Author’s note: This article was updated in 2015 to reflect new equipment on the market. I also added sections on backup equipment, third party lenses, Pentax/Sony gear, and mirrorless camera systems. Be advised that older photo.net user comments below may not accurately reflect the current article. — Josh
Should you try to make quality wedding images as a paid professional with just a Canon Rebel and the kit lens? The answer is no, you really shouldn’t. However, any digital SLR body combined with a decent lens (see below) is a good start. This article will explain the equipment that a typical wedding photographer uses and some of the reasoning behind those choices.
An Important Note on Renting vs. Owning
When you are responsible for documenting something as important as a wedding day, there is no excuse for not having the right tool. This is doubly true if you are presenting yourself as a working professional. So how do you get your hands on a $1600 Canon 16-35 lens when you only have $100 in your wallet? Rent it! Most professional photography stores have a rental department. Prices for a digital body range from $100-200 per day and most lenses range from $24-100 per day. Many rental operations offer a discount for multi-day or weekend rental as well. This is good because you get the chance to become familiar with a particular piece of equipment before you have to use it on the job.
An Even More Important Note about Backup Equipment
Being a wedding photographer is a fairly high stress occupation as far as photography goes. So many variables that could mess up your photos are out of your control and it’s a show that only happens once, so you have to get it right. One thing you can control, however, is what happens when your camera gear breaks down. When, and I do mean when, this frustrating event occurs, a well prepared professional will simply reach into their bag, pull out their backup, and keep on shooting. Does this mean that you have to have an exact duplicate of every piece of equipment you own? Of course not, though if you could afford it, that would be a wonderful thing! You just need to have enough backup equipment to get the job done if any one piece of gear breaks. For example, if your standard gear is a full frame body and three zoom lenses, you might want to have a crop sensor body and a few prime lenses as a backup. Or you could change out the prime lenses for a single wide-to-mid telephoto. There are a number of different directions you could go. The idea is just that you have the gear you need to photograph the wedding even if your primary gear goes down. Backup equipment is crucial and not something that anyone who is working as a professional photographer can afford to skimp on. Without it, you are risking your reputation and your paycheck.
Insurance—Perhaps the Most Important Note of All
Speaking plainly, working as a professional wedding photographer without liability and equipment insurance is a terrible idea. Life is chaotic, and life at a wedding is even more so. The opportunities for disaster are everywhere, both for you and for your equipment. What would happen to your business if you lost some or all of your equipment? Watch this poor wedding photographer fall into a fountain with thousands of dollars worth of bodies and lenses. Or how about this fellow who had his gear straight-up stolen in the middle of the wedding (you can see the thief on the video).
Don’t stop at just insuring your equipment. Lawsuits are everywhere these days and professional liability insurance is crucial. Coming up with $10,000 to replace a bag full of equipment could be peanuts compared to a civil court case. Could you get sued for setting up a formal portrait where everyone fell into a lake? What about this guy who flew a drone into the bride and groom while filming? Your elbow bumping a cake, a grandmother knocked down while rushing to get a shot, or worst of all, something that causes you to lose a couple’s photos are all potential accidents waiting to happen. Sure, some people will be understanding about accidents, but others will absolutely not. Just to drive home the point, here’s a situation where a photographer had both her equipment stolen AND lost the wedding images because of it.
You need insurance. There is no way around it. As a professional, you can’t go the amateur route and tack a rider onto your homeowner’s or renter’s policy. Most of those riders have specific exclusions for equipment used professionally (and have no liability insurance). You need an insurance policy that is specifically designed for professional photograhers. Photo.net partners with Brown & Brown insurance to offer discounted professional photographer insurance/liability packages for our members. With up to $2,000,000 of no deductible liability coverage, the option to cover home/office locations, and equipment coverage as low as $1 per year per $1000 of value, this insurance package should be an option for any photographer looking to protect their equipment and business. Click here for more information on this insurance through photo.net’s partner Brown & Brown. Additionally, call a good local insurance agent and they should be able to point you in the right direction. But beware anyone who doesn’t seem to understand that you are a working professional. You can also look into insurance offered through photographers associations like APA or WPPI.