Monday, July 18, 2011

Guest Blog: Shooting Weddings Part IV: Gear

Timothy Lusk is back to share some more of his pearls of wisdom on the subject of Wedding Photography. This is the fourth of five articles he’ll be sharing on this topic, so I hope you enjoy it.

This is the next segment after Tim’s Shooting Weddings Part III: Inspiration, but his article was heavily Nikon-centric so I’ve made adjustments to relate to Canon users as well. New readers to my blog will find my Which DSLR Should I Buy? and Which Lens Should I Buy? articles to be useful as any of the recommendations here mirror my non-wedding recommendations also.

B&H Wedding Photographers Buyers Guide

This is for everyone who has invested in a DSLR over the past few years and has either thought of shooting weddings or has been asked by a friend or family member due to their thought of either saving money or because the bride or groom isn’t aware of what goes into shooting a wedding.

There are plenty of questions that should be running through your head and asking not only the bride or groom, but yourself.

  1. Where is the wedding? Is it in a church? Is it an outdoor wedding? If it’s outside, is the wedded couple under a trellis or something that will produce shade?
  2. What are the expectations of the photographs? Doe the bride and groom “just” want the typical list? Is there a photographer that they love his or her style, but don’t have the budget for them?
  3. What can be expected of the event? Is it a quick ceremony on a beach? Is it a full day from sunrise to sunset and into the night?
  4. What equipment do you have in your bag? Do you need to rent any additional gear?
  5. Are you getting paid for doing this? If so, how much is your time worth to you? Are you thinking of this being a start to your wedding photography business, or is it going to be a one-time only offer?

Asking yourself these questions, can help you decide one of two things. Either you’ll move forward and step up to the plate, or you’ll play it cool and kindly decline.

For other articles in this series, please follow these links:

IN THE BAG

So you’ve bought your first DSLR camera and you’re thinking of shooting a wedding or two, or making it something you will turn into as a business or side job because you’ve uncovered your passion for photography and see that it’s a great way to earn some extra cash.

In this post, I will inform you of why wedding photographers have the gear they do. It’s not as much as you think.

NOTE: I am a Nikon shooter, but most everything is also available via Canon or another camera manufacturer. [I’ve got you covered Canon shooters, read on – Ron]

BODIES

Today, there are plenty of models to choose from within each make of camera. However, this doesn’t mean that the body will be suited well for shooting a wedding. Similar to sporting events, a wedding is comprised of a variety of moments. Ones that are fast (dancing and the bouquet toss), ones that are time consuming (portraits and the ceremony), and moments that only happen once in the whole day (the first kiss and placing the rings on the finger). Each of these are something that you need to take into consideration not only as a talented photographer, but with the idea of “will my gear handle capturing that moment?”

ENTRY LEVEL (Nikon D5100)*

While these cameras are amazing with their technology (16.2 Megapixel and 1080p movie functions), they often are not ideal for shooting weddings because they don’t have a fast enough frame rate to cycle through a specific moment in a wedding.

I do think that if you’re looking to have a second body on hand, this is a great option though. Because of its movie function, you can easily promote this as part of your contract.

Ron’s 2 Cents: Consider the step up to the D7000 from Nikon if you can afford it or the Canon T3i.

PROSUMER (Nikon D300s)

Here is where you can start seeing some serious results in photographing a wedding. The D300s allows you to gain 6-9 frames per second (FPS) depending if you have the MB-D10 battery pack on it. Not only does this type of camera offer a fast frame-rate and some other features that the lower-end models don’t, but it is also commonly built with more durable materials, including a magnesium body to improve weather sealing.

These bodies are also considered “cropped”. By this, it allows the sensor to increase the distance the lens covers when mounted on the body. Most often, a cropped body will have a magnification of 1.6 times what a full-frame or 35mm camera will display in the viewfinder. So, a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera will actually read at 80mm on a cropped body.

Ron’s 2 Cents: A side-by-side comparison of the D7000 and D300s make it a tough choice, but for wedding photographers I’d probably agree with Tim’s suggestion here from Nikon. For Canon your best bet is the 7D as the 60D isn’t significantly different than the T3i (not true of xxD series in the past). The performance and AF system of the 7D are also going to be a wedding photographer’s best friend during a hectic day of shooting.

PRO (Nikon D3s)*

While they aren’t required to shoot weddings (in my opinion), a D3s (or full-frame camera) is a great asset to your bag. Shooting the weddings I have over the years, I have moved from just using a D300 to a D3, and now a D3s. The advancements over the years with this body has made my enjoyment of shooting a wedding that much more fun. The reason I say this is due to the high ISO/low noise combination and the fast frame rate (up to 11FPS). And while I don’t use the video function on the camera, the fact that it can do video has improved the recycle of image capture greatly over the D3.

Know your camera well. Quickly adjusting ISO, bracketing, etc. You want to be able to move fluidly throughout the day without looking back and thinking “I missed the first kiss!” Another critical note is the always have two bodies with you when shooting a wedding. Not only does it allow you to have multiple lenses at a quick access, but if one fails (knock on wood) you have another as backup.

*While the D3s is the top full-frame body, if you prefer a more compact version feel free to check out the D700.

NOTE: It is said that the D4 and D400 will be announced in August 2011, so if you’re able to wait until then, I highly recommend doing so.

Ron’s 2 Cents: Even as a Canon shooter, I’d say that the D3s is probably the best choice for wedding photographers at this time in the pro body format. It’s sensor has outstanding noise control at higher ISO’s which will give you a couple stops advantage over the Canon (despite what marketing data says). The Canon 1D Mark IV has a better AF system (when you know how to use it – see my 1D Mark IV guide) and the Canon 1Ds Mark III has a great sensor, but this is one area that I think is purely an advantage for Nikon – at this time (things change fast).

LENSES

While you can spend thousands on a set of lenses based on what you see the professionals carry around, I have found that this is what you’ll really need (Ron’s Canon recommendations after the forward slash):

Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 (35-70mm f/2.8 D) / Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L USM 

Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 (80-200mm f/2.8 D) / Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM 

Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 Macro (60mm f/2.8 D Macro) / Canon 100mm f/2.8L H-IS Macro

Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 (85mm f/1.4 D) / Canon 85mm f/1.2L 

Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 (50mm f/1.4 D) / Canon 50mm f/1.4 

There will be other alternatives to this list, and I have added the D-Model in parenthesis to show less expensive options that are just as great. (Ron – I haven’t included the Canon EF-S lenses as this subject is covered in my Which Lens Should I Buy? article)

Even though having a photographic eye is a main key to shooting a wedding, the glass is VERY important as well. I am an Aperture Priority shooter and all my glass is f/2.8 or faster (and it’s needed).

KIT LENSES (18-55mm, 55-200mm)

While I am not going to promote these lenses as a good option to shoot a wedding, I will mention where they can be used if you choose to do so. If you’re shooting all day, the 55-200 will be great for you to keep your distance and take some candid photos during the ceremony and other times when you don’t want to be “in their face” with the lens to capture an intimate moment. The 18-55 might be something you can use for the portraits, but throughout the wedding, I don’t advise using it (beyond the portraits).

The reason kit lenses aren’t really something you want to be using is due to a couple things. They aren’t as sharp as the other lenses mentioned above, the quality of build isn’t rugged enough, and they aren’t considered “fast glass”. The aperture ratings on these are listed with an f/3.5-5.6 structure usually that means at the closest (18mm) you can only open up to 3.5 and at 200mm you can only read out at f/5.6. These are reasonable, but not an ideal choice for shooting weddings that tend to be set in low light environments.

Fast glass refers to lenses that not only can focus quickly, but more importantly have a single aperture rating (ie 1.4 or 2.8) across the length of a telephoto lens (ie 70-200mm).

Ron’s 2 Cents: People should be paying you to photograph a wedding, so if they are then you owe it to them to use better quality glass. Don’t capture someone’s once in a lifetime moments on cheap kit lenses.

PRO (24-70mm, 70-200mm)

These lenses are what make or break a wedding photographer. Without the focal length or the aperture, you’ll be doing a lot more post-production than you’ll want to spend after shooting for 12 hours.

Ron’s 2 Cents: Agreed – applies to Canon as well and the new II version of the 70-200 is worth the upgrade

PRIME (50mm, 85mm)

I personally love prime lenses. Not only do they offer a wider aperture, in some cases they are sharper than telephoto models. Both of the primes I have listed above are great. My one note though is pertaining to cropped sensors. If you’re shooting with a D300s (or similar body), the 50mm is going to be 80mm compared to the 85mm on a full-frame camera. I only own the 50mm at this time for this reason and use it mostly for close portraits of the bride and any detail shots where I want a great bokeh on the image.

Ron’s 2 Cents: Agreed – Canon users should consider the 1.2L version of the 50mm if you can afford it as it’s a much better choice for wedding photographers due to its improved indoor autofocus performance. Image quality-wise the 1.4 is close enough, so the upgrade is purely for that extra stop and AF performance. Canon’s 85mm f/1.2L has no equal in my book, so its’ a must own for the wedding photographer.

MACRO (105mm)

This is a must-have lens for weddings. The rings, dress details, food, and other parts of the wedding that make it unique to the bride. This is where this lens comes in handy.

Ron’s 2 Cents: Canon offers two 100mm macro lenses and both are fantastic. You can see my comparison of them in this review, and my long-term assessment is that the non-L is just as good as the L for most uses. If you can afford to get the L get it – especially if you own a 7D or 1D Mark IV that can take full advantage of the Hybrid IS – but you aren’t missing much by getting the cheaper non L version whose image quality appears to be just as good.

OTHER GEAR

FLASH

If you can, avoid using the on-camera flash (get a TTL cord) and add an off-camera flash (SB-900 / 580EX II for Canon) to it. I have a Stroboframe that allows me to swing the flash in multiple directions for bouncing the light off walls, etc. so the light isn’t harsh and directly on the subject. And while do have this ability, since 2008 I really haven’t used the flash or mount system during a wedding. I prefer a very relaxed and candid style with my photography and a flash is just calling for “look at me”.

Ron’s 2 Cents: I highly recommend the Quantum QFlash and Custom Bracket I reviewed, but it is bulkier so you’ll have to decide on performance versus size on this one.

LIGHTING

During the portraits and other formal gatherings of the family and wedding party, it is nice to have a portable lighting system, but isn’t necessary for a wedding. If you simply remember to find a well lit space (outdoors or not) that will give you good lighting on the party, you’ll be able to get some great shots. I personally use Profoto for my lighting equipment, but don’t use it during a wedding.

Ron’s 2 Cents: If you can take a compact system like the Elinchrom Quadras that I have in my lighting setup then you’ll have a great product for a group shot. You’ll have to get extension cables and still need big light modifiers, but if you’ve got a good assistant then it’s a worthwhile addition. It’s also a big hassle so I’d only do this as an option for an extra fee to my wedding party client.

MEMORY CARDS

My general rule of thumb on memory cards is anything larger than 8GB is unnecessary. The reason for this is two-fold. One, I can shoot 600+ images (RAW) on one card. I typically cover 2500-3000 images per wedding. And the other is due to DVD backup and fear of a failed card. One DVD can house 360 (RAW) images. So it’s pretty easy for me to quickly split an 8GB card in two and burn two discs. I currently use the SanDisk Compact Flash cards. The day before every shoot, I reformat the cards in camera. This helps restore the cards to their default structure and clean out any “hidden” files. Don’t be afraid to buy these whenever you find spare money to spend. You can NEVER have enough.

You might wonder, how do you keep track of what you’ve shot so far? I use a Pelican CF card holder (2 of them actually). One contains my 4GB cards, and the other 8GB. I start out with all of my cards face-up. Then, when I’ve filled up a card and eject it from the camera, I place it face-down in the Pelican case. The first wedding I shot, I just kept them in separate cases and had to juggle through the LCD viewer to see if I’ve used the card yet. The Pelican is well worth the $20 to save the time frantically going through cards during the wedding.

Ron’s 2 Cents: Personally I prefer Think Tank Photo’s Pixel Pocket Rocket for holding my cards as it is smaller and holds more. What’s more its an option you can get free when you purchase Think Tank Photo bags from this blog. I do agree that SanDisk makes great cards, but I’ve been happy with Lexar too (see what I use). I personally don’t like to use cards larger than 8GB unless doing video as I like to distribute my risk on multiple cards in case of a failure. In addition, when using pro bodies like the Canon 1D Mark IV you can write your images to the CF card as well as the SD card at the same time for redundancy to avoid losing an image due to a card failure. I do agree with Tim though that you can’t have enough, and you don’t have to own the fast cards made.

ALERT: Through July 30th, memory cards are on sale at B&H – stock up now!

Conclusion

If you are wondering about the gear mentioned above, you can see the full list online at B&H [and via the various categories in Ron’s Holiday Gift Guide 2010 – Ron]. Also, if you’re not sure about investing in the lenses and equipment right from the start, please rent it. Read more about rental services here as I rented my gear for years until I was able to amass a collection that covers what I need to shoot a wedding.

Disclosure

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