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What Lenses do you use?

May 12, 2016

We are so excited to write this post because today’s post covers a topic that we get A LOT of questions about! From guests at weddings we get;  “Hey man, your camera straps are sweet, what kind of gear do you use?” But from photographers we get ” What lenses do you use when shooting a wedding? This is a huge question because this is one that determines a lot more of your style than you would think. Each lens has a lot of technical mumbo jumbo that goes along with them so I wont get into all of that, i’m just gonna tell you about some of our favorites to work with, what they do, why we use them and show you some examples! KISS method – Keep It Simple Stupid! Because Lord knows I need simple and I am sure I’m not the only one! So we are going to walk through what we think are the best lenses for shooting weddings!

Now, Kathryn and I have different shooting styles so we prefer different lenses, that isn’t to say one is better than another, it is mostly preference. There are some REALLY sharp lenses that  I don’t use often but she LOVES to use! My go-to lenses on every wedding day and session is the Canon 85mm 1.2L and Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens. Kathryn’s two favorite are the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L II & the Canon 50mm 1.2L. We will chat a little more about each of these soon!

I want to preface this by saying, you DO NOT need to go out and immediately buy all of these lenses. Some are very expensive and have taken years for us to buy and that is OK! I think it is SO important to know your equipment to a “t” before upgrading to a new piece of gear. One thing Kathryn and I tried to practice was not upgrading our gear until we realized it was holding us back! When you get to know your gear, you start to use it in new ways and realize more and  more how you can grow with something new! It was huge for us because it allowed us to establish our style early on and figure out exactly what we needed! One HUGE resource we used when buying equipment was Photography On The Net forums. Do yourself a favor and create an account  (It’s $Free99) and just scroll down and camp in the “Classifieds: For Sale” section. So far around 75% of the gear we use now has come from that site and it is incredible reputable. Just make sure the person you are buying from 1) Has a lot of posts. 2) Has a long history with site. 3). Has some feedback, although they don’t always! We LOVE that site and recommend it to anyone!

“Don’t upgrade your gear until you find that is it holding you back, work to use every single shot out of it before making the jump!”

Ok, speaking of jumping, lets jump in. We are going to go from widest to longest focal length. We have also used the “non L version” of these lenses so we will chat a little about those alternatives as well. They could be great options especially if you are wanting to try these lenses out and not spend a million dollars! We also really suggest trying out BorrowLenses.com! We rented a couple of lenses to determine which ones were the best lenses for shooting weddings before making the jump and buying them!

Canon 24-70 mm 2.8L II

The Canon 24-70mm 2.8L is a great lens because you can go wide but also tight if you need. We don’t generally go any wider than 24 so this is the perfect focal length for us! And it allows us to be a little more lazy if we need to be! We can get nice and close on the dance floor as well as tight if we need to zoom in for an emotional shot. We love it because it is a really sharp lens. We generally like to shoot wide open (low f-stop, 2.0 or below) and at F2.8 it still gets a great depth of field allowing plenty of light in for dark situations and stretches our style! We tend to use this with off camera flash since it allows us to zoom and go fairly low with our f-stop without having to change lenses. It makes life so much easier!

What we use it for! 

  • Getting ready
  • Flash shots
  • Landscape portraits… sometimes
  • Receptions
  • 1 Large Ceremony & Reception shot.
  • Large Bridal Party
  • Large Family photos

outside of the vineyard looking in during the first dance groom in the shower with light tears coming down the bride at the preach tree christian church wedding first look with the arches at for bragg wedding star shot and walking down the stairs with the dress cow in the shot during the engagement session on a farm first look walking up the stairs at foundation for the carolinas fireworks and friends helping put the dress on at the graylyn estate

Sigma 35mm Art

This lens is a beast and my baby! Now, we had the Canon 35 1.4L for a while and we actually really prefer the Sigma 35mm Art lens. It just feeeeeels clean. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but that is the only way I know how to explain it. It is a beautiful lens with a strong sleek build and it feels clean. Its built really well and its faster and sharper than the canon 35 1.4L and it comes at a much cheaper price point. It also has a little less warping on the edges that you tend to find in the wider lenses than the canon 35 lens and that is huge for us since we still use this lens for portraits at time! Why wouldn’t you get it! Seems like a no-brainer when we first picked it up and started shooting with it. We would definitely recommend it over the Canon version and we know you will like it more! This is probably the only lens I start and end the day with!

What we use it for!

  • Everything!

4th ward charlotte engagement session holding each other holding tight on the water in san diego harbor walking on the beaches of puerto rico holding each other on the sunset at rough ridge fire works and airplanes walking in the field with the baby hand reaching out for bride new york city bethesda terrace engagement session bride looking into the mirror with the audrey hepburn look first dance by the cross

Canon 50mm 1.2L

Oh, the Nifty-50! Before I started getting into shooting mostly 85mm and 35mm this was a huge lens for me. Now Kathryn uses it mostly and people LOVE this lens. It is extremely popular because it is the lens that most people start shooting portraits with. Now, people don’t immediately jump to the f1.2 L version but we ALWAYS suggest that the first portrait lens people get is the Canon 50mm 1.8. It’s around $100 and it goes down to 1.8 allowing you to get plenty of light in darker situations and giving you a beautiful creamy bokeh in the background! From there we moved up to the Canon 50mm 1.4 for a while before moving to the Canon 50mm 1.2. A lot of people ask if the jump is worth it. Some would say no, but the build quality itself is worth it to me and nothing beats this glass. It is super creamy, really sharp and has beautiful contrast to the lens with a natural vignette! I also use this lens when rooms are too tight for my 85 but I don’t want to use the 35mm because sometimes that sense can be unflattering when it comes to portraits!

What we use it for!

  • Getting Ready
  • Portraits
  • Bridal Party
  • Smaller family photos

with the charlotte skyline in the background shoot at casa hines starry double exposure beautiful side looks of the brides the bride and the wind the bride with one eye shooting the silhouette through the bike wheel while the couple kiss holding tight and kissing between the trees

Canon 85 1.2L

Ok, the Canon 85 f1.2 is my mack daddy lens. The grandaddy of them all. And I say that for good reason, this lens is SLOOOOOWWWWW but it’s like an aged fine wine. You cannot beat this lens with portraits, seriously, no beating it unless you want to spend A LOT more money on a Zeiss Lens. We started out shooting with the Canon 85 1.8 and at a cheaper price point, its an awesome lens for getting started with this focal length. Its cheaper and still nice and sharp, you do notice a pretty clear jump in quality when you upgrade but it is still worth it to get your feet wet with.  I don’t take this lens off when shooting portraits.. Ever. It is an extremely flattering lens on the face and I think it is still sharp down to 1.4 so I shoot it there. Shooting this lens at 1.2 is a little tricky! I also use this lens for the brenizer method, also known as “bokeh panorama”, which is a technique of sticking images together to get a shallow depth of field with a long lens but the look of a wide angle. I will write a blog post about that soon but the image with the groom on the bench (15 images) and the couple in the woods (26 images) are examples. Both images are shot at f1.6 and stitched together to give me a perspective of what a 35mm lens would look like but a depth of field and compression not possible with any lens! The glass is amazing in it, I should know, I once dropped it at a wedding and it shattered all over the floor, the glass was nice even in 1000 pieces!

What we use it for!

  • PORTRAITS, PORTRAITS, PORTRAITS!
  • Getting ready

couple in uptown charlotte with the skyline bride and groom standing on the rocks in a steam Bride and groom int he woods brenizer method brenizer method of the groom sitting on the bench shooting all over looking amazing int eh arches and spanish moss holding the bride tight on the beach in san diego couple holding each other on the charleston harbor couple facing each other in the mountains

Canon 100mm f2.8L

This lens will come as a shocker but we don’t just use this as a detail shot lens which most people do! This lens is a workhorse and has an amazing spiral bokeh when shooting portraits with it. Because of this, Kathryn always uses this lens for portraits and it is absolutely beautiful, we highly suggest it! We got it initially to shoot details with and its amazing for that! I would say, get it just for that, it is an AMAZING lens to have for details and is a must if you want to take those detail shots to the next level! WE started with the 100mm Macro 2.8 Non L version and it is great for getting your feet wet with! The only bad thing is there is no image stabilization so when you try to take those ring shots you have to stay really still or shoot on a tripod if you are shooting with a lower shutter speed. Other than that, its a great lens. The 100mm 2.8L does feel like a pretty substantial upgrade in build quality and how much sharper the images are, and the image stabilizer plays a huge part in that! Now, it takes AMAZING portraits! Whenever we do headshot sessions we use this lens because it allows us to get close up or further back without losing the ability to focus when too close like most lenses. It also is extremely flattering because of the long focal length and beautiful bokeh!

What we use it for!

  • Details, Duh!
  • Portraits
  • Headshots

detail shot with kate spade shoes and ring putting on the fake eyelashes 3d looking ring with sailboats ring on the green leafs indian bride with one eye and looking over the couple rings with sparklers lighting them up rings on the shoes holding each other on the blue ridge parkway on the blue ridge parkway with the mountains

Canon 70-200 2.8L

This lens is probably the most popular L-series canon lens on the market. It allows a WIDE range of focal length and allows you to get all up in there if you want to without really having to move. We knew that we needed this lens immediately in our business because we needed it for ceremonies. We didn’t want to be obtrusive or distracting so we needed a long lens but couldn’t afford the huge price tag. We first began with the Canon 70-200mm f4.0 which you can purchase for almost a quarter of the price as the Canon 70-200mm 2.8L. Now, the 70-200 f4 is a great lens… if you shoot most of your ceremonies outdoor and you don’t need to go lower than f4. For a while that was ok with us but it started to get really frustrating when we would shoot indoor church weddings and we couldn’t get that extra light in. 1.2 f-stops makes a HUGE difference especially when you need it in low light situations but you have to pick what you want it for. Now, that isn’t what makes this one of the most popular Canon L-series lenses. This lens is a portrait workhorse. People LOVE this lens for shooting because of the compression it allows creating a really creamy bokeh in the background and super sharp, flattering looks for your model. It really is an amazing lens that Kathryn LOVES to use for portraits. Keep in mind, its a tank and its HEAVY! We use Holdfast Moneymaker straps so the weight is equally distributed across our shoulders and back but if I had this thing hanging around my neck all day, I would have some serious issues! Its an amazing lens and I believe it is absolutely necessary when running a business, just put it in the budget! Its one of the best lenses for shooting weddings period.

What we use it for!

  • Portraits
  • Ceremonies

first look over the shoulder at fort bragg with the present arms! groom over the bride and fathers shoulder as they walk down the aisle groom crying as bride walks down the aisle bride and groom walking down the aisle bride and groom and father walking daughter down the axel

Conclusion!

Wither you read the whole thing or just the spark notes of it, we really really appreciate you taking the time to come here and read what we have to say about our favorite lenses and the ones we suggest! It has been a long journey and its a lot of money to spend! We highly suggest, if you can, holding a “real person job” (as people call them) as long as you can and invest all the money you make from your business BACK INTO your business. That is going to be the most helpful thing in building your business so that you can then go full time and ditch that other job and start making money doing what you love and what you feel you are made for! Good luck out there, PLEASE comment below or email us have if you have any questions about anything or want any advice, we are here to help!

 

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  1. Jordan N

    May 12th, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Awesome write up guys. Thanks!

    When are the nightly classes starting?

  2. Danielle

    June 5th, 2016 at 4:03 am

    Love your blog and style! Hopefully one day I can use you guys 🙂

    As a beginner in this photography world, would you suggest taking workshops (either online or in person) ? I know the basics of my camera and shooting such as ISO, aperture and such but I would like to hone my craft.

    What would you suggest ?

  3. Ian

    October 25th, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    As a wedding photographer shooting canon I found this article really inspirational! Lens selection for me has only now got a little easier after much practice.

    For me bridal prep 35/50/85
    Ceremony 24-70ii/85 or 70-200
    Formals 16-35/50/70-200
    Bride and groom portraits 50/70-200
    Reception 16-35/70-200
    Evening 24-70ii/50

    And I use the Sigma 50 art, so sharp wide open!

  4. Zaak

    December 10th, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Always interesting to see what other people use.

    prep: 35mm 1.4L
    procession: same
    ceremony: 70-2002.8L
    formals bride/groom: 85 1.2L
    large bridal party/family: 17-40L
    reception: 24-70 II L

  5. Brian

    December 19th, 2017 at 8:38 am

    I find the 85 1.2L terrible for anything ya know,breathing! Its sooo slow to focus,I can never capture any candids with it. The perfectly still portrait maybe but I find the 1.8 tracks and focuses better.

  6. Anchor & Veil Photography

    December 23rd, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    so true Brian! Thats why we actually switched to the Sigma 85, much faster, still not FASTTTT but better. We also shoot Nikon now haha!

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