This guest post was written by Molly Michel of m three studio.
First and foremost, Jamie did a great job explaining how your gear matters, but not as much as your skills and own artistic input in creating great photos. If you missed that discussion, please click over and read that first. I agree with her whole-heartedly.
I’m not much of a gear head – you won’t find me eagerly anticipating the next new lens release. I find what works for me and then I am doggedly loyal to that. I also am a huge fan of efficiency and not being cluttered – so I pare things down to just what I need and don’t carry around a lot of extra gear.
I shoot primarily weddings with only a handful of portrait sessions each year, so my collection of gear is geared towards that. I am also a solo shooter – so all of this gear is for one person. If I have an assistant, they bring their own gear.
My Wedding Gear Kit
Two 5D MarkII cameras – I love the 5D. I’m a full-frame fan all the way. The 5d is a total workhorse. I use them without the vertical grip because I just can’t get my head around changing my hand position (though I should, as I shoot mostly vertical) and I don’t need the extra weight. I don’t use the video feature on these cameras, though they certainly have that advantage. I shoot with one camera most of the day on a hand-strap. During the ceremony I want to be a quicker with more focal lengths, so I have a second camera on a Black Rapid Strap. The hand-held camera has the longest lens on it so I can tuck it into the crook of my arm while using the one on the strap. The rest of the day though is just one camera body.
Canon 50mm 1.2 L – This is my favorite lens. I likely shoot 75% of a wedding day with this lens on my camera. It is just butter. I shoot wide open most of the time, so the 1.2 really rocks here. If I could only have one lens, this would be it.
Sigma 24-70mm 2.8 – Gasp! Yes, I have non-canon lenses. I’ve tried the Canon version of this lens, and I just am not a fan. In my experience it has been soft, and it is slow and heavy. But the Sigma is tack-sharp and light. I love this lens, it is very versatile, and usually gets the most play during family formals and wedding party picture time.
Canon 70-200mm 2.8 L – This is truly the go-to lens for a wedding photographer, because you can be at the back of the church and get a reasonably close photo with the 200mm reach. I love this lens for portraits too (you just have to back up) and it also allows you to be very unobtrusive at other moments during the day. If it has a downfall, it is super slow to focus in very low light, and it is heavy and long – but any zoom lens of reach will be.
Tamron 17-35 2.8 – This lens is kind of a forgotten little thing in the bag. It works, it does the job, but it’s not the best and I’m aware of that. I’d like to replace it with a prime 24mm at some point. But I don’t shoot wide very often at a wedding – just a few big landscapes, and wide of the ceremony and reception – so if it is coming out maybe three times during the day, it does the job. It’s also handy during dancing for some fun shots of that time since you are in close quarters with the guests.
Kenko Unipuls Extension Tube 25 – Remember when I said I like to be pared down? This is how I have macro abilities without an expensive and heavy macro lens in my bag. I use this extension tube with my Sigma 24-70 to get a macro lens for things like ring shots. It’s quick, easy and super light and small.
(2) Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flashes – One of these goes on my camera, the other is a backup. I can’t tell you how many times flashes have failed on me, and backups have been key. For me, they just seem more temperamental. I have two “A Better Bounce Card” bounces strapped to these as well.
Vivitar 285 HV Zoom Thyristor Flash – This flash gets connected to a Pocket Wizard and either lives on a light stand at the reception or my assistant walks around with it and places it where I need it. The reason I use this flash is just because I had it when I started my business, and it works great. I couldn’t see replacing it with fancier gear when it worked great for what I needed. It has the ability to widen and close down it’s reach, and of course you can select the level of power too.
(3) PocketWizard Plus II Transceivers – One of these goes on the flash on my camera, the other on the Vivitar. The extra is just that – an extra. Like flashes, these also seem to be temperamental, so we are often switching between them.
Flash Accessories – There are cords to hook the flashes into the pocket wizards, and backups for those as well. I also bring gaffer tape to tape the Pocket Wizards onto the flashes. I’ve tried a few different methods for attaching them to my camera and the flashes, and the tape works best.
(3) Canon 5D Batteries – These are in addition to what is already in the cameras , so five total. You can just never have enough power, and flashes will suck the juice right out of your batteries, so I always carry more than I need.
(36) Sony Eneloop Rechargeable 2AA batteries - These run the flashes and Pocket Wizards. They hold a charge really well, for a long time. I’ve had these about a year and they haven’t died yet. I had a lot of trouble with the PowerEX (another popular brand) dying, so I’m happy with this switch. I have plastic containers for them that are labeled “new” and “used”, and when we change out a set, they go in the “used” container so that we don’t waste time putting dead batteries into equipment.
Think Tank International v2.0 Rolling Bag – This bag is just the best. It takes a beating in a serious way, and doesn’t budge. I’ve had mine almost four years now, and it still looks almost new. You can reconfigure the interior panels to fit your gear, and there is also the option to have low sidewall panels so that your laptop will fit inside. All of the gear listed above fits in this bag, as well as my 17″ Macbook when I’m traveling. This bag fits in overhead bins on the plane, and I’ve even put it under the seat in front of my on a small regional jet. I use it at weddings to carry anything that is not on my body.
Kelly Moore “Original” Bag – This is what I wear while shooting. I have the grey one – it goes with most everything. I’ve used the Shootsac as well, and I like this bag for it’s higher-end look and the fact that it holds more and can stand on it’s own if you set it down. The only drawback is there is no cover flap like on the Shootsac, so your lenses are exposed. That has only been a problem in winter weddings or days with rain. If you are a Shootsac fan, take note that it takes a few weddings to break this bag in and for it to not be stiff as it molds to your body. As mentioned in Jamie’s post, the Kelly Moore “Kelly Boy” Bag solves this, as it has a flap cover. I do love this bag though, and will often use it as a carry-on bag for my gear when I go on smaller trips where I don’t need all of my gear. (I recently bought the “boy bag” and I’m going to give that a spin)
36″ Reflector/Bounce – My assistant carries this in her bag – it folds up like those car windshield reflectors into a 12″ circle. It has several options – silver, gold, combo, and just white diffusion. It can be handy during portrait time to shield the sun or get that little extra bounce into a shot.
Manfrotto Tripod – This lives in the car mostly and once in awhile we will bring it out for a timed exposure shot.
Manfrotto Light Stand – Pretty self-explanatory.
SanDisk Extreme II Compact Flash Cards – At each wedding I carry (4) 8 gig cards, and (6) 4 gig cards in the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket. I’m personally of the belief that I’d rather have several cards of smaller size at a wedding, then half a wedding day on one big card. I’ve had cards go corrupt before, and I don’t want to loose huge portions of the day. This also guards against that loss should a card go missing, etc. I’ve trained myself to watch for when to change the cards. My assistant also carries extra cards, just in case mine aren’t enough for a day. I have three sets of wedding cards, all numbered and labeled with my studio name and phone number on them. This way we don’ t have to erase the cards right away to use them again. I have separate engagement session cards too for the same reason.
There are a lot of other little things I carry – lens cloth, lens cleaner, bungee cords, etc – but this pretty much covers it. I have a wishlist of gear too – and the top of that is a 24mm f/1.4 and a 85mm f/1.2 lens.
A note from Jamie: I’d appreciate it if you use the links above to buy these things – I get a small referral fee for each purchase made that comes from the site, so it’s a great way to show your appreciation and keep this site up and running. If you don’t like shopping at Amazon, which I am comfortable doing, you can also find most of these items at Adorama or B&H.
Molly Michel is the lead photographer and owner of m three studio, a fine art wedding photography studio based in Milwaukee, WI. She is currently trying to convince that husband that their next vacation should be a safari in Africa.