primes.

These made us work harder to get our angles, as we needed to use our feet to zoom. It was a steep learning curve, but it meant we could carry on shooting discretely with no flash in dimly lit rooms. It made us more stealthy, and more able to get up close and personal into gorgeous emotional moments. This evolution of necessity and gear really informed our style in the first year. It’s amazing how removing the option to zoom from our hands made us work much more creatively.

With the crazy-high ISOs of modern cameras this has become technically less relevant, and an f/2.8 zoom could probably do the same job if you wanted. However, zooms made us lazy shooters, and added complexity and too many options. We get confused by too many options, and that’s never good.

So, if you’re putting together your first kit, or modifying an existing set of equipment to start shooting weddings more seriously, our second tip would be to invest in fast primes. The headroom they offer in unpredictable lighting situations, for us, outweighs the inconvenience of changing lenses on the fly.

Our gear goes through a lot. We really push it and ourselves into situations where the manufacturers would be frowning and pointing fervently at the disclaimer page of the user manuals we never read. When you shoot weddings, sometimes taking good care of your gear becomes secondary to getting the shot, but it’s important to be able to trust your gear to take the pressure. We’re not careless with anything, but it’s the pictures we love, not the means of capturing it. The image always comes first.

To achieve this, we’ve found it’s really important to buy the highest quality gear you can. This is true from camera bodies and lenses, all the way down to batteries and cards. Nothing can be a weak link. This takes time and money to build up if you’re just starting out; it’s definitely not a cheap industry to get into.

There’s no way we’d risk a failure on a wedding day though, to save a little money on gear. So start simple, but high quality. If it means just having a couple of knock-out lenses and learning to shoot with less, that’s more useful than owning a bag full of compromised gear.

We don’t tend to buy a lot of kit during a typical year apart from batteries, CF cards and maybe a strap or bag if we need one (or if we manage to break anything on a shoot). Our core kit is all high enough quality that it will last, and we’re not enticed by every new lens that comes out. We occasionally trial new systems and bits of kit to see if it gels well with how we work. We’re always happy to come back to our core Canon-based kit though, for our serious professional work.

Sometimes kit comes to the market that just makes everything easier or solves a problem for us, and then we’ll invest.

Well, first I’ll become obsessed to the point of being a midnight-googling Gollum seeking the Precious by iphone-screen-light, then I’ll change my mind a few times. And then I’ll think about it. And then Mrs F will get exceedingly annoyed at me, and then I’ll probably buy it in secret in the middle of the night. Some examples are the Magmod system of flash modifiers that’s saved us hours of hassle, or the Holdfast harness systems which relieve our aching backs on long multi-day shoots.

Over the past few years, we’ve refined our gear down to a streamlined, 3-bag carry which can do everything we need to shoot on a wedding day, plus some spares and backups. We’re all about flexibility, redundancy, and durability. This is something we’ve learned over time and is absolutely essential. Use these as keywords in your mind while driving yourself or your spouse crazy over the latest purchase and you won’t go far wrong.

Everything we have is designed to be multifunctional, interoperable, and tough enough to withstand a double-wedding-weekend. We share some gear throughout the day, but we both have our own bag of gear we rely on. This is important as we split up for the first part of the day, and then come together to shoot at the ceremony.

So, what’s in the bag? In our next post, we give you a peek inside our camera bags, starting with Mrs F’s. If you’re starting to build your own wedding photography kit, this should give you some insight on why we use what we use, why we chose it, and what we think could be improved.




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