The two lenses you need for wedding photography

Want to shoot your first wedding but not sure what gear you need? These two lenses will cover you for practically every situation a wedding day can throw at you.

I shoot every wedding with these two lenses on my dual cameras for most of the day, especially for the wedding ceremony itself. The only exception is before the wedding during bridal prep, when I might throw my macro lens on for a while, and after the ceremony during the romantic portraits, when I tend to add my 85mm f/1.8 into the mix.

The all-around best lens for wedding photography

First off, the most versatile lens for wedding photography is a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens (I use Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens for Canon, but there is a version for Nikon too and you’ll find the same for other major brands). A standard workhorse for portrait photographers, this lens is equally important for wedding photography.

Wide enough to capture seated guests and the couple at the altar, but with enough reach to grab close ups, it’s the main lens that I use for wedding photography and it lives on my primary camera (my Canon 5D Mark III).

wedding photography paper cranes
The 24-70mm lens gives you enough field of view to capture the atmosphere.

It’s great for capturing detail shots, and it’s the only lens I use for the wedding reception (after the ceremony and romantic portraits I pack away my secondary camera, my Canon 7D Mark II).

wedding invitations
The 24-70mm is great for detail shots as well as people.

The 24-70mm lens comes in different apertures (f/4 and f/2.8 for example), and I’d recommend getting the fastest you can afford (I love, love, love bokeh, so if you’re less obsessed than me, the f/4 might be a perfect choice).

The best lens for wedding ceremony photography

The second lens you need to get started in wedding photography is a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (again, these come in f/4 as well). I have the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens for Canon EF and there’s an equivalent for all the major brands.

wedding ceremony celebrant
The 70-200mm gives you the reach to get up close and personal whilst remaining unobtrusive during the wedding ceremony.

It’s an essential lens for the wedding ceremony. It allows you to take close ups of the couple (first kiss, ring exchange, etc.) without getting in the way of guests watching the ceremony. You want to document, not dominate!

couple walking down aisle flowers
The 70-200mm lens lets you document the wedding without getting in the way.

At the 70mm end, it’s flexible enough to capture the surrounds and context, too.

married couple first kiss
Capture the context around the photo with the 70mm end of the lens’ focal range.

It’s also a mainstay of the romantic portrait session for me. While the couple is reveling in the loved-up high of the ceremony being done, it’s the perfect lens to let them enjoy a magic first moment of being married, without crowding them. It’s also great for fun shots and the f/2.8 varieties of this lens are magic for playing with background blur and bokeh. I used my 70-200mm a lot with my fractal filters, before I got my 85mm f/1.8 lens.

dog wedding photo
What a good boy.

What other gear do you need to shoot a wedding?

If you are shooting the reception, you will also need at least one flash (that you know how to use well — check out my blog for an in-depth on using flash). If you can afford to get your flash off-camera (here’s what I’d buy in Canon right now), then the opportunities become endless: Shooting in the dark, light painting, creative night portraits and more.

wedding photography van flash dark
Using flash in your wedding photography is easy once you know the basics. The 24-70mm lens mentioned above is my number one pick for the wedding reception for its focal length flexibility and low light capability.

Bonus: the third (and fourth?) lens you need for wedding photography

OK, so what next, once you have your two wedding workhorses in the bag? I suggest that next you need one of two lenses, depending on your shooting preferences (and budget!). Option one: a portrait prime lens such as a 85mm f/1.8 (or the fastest aperture you can afford: f/1.4 or even the f/1.2 version). Option two: A macro lens such as a 100mm f/2.8L Macro, which doubles as a beautiful portrait lens as well as allowing magnificent captures of those essential wedding details.

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