It definitely takes a while to find the lenses and the set up you like to work with, and I’m still finding new equipment every now and again that makes me stop and think about my photography style. In the last two years I managed to do a lot of investing back into the business, so for now am really happy with my kit. Currently, 80% of my work is weddings, so my kit very much reflects this. I try to keep things simple so I’m not carrying around too much most of the time. The other 20% is commercial and portrait work. My photography style is very relaxed and informal, and where possible I like to use natural light.
The first DSLR I bought was the Nikon D90. At the time it came with the kit lens, which did the job, but I soon realised it wasn’t giving me the results I wanted. I hired a lot of lenses to start with, which was actually really helpful as it gave me the opportunity to try things out and find out what I liked and what I wasn’t so keen on. The Nikon D90 itself served me very well for the first few weddings I photographed (all friends and people I knew to start with), but it just couldn’t cope with low light the way I wanted and needed it to. My style has always been to use as much natural light as possible so it wasn’t long before I needed to upgrade to a better camera. I bought a Nikon D300 second hand in 2010, which at the time seemed a huge leap. Around that time I also started investing in lenses of my own. I knew I wanted to buy the best to start with as lenses really are an investment that’s worth spending the money on.
My first proper lens was the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. I knew this was a great working lens after hiring it. Its fast, flexible and for weddings is a really good go-to lens for the ceremony and speeches. Perfect for the times when you don’t want to be moving around too much. I was still hiring other lenses for a while, and saving to be able to buy my own. At this time I also bought my first speed light, the Nikon SB-900 was brand new at the time and quite a lot of money, but it was brilliant. Most of my lighting then was bounce flash to add a little bit for evening shots. The power from this fairly small light was all I needed.
In early 2011 I decided to upgrade my cameras again and buy two of the same (for ease during editing). I also wanted to go to a full frame camera. It was a very easy decision to get two Nikon D700’s, as I knew these were great cameras. One was new and one was bought second hand (nearly new). These two cameras properly blew me away! I loved the full frame view and couldn’t get over the low light capabilities. Suddenly working at 6400 ISO was easy, without having any major issues with noise. These are still my cameras today and I love working with them.
In 2011 I also ended up buying most of my current lenses. The first ones were the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 and the Nikon 85mm f/1.8. Both of these lenses I loved instantly and they are still very much the mainstay of my working kit. The 50mm is beautiful for portraits and when shooting the details during weddings. It’s teeny tiny, light and so easy to have on the camera. You really can’t beat the 85mm for portraits either, the bokeh is beautiful and I love this focal length. Far enough to give a little distance from your subject but not so far you can’t connect with them during the photoshoot.
My next lenses were ones that I knew I wanted but knew I probably wouldn’t use that much, these were Nikon 16-35mm f/4, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro and Nikon 135mm f/2. Im still not sure about the 135mm, its great in daylight and when outside but really struggles to focus in low light. These lenses are pretty much permanently in my full kit, but probably only use them every 3rd or 4th job. They are useful to have and have got me out of a fix enough times to warrant the purchase. The 16-35mm particularly has been very useful when trying to do a large group shot during a wedding in a space that really wasn’t designed to hold a large group of people! These are the ones that are removed when I am doing a paired down kit.
Next up were a couple more speed lights. I bought a Nikon SB-700 and an SB-910 early last year. In the last year I have been doing more off camera flash setups during the evening part of the weddings I shoot. I like to have the option of doing some nighttime portraits with my couples and also doing some more interesting (but simple) setups during the first dance. The lights are also being used more now I am starting to do more commercial work too. I have a couple of lastolite light stands, a Lastolite Umbrella (transparent/silver/black), an Elinchrom Umbrella (transparent/silver) and a Westcott Apollo Soft Box (medium size). I have the Pocketwizard Nikon set up that I find really quick and easy to use. My lighting kit is small, light and simple, as my inclination will always lean towards natural light, but it’s good to have lighting options and to be able to try out new things in my work.
My final (and fast becoming a favourite) lens purchase in mid 2013 was the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens. I cannot say enough about how much I love this lens. I love the look of the 35mm focal length, the speed of this lens makes it perfect for low light and the bokeh you can get at the widest aperture is just beautiful. This one is always in my bag! Which reminds me…the bag I use. One of my first purchases was a good bag for my growing kit. I decided I wanted something that didn’t look like a camera bag. Maybe it’s a woman thing, but the big, black, functional bags did nothing for me. I chose a grey Kelly Moore 2 Sues bag. It’s a perfect size for carrying around during the wedding with my main kit in. It’s spot on for going out and about on portrait shoots and I love the fact it just looks like a normal bag. I also have a Tamrac Rucksack that carries the rest of my kit for weddings. This is the bag that is hidden somewhere on the day so I can pop back to it as and when I need anything.
I’m still trying to work out things like camera straps and how to carry my cameras all day during a wedding. I have a Shoot Sac that I use at times, although I do find my shoulder hurts after wearing that for a while. At the moment I have a simple black neoprene style camera strap. This is very comfy and doesn’t slip off my shoulder so does the job I need.
I have two things I want to buy this year. One is the Fuji x100s. I love the idea of a small, light camera that I can use for work and for personal photography. The other is the Hyperdrive Colorspace UDMA 2. This is a portable memory card backup device and would be invaluable when I am photographing weddings back to back, as often happens during the summer months.
Check out the 11 essential tools and apps every wedding photographer should be using this year.
Includes limited time discounts.
Fiona, Enjoyed reading your post and the great journey of knowledge gained in the best way. Really like your bag choice. Lovely.
I did see you’re not happy with your straps. I have tried so many over the years. I hate advertising for my camera company and the ‘look-at-me’ straps. I want quietly secure comfort. Straps can be a very individual choice. The one I found a few years ago and have stuck with is called the ‘upstrap’ at https://www.upstrap-pro.com.
They’re very narrow but sewn with kevlar so very very strong. They have a wide rubber section to cover the shoulder. In situations where you are on your feet, moving, in a crowd…they stay on better than anything I’ve ever used. They may not work for you but are worth a look.
Thank you for sharing your experience and guidance.