What lens should I use for wedding photography?

camera lenses

Wedding photography is no easy task—after all, a wedding is one of the biggest events in a couple’s life together, and they’ve chosen you to capture these precious, once-in-a-lifetime moments. Different parts of a wedding call for different styles of photography. With that in mind, there’s a perfect lens for every shot, covering group shots, portraits, detailed close-ups of the ring and cake, first kisses, first dances, and everything in between.

As you’re exploring the lenses available to you, it’s a good idea to look to other wedding photographers for inspiration. Evolving your style, keeping your skills up, and staying on top of industry trends are all part of constantly working on becoming a better photographer.

When it comes to buying the best lens for shooting weddings, it’s also important to think about the factors surrounding the specific wedding you’re shooting. For example, how long is the shoot? Is it a traditional wedding, or is there a theme? Is it a more intimate wedding with 60 guests, or a big celebration of 600? Are you shooting alone or with a second shooter?

All these factors can help determine the type of lenses you should have with you when shooting a wedding. If the couple hired you to work for less than four hours (essentially just wedding portraits and the ceremony), it might not make sense to bring a bag full of lenses. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you’re shooting a full day of 12 hours (or longer), you’ll want to have more options. Not only is there more time to change lenses, but a longer wedding can also force you to change perspectives and think more outside the box—that’s where more creative lenses come in. In some cultures, a wedding can last several days. This could require you to use an array of lenses for the dozens of mini-ceremonies that take place during the duration of the wedding.

Buying the best lens for wedding photography isn’t as simple as walking into the nearest camera shop and purchasing the most expensive or most popular lenses. It takes time and proper research to sort out which lens will work best for your skill level, the client, and your style.

Before we dive into choosing lenses for weddings, let’s go over some of the basics of the types of lenses out there.

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Which are the best lenses for wedding and event photography?

  • 70-200mm f/2.8 telephotos: Perfect for portraits and creative background blur
  • 24-70mm f/2.8 standard zooms: The ideal ready-for-anything lens to keep on the camera
  • 16-35mm f/2.8 wide-angles (or similar): Perfect for the church, reception and group shots
  • 90-100mm macro lens: For close-ups of the ring and table decorations and a great focal length for head and shoulders portraits too
  • 35mm f/1.4 or 1.8: The classic focal length for candid shots, with a wide aperture to handle low light and deliver nice background blur

camera lens

Full frame or APS-C?

We’ve stuck to full-frame cameras for this roundup since these are the most popular amongst wedding and events photographers who are most likely doing these jobs on a commercial basis. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t use an APS-C or MFT camera, but while the quality is fine, you might not get such a wide choice of constant aperture zoom lenses and wide-aperture primes.

The Best Lenses for Wedding Photography

Bright, Wide-Angle Zoom: The 24-70mm f/2.8

This wide to medium zoom lens covers a solid range of focal lengths and still packs in a bright aperture.

The lens is wide enough to capture the entire ceremony in one shot. You can adjust the telephoto end for closer shots and even portraits, so it also comes in handy for those family formals.

As a popular wedding photography lens, some manufacturers have multiple versions of it. The difference is often optical image stabilisation (IS).

That stabilisation helps shoot those dimly lit spaces. Especially at slower shutter speeds, it is allowing you to drop the ISO down. But stabilisation isn’t as essential in a wide-angle lens as it is for telephoto and macro.

Due to its popularity, third-party manufacturers get in on the action too. This could help you save some cash when choosing gear for wedding photography.

Bright, Versatile Telephoto: The 70-200mm f/2.8

The 70-200mm offers a versatile zoom range and enough focal length to help the subject pop from the background.

The 70-200mm is great for capturing details and close-ups. The long zoom range also makes the lens an option for the portrait section of the day. Its length will help create softer backgrounds. All this while having the aperture a bit wider to keep both the bride and groom in focus.

There’s a downside though. The long focal length and bright aperture mix make this lens a heavy piece of glass. It’s also an expensive addition to your wedding photography kit.

The general rule is to keep your shutter speed above the focal length. While it’s easy to shoot a 50mm at 1/50 in limited light, the 1/200 suggested for a 200mm is harder to do. This is where that lens stabilisation comes in.

The longer the lens, the more important the image stabilisation is. If you can only afford to get stabilisation on one lens, get it on the longest one in your bag.

Many wedding photographers use both a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm to capture the wedding day. These work particularly well during parts of the day where the pace of events isn’t ideal for lens swaps.

As far as wedding lenses go, this is the most necessary addition.

Portrait Prime: The 85mm and 50mm f/1.8

Prime lenses offer a brighter aperture than the 70-200mm ones. In some brands, they even offer more efficient autofocus and higher quality shots. Without all those zoom components, most prime lenses are also lighter and cheaper.

The 85mm is an excellent focal length for portraits, particularly on full-frame cameras. The focal length is more flattering than a wider angle. But it still allows you to take portraits in venues with limited space.

Although the background separation isn’t quite as nice as that 85mm, the 50mm is also a popular choice for portraits. For wedding photographers who need to make the budget, a 50mm lens is an excellent option. It offers that bright aperture without the big price tag.

The brighter aperture of an f/1.8 prime will allow for even smoother backgrounds in portraits. Some brands go even wider, down to f/1.4 or f/1.2.

The wider aperture is also excellent for limited light when that f/2.8 isn’t enough to get a nicely lit shot. This lens is helpful during ceremonies and other low light portions of the day.

For the Details: The Macro Lenses

Ring shots and detail photos may only make up some of the wedding albums, but they are important.

Along with ring shots, a macro lens captures other details like flowers or architecture. You can even use them for portraits, like a shot of the bride’s eyelashes and makeup.

Macro lenses come in all different focal lengths and apertures. A longer focal length will offer more separation for the background. But getting close up shots on a macro level already provides significant softness. That means an f/1.2 isn’t necessary for a wedding photographer.

If you do pick up a brighter macro lens, you don’t have to use it for just macro. Many lenses allow you to switch off the close-up mode, which results in shooting like a normal lens. Buying a bright macro that doubles as a portrait prime can help stretch the budget.

Like with a telephoto, stabilisation is more important on a macro than a wide-angle. The close magnification will exaggerate any camera shake.

The Wide, Bright Performer: The 35mm Prime

Wedding photography involves storytelling. And sometimes you need a wider lens to capture the shots that tell the story. A prime 35mm is brighter and lighter than a wide telephoto lens.

35mm prime lenses are often bright and affordable. These are excellent for everything, from capturing the entire ceremony set up in one shot to photographing the entire dance floor.

The Absolute Best Lens…is it?

When I first started shooting weddings, I heard that the 70-200mm 2.8 is THE ABSOLUTE BEST when it comes to wedding photography lenses. One website I read even called it the “ultimate wedding lens.” I HAD to have it. I saved & saved, and then I was so excited to use it at my next wedding. I liked it for sure & it had it’s moments where it played a big role in allowing me to capture something special from far away (ex: the final I Do & kiss while standing from the back of a large church).

But surprisingly, what I found was that it wasn’t necessarily my favourite weddings lens or even my most used wedding lens after all. What I found was that there is a time & a place for it where it is very helpful, but that I still gravitated toward my other lenses when I had the appropriate opportunity.

I like prime lenses & feel that in low light, the 70-200mm sometimes just isn’t fast enough. Plus, I worry about camera shake because it’s so heavy. It has an incredible ability to separate the subject from the background when zoomed-in & allows the subject to pop. It is very helpful when you can’t stand as close as you’d like, so although it might not be my favourite, I know that I wouldn’t want to be without it. If you only shoot a few weddings a year & don’t want to invest in the 70-200mm, consider renting it. Renting lenses is pretty reasonable!

What is the best lens for wedding photography?

The answer I’ll give is just an opinion based on my experience, but here’s what I have found: each wedding is different & unique! They all have their special scenarios that will make lens choice vary. There are many factors that will play a part in what your best choice will be.

The bottom line is that you can never have TOO many lenses when shooting a wedding. I carry two bodies (the D700 & D3S), so I can have two lenses going at all times & use a wide variety of lenses throughout the event. Let’s talk about some of the things you want to take into account when choosing your lenses.

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How to choose your lenses for wedding photography

The spaces you are working with will play a huge part in your lens choice.

For instance, while the bride & bridesmaids are getting ready, the 35mm would be a fun focal length, but if you have enough room to back-up, the 50mm might be a better choice on a full-frame camera, so you don’t have any lens distortion. The 24-70mm would also be a good choice in this scenario if you would like the flexibility of being able to zoom in & out.

What is your second shooter shooting with?

I always shoot with something different than my second shooter. They can capture things differently from a unique angle & perspectives. Talk about it with your second & decide who will shoot with what & when.

What kind of available light are you working with?

If you’re in low light, choose a fast lens (lower aperture number)

If the wedding takes place in a church, the church’s rules will guide what your lens choices are.

Some churches require you to stay no closer than the last row of guests (obviously in that scenario, a long lens is best). Some churches are more liberal in letting you move around & allow you to come in closer. Outdoor weddings have fewer rules & are especially fun for that reason!

Now that we’ve discussed that there are many factors that come into play when choosing your lens, I will give you a quick rundown of a typical wedding for me. Like I mentioned, I do use two bodies & switch lenses out quite frequently.

The Best Cameras for Wedding Photography

Any serious photographer will tell you that the camera body that you use matters significantly less than the lens. However, it is still helpful to note which are the best cameras for wedding photography specifically, as shutter speed and ISO requirements are pretty important when shooting in potentially low-light and fast-moving environments.

While this list is not all-encompassing, it is a good starting point for anyone wanting to know what are some of the best full-frame cameras to use for their next wedding photography shoot. Hesitant to fork over the heavy price tag on a camera or lens that you’re not familiar with? Try renting it first from our friends at BorrowLenses to see if it’s right for you.

Canon 6D

An affordable option that is capable of producing quality images in low light. While it is able to keep up with the 5D Mark III in this regard, it can’t hold up to the AF of the 5D Mark III which can be a pain point for wedding photographers.

Nikon D7200

High performing and low-cost option for the Nikon crowd. Although it is a DX (crop) sensor, the good frame rate and decent ISO range make this a strong option for a beginner or intermediate wedding photographer.

Canon 5D Mark III

Great in low light, strong AutoFocus, coupled with the ability to be weather-sealed, make this camera a wedding photographer’s dream. While it’s the price point is above that of the 6D, the bang is worth the buck.

Nikon D750

This incredibly versatile and powerful camera body is a step up from the D7200, both in terms of megapixels, frame rate, and ISO. Its price point is still reasonable while enabling the photographer pro-level functionality.

Nikon D810 

The best professional-level Nikon camera for wedding photography. With the hefty price tag, you get 36 megapixels, insane ISO range, and just all-around solid performance. The only thing you lose out on in frame rate in comparison with the D750.

Canon 5DSR

This Canon broke new ground with its insanely high 50 megapixel CMOS sensor. Let’s be clear; the vast majority of wedding photographers do not need this kind of resolution. With the proper lens attached, this camera is capable of some pretty stunning results.

Prime Lenses for Shooting Weddings

A prime lens goes a long way, especially for wedding photography. A lot of wedding photographers only use prime lenses during a wedding, but a professional photographer will have a prime, zoom, and macro in their bag.

Prime lenses are favoured over other types of lenses because of their speed and weight. With a fixed focus, the glass can render much sharper images. Speed and quality are what they’re about, and making sure you’ve got the best prime lens for shooting weddings is considered the industry standard.

Zoom Lenses for Shooting Weddings

Zoom lenses have come a long way; it’s safe to say that all wedding photographers need at least one in their bag for the special day, especially for someone new to the wedding photography scene. The right zoom lens for shooting weddings enables you to play with different focal lengths, which helps you record the action without being a part of it—while also trying out perspectives you otherwise might not see.

Micro Lenses for Shooting Weddings

Most professional wedding photographers have a macro lens with them during weddings. Why? The macro lens does what other types of lens can’t: detailed close shots. Whether it’s the wedding ring, decor details, or beading on a dress, macro lenses let you capture shots that make your wedding images look like they belong in a wedding magazine.

Though macro lenses can be really important, they are usually the most expensive, and for beginner wedding photographers there’s no harm in using a 50mm prime lens for detail shots. That being said, when you feel that you’ve got some solid experience, make sure you come back to us for advice on the best macro lens for shooting weddings.

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Choices, Choices

Keep in mind that the lens you decide to use depends on the type of camera you use as well. Don’t forget that a 50mm lens would provide a different look on a crop sensor then it would appear on a full-frame camera. For now, we’re going to assume you’re shooting on a full-frame camera mostly.

Choosing the best lens for wedding photography is important. You need it to capture the entirety of the day.

The most popular lenses for this niche are the 24-70mm and 70-200mm bright zooms. For primes, think of the 85mm, 50mm 35mm, and a macro.

The best lenses for weddings are also bright, sharp and versatile.

Find a lens that fits your camera body, wedding photography style and budget. That way you can cover the wedding day from cramped rooms to wide-open fields with the best results.

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