What Lenses to Use When Shooting a Wedding

Ahhhhh… lenses. Beautiful hunks of glass and metal. Perfect. Only a photographer would say that right? Or maybe an astronomer with his telescope? Or a microbiologist with her microscope? …Have I been watching too much Big Bang Theory lately? Nah…not possible…  Enough with the silly questions now and back to why you’re here. I’m going to walk you through a typical wedding and explain what my favourite lenses are to use for each part of the day. I carry around a myriad of lenses with me, and while I only use one camera body, I keep the ones I’ll need for that specific part of the day in my shoulder bag and the others in my rolling bag with the rest of my gear. Although I get asked this question often “What lenses to use when shooting a wedding?“, every photographer could have a different answer. We all have our own styles and lens preferences. As long as you’re producing high quality photographs that match your brand and capture the emotion and events of the day, who am I to say one lens is better than the other?!

However, these are MY favourites and if you’re looking for inspiration or tips, here they are!

 

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What Lenses to Use When Shooting a Wedding

 

The Getting-Ready

Let’s start with what is usually the very first part of a typical wedding day, the getting ready portion. During this time, I capture the details such as any jewelry, rings, the bride’s dress and shoes before she puts them on, the bouquets, the wedding invitations, etc. I’ll also capture what is going on in the room, such as the girls getting their hair and makeup done, the bride getting into her wedding dress and the groom hanging out with his buddies.

Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4

This is probably my favourite lens. Now I know this isn’t a lens review post, but for those wondering why I chose the Sigma version over the Canon one, here it is. I alternated renting one and the other for a whole summer of weddings before choosing the winner. I found that the Sigma 50mm was consistently quicker to focus, a touch sharper and had creamier bokeh. They are both beautiful lenses, but I had to choose one, and those points are what tipped the scales towards Sigma for me.

I’ll use the 50mm for most of this part of the day. I like it because it’s not too wide that I would be capturing all the junk hanging around the room (because let’s be real, who’s ever been to hotel room in the morning and it didn’t look like a hurricane had just passed through?! Haha). It’s not too tight either that I would have to back up all the way out into the hallway (hotel rooms, or anywhere else the getting ready is going on for that matter, are usually tight quarters).

I’ll also use the 50mm for the dress shot, the shoes and any other details that aren’t tiny like the rings. However, I do sometimes take the ring shots with my 50mm and I’m also quite pleased with how those turn out.

This lens is also perfect for portraits of the hair/makeup preparations, the bride putting on her dress, the groom fixing his tie or for some simple candid shots of everyone having a good time!

Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4 or the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L

The reason I mentioned these two lenses here is because I don’t actually own the Sigma 35mm, YET. I’ll sometimes rent it if I know I’ll need that extra amount of f/stop or if I won’t be with my second shooter in the morning. She owns the Sigma 35mm and we’ll just share lenses if we are shooting the same scene. Otherwise, I can always use my Canon 16-35mm, which is also a beautiful lens to capture a couple wider angles of the room. Even if it’s usually a little chaotic in the room, it’s fun to capture those moments for the funny memories later.

Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS

This lens will stay in my rolling bag for the day except when it’s time for the ring/jewelry shots. Because it’s a macro lens, that’s all it’s really good for on a wedding day, but boy is it pretty!

What Lenses to Use When Shooting a Wedding

left: Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4, right: Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS

Source: Sonya + Zach’s Wedding

 

The First Look

Not all couples choose to have a first look on their wedding day, but for those that do (a good majority), this is how I capture it.

Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4

This is the lens that I use for the first look if I am shooting with a second (which is 99% of the time). I LOOOVE this 85mm. It’s so creamy and sharp. I could easily use the 50mm here instead, if for some reason I couldn’t back up far enough, but I stick with the 85mm because I can give the couple some space. The first look is such a sweet moment and usually a very emotional one, so I try not to bother them too much by standing farther back. By being that far, they can almost forget we’re there.

Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4

My second shooter will use the 35mm to capture the first look. While I’m standing behind the bride to capture the groom’s reaction when he turns around to see her, my second will stand perpendicular to them to capture her walking up towards him and both their profiles when they are facing each other.

What Lenses to Use When Shooting a Wedding

left: Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4, right: Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4

Source: Ruth + Chris’s Wedding

 

The Ceremony

Similar to the first look, I like to stay out of the way as much as possible during the ceremony. I try to hover around the edges and in the back so I don’t block the view of any guests. In order to achieve this and still get some close up photos, I tend to mostly stick with longer focal length lenses. Every ceremony deserves to be captured wide as well, so that’s why I’ve also listed the 16-35mm here, but I’ll only pull it out a handful of times.

Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4

For smaller ceremonies I keep this lens on my camera for 80% of the time. I can still be at the very back and capture close-ups of the couple standing up front.

Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS or Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS

I mentioned both versions of Canon’s L Series 70-200mm here. Reason being is that I own the f/4 version and sometimes rent the f/2.8 version. They are both great lenses, but the f/4 lacks a bit in aperture size. Honestly, this is the very first big-girl lens I purchased, and not really knowing or understanding the power those extra stops could get me, I bought the f/4. But that’s ok. If it’s an outdoor ceremony and a very bright day, I can get away with the f/4 just fine. The long focal length gives me that bokeh even while only shooting at f/4. However, if I know I’m going to be shooting inside a church, or anywhere where the light is always dim, I’ll rent the f/2.8 version.

Like I mentioned up top, I like to keep the Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4 on my camera for most of the ceremony, but when I’m looking for an even tighter shot or when the ceremony is quite large, I’ll whip out this bad boy.

Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4 or the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L

Again, two wide-angle lenses mentioned here because I’ll be using my 16-35mm a couple of times during the ceremony and my second will be using the 35mm. We don’t share lenses during the ceremony because we usually standing on opposite sides.

What Lenses to Use When Shooting a Wedding

left: Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4, right: Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4

Source: Ruth + Chris’s Wedding

 

 

The Family and Bridal Party Portraits

All the group photos, whether they be for the family portraits or the bridal party portraits, the 50mm is my go-to.

Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4

I favour the 50mm here over the wider lenses because of the distortion the wider ones cause along the edges. I also prefer the look of the 50mm because it’s a touch sharper than the 16-35mm.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L

I’ll use the my 16-35mm (or the Sigma 35mm if available) if the group is larger than about 15 people or if I’m forced to stand close to the group. However, if I use these wider lenses, I make sure to leave lots of room along the edges to account for that distortion – no one wants to look wide and oddly shaped standing on the edges, right?

What Lenses to Use When Shooting a Wedding

both: Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4

Source: Erin + Steve’s Wedding

 

The Couple Portraits

If I had to choose a favourite part of the day, this one would be the winner! When it’s just me, my second and the couple, we can get super creative and have some fun!

Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4

I love the 50mm for its versatility. I could shoot a whole portrait session with just the 50mm and get a variety of photos. Sometimes I have to actually remind myself to swap it out because I get in the groove and almost forget that I have other lenses to use!

Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4

My love for the 50mm is not to say that I don’t love the 85mm – it’s just a little less versatile, but still pretty magical. The bokeh on this lens is the prettiest I’ve ever seen and it’s razor-sharp (can you tell I’m obsessed with sharp images?!).

The 85mm is also wonderful for getting those tighter, more intimate photos, without the couple feeling like you’re too close to them. Even though I could probably get the same result with my 50mm, sometimes when I get my couple to do a kissy-kissy photo, I’ll throw on the 85mm and walk back. They don’t know the photo will look the same, but they suddenly feel more comfortable sharing that intimate moment without me breathing down their necks. Haha

What Lenses to Use When Shooting a Wedding

left: Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4, right: Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4

Source: Teresa + Mathew’s Wedding

 

The Reception

Last, but not least, the reception. This is the part of the wedding day that differs the most, so I’ll usually end up using every lens I own at some point during the night. There’s so much going on, from the speeches, the cake close-ups, the cake cutting, the bouquet/garter toss, the table and room details and the dancing!

Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS or Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS

This lens, again is important for its long focal length. I don’t want to have to stand in front of the action to capture what is going on, so with this puppy zoomed to 200mm, I’ll be standing in the back and out of sight.

Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4

Same idea as using the 70-200mm here: stay in the back and out-of-the-way. However, if I don’t need to zoom in quite as far, instead of using the 70-200mm at 70mm or 90mm, I’ll favour the Sigma 85mm. Why? Because the prime lens gives me those beautiful extra f/stops and it’s also a touch sharper.

I’ll use both the 70-200mm and the 85mm for the speeches and reaction shots from the guests (people tend to look at you funny when you single them out for a laughing or crying shot unless you’re far away!). Occasionally I’ll use the 85mm for the first dance and parent dances if the room is large enough.

Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4

The 50mm will come in handy for most of the formal dancing, the cake cutting and the bouquet/garter toss. I won’t use it much for the speeches or the guest candid shots because it would either be not tight enough or not wide enough.

I will also use the 50mm for most of the reception details, i.e., the table settings, the centre pieces, the menus, the cake and any other decor in the room.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L

This lens is really great to get those nice impressive wide shots of the hall, tent or ballroom. These wide shots (I’m talking 16mm to 20mm) are beautiful to show off the decor of the entire room in one photo. Plan a wide photo of the room when everyone has their glasses raised for an even cooler perspective!

What Lenses to Use When Shooting a Wedding

left: Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4, right: Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4

Source: Erin + Steve’s Wedding

 

Bonus question: Why do I prefer prime lenses over zoom lenses?

Prime lenses are DA BOMB! They’re sharper, the glass is of better quality (due to no moving parts), the bokeh is on point, they do better in low light, and they have way wider apertures. What does this mean? I can capture that glowy light even better because I can open up all the way up to f/1.8 or f/2.0 for portraits. This gives me a super shallow depth of field, allowing only my subjects to be in tack-sharp focus while the rest of the scenery is a nice blur of colours.

They also keep me more creative. With a zoom lens, you can get a whole variety of focal lengths just by standing in one single spot (which is great in some situations!), but with a prime lens, I’m the one doing the walking around to get different shots. This keeps me constantly thinking of new ways to frame the image, new compositions and new angles.

This is not too say that zoom lenses are the worst and that I don’t enjoy using them. On the contrary, I understand their advantages, but overall, the advantages of primes lenses far overweight the advantages of zoom lenses, in my opinion. And that’s why I favour primes over zooms as much as possible!

Related post: How to Capture the Golden Hour Glow on Camera

 

What are YOUR favourite lenses to use when shooting a wedding?

 

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