Documentary Wedding Photography Equipment

Use what you’ve got

I know people who use just about every camera system. Sony make excellent cameras. Nikon make excellent cameras. Canon make excellent cameras. I use Fuji’s… guess what, they’re excellent cameras. They’re not even the latest models. I’ve also seen people work with film cameras and iPhones, although I wouldn’t recommend them for documentary wedding photography. They’re suited better to a slower more controlled way of shooting a wedding.

You can see what I use here,  but I’m not going to bore you with the details in this article – as these are such personal decisions and it’s best to experiment a bit and work out what’s best for you.

Another note: Whatever camera system you use, another one will always seem better. It’s worth remembering that photos are made up of light, composition and moments, all of which have nothing to do with what’s going on inside the camera.

Lenses

I know awesome photographers who use zoom lenses and awesome photographers who use primes. The essential thing is that they’re either fast lenses, or you know enough about using extra light to work quick and fast and get the shot with flash.

The benefits of primes are they’re super fast and let in a lot more light. They force you to think on your feet and push you into making unexpected compositions and get you to move in closer. They’re small and unobtrusive and don’t make you look like the photographer in the room. You’re often upstaged by Uncle Bob*, with his two pro-level nikons, superzooms and flash guns. (If you haven’t heard much about Uncle Bob yet, don’t worry, you will)

With a zoom though, you can compose the picture however you want. You can have a lot of focal lengths at your disposal and choose which to use for each shot. They’re especially useful when you don’t have much choice about where you stand, and

Flash

Whilst I try to use flash as little as possible, I usually have a couple of flash guns in my bag. One for emergencies and one for if that emergency one fails. I opt for the smallest easiest to use ones

But (pro tip here) – even if you use loads of flash in your work, you don’t have to fork out for the brand that matches your camera. Third party flash guns usually work just as well for a fraction of the cost as a Nikon, Sony, whatever.

It’s also worth getting a light stand (or two, or three) and some flash triggers for when you want to use off camera flash. (It’s definitely worth having in your problem-solving toolkit). You can also pick up all sorts of exciting modifiers – or even make them from Tupperware. As all of this is off camera flash stuff is not really my field – if you want to read more head over to David Hobby’s strobist site

 

Camera Bags

You will never be happy with your camera bag. Most photographers I know are always on the search for their next one and they’re the number one symptom of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Personally, I dump mine all over the place and stick a battery or two in my pocket – so it’s rarely on me. That also means I can use something a bit oversized so I can put snacks and drinks and a good book in too. You will probably spend a lot of time worrying about bags and then realise that you’ve wasted a lot of time and money and you’re still not happy. I only mention them in the hope I can help other photographers avoid the pitfall. It’s a bag. As long as you can fit your stuff in it, it’s fine.

Shoes

Shoes are much more important than camera bags. But we spend a lot less time worrying about them. You’re going to be on your feet for 10-14 hours, and there’ll probably be some long drive to venues on top of that. Good shoes are a must. I’ve got a pair of anatomic shoes that feel like I’m not wearing shoes, but I’ve got really wide feet, so it’s difficult to find things that fit. Other photographers I know have a good pair of black trainers. Whatever you wear needs to be comfy. And a comfy pair of shoes will improve your photography a lot more than that leather messenger satchel camera bag you’ve been saving up for will. Especially later in the day.

Straps & Harnesses

As a lot of reportage photographers use two cameras – for at least some of the day – they need to think about how to carry them. They can both be on individual straps over the shoulder, or there are a lot of double harnesses, belt systems and all sorts of devices. The aim for a lot of documentary photographers is to not look like a photographer – but this is next to impossible when carrying two bodies.

Why not film cameras?

I really would encourage every photographer to pick up some film cameras and have a play. I’ve had great fun with both Nikon and Mamiya film cameras. It really makes you slow down and think about what you’re creating. The images you get are a bit more imperfect and ethereal.

But this slowness can be really detrimental when working on a wedding day. You can’t experiment as much or take risks because getting it processed is so expensive. This is one reason I love the Fujifilm cameras – I think they’ve done a great job at transferring their expertise in film into both the feel of their cameras and the digital files that come out really filmic. Most things you love about film can be emulated by learning how that particular camera works and using that to your advantage when shooting and post-processing.

Next >> What Makes A Good Photo?

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