Wedding Photography Gear Guide (Nikon)

I’m a Nikon shooter and their professional line of DSLRs offers some great options for wedding photography, including the king-of-the-hill, the Nikon D3s. I shoot most weddings with just the D3, but also use a few less expensive models as backups, including the D200 and D3100. I’ll soon either upgrade those backups to the D700 or wait for the new D4, said to be in production but with the current situation in Japan this might have a delayed release date. I buy nearly all my stuff at B&H Photo, the industry gold standard of photography stores. I also get all kinds of stuff from Amazon because their prices are competitive and I know precisely when I can expect an order. When you get your stuff from those links, it helps me earn a few cents towards worthy causes like my poverty documentation in Africa, Eurasia and Southeast Asia.

Nikon DSLR Bodies

Aside from the excellent image quality, super fast autofocus and great ergonomics, the Nikon D3S has duel CF card slots which in my opinion is a must-have feature for one reason: Backup. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of loosing memory card data which could not be retrieved. Thankfully it was just a family outing and not a wedding, but with the D3 you can simultaneously write to both cards, providing an instant backup.

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Nikon D3s/D3 Nikon D700 Nikon D300s
The D3 is my go-to camera for every wedding – exceptional low light imaging abilities with the ergonomics and build to match. The new D3s is all that plus 720HD video. The D3’s little brother packs a mean punch with lots of comparable specs that make it an obvious 2nd camera or simply a backup to keep in the bag. The D300s is Nikon’s top-tier cropped-sensor DSLR and features a 1.5x magnification factor. This DSLR is a great option for a 2nd shooter or as another backup.

Nikon f/2.8 Lenses

I use three non-prime lenses at a typical wedding: the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 for wedding party and family portraits, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 for the ceremony, and sometimes a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 on my second body, also during the ceremony. These lenses cover 14-200mm in a highly effective manner, all in a fast f/2.8 aperture.

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Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
The Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 is a lens one of the sharpest wide lenses in the world. It won’t allow for filters, but most wedding photographers wouldn’t use those anyway. This is your group portrait lens in small venues. Nikon’s mid-range zoom, this 24-70mm this lens could stay on the camera most of the day. Before I got my 50 f1.4, this lens was my go-to for every wedding. Right after a midrange zoom, I consider a good 70-200mm an essential piece for wedding ceremonies when you obviously can’t be obtrusively snapping photos.

Nikon Primes

Shooting an indoor wedding rarely affords the luxury of great lighting, and even with the amazing low-light performance of the Nikon D3 and Nikon D700, there are just some situations that still call for fast primes. These three lenses get the job done in light that makes f/2.8 lenses weep. In my kit, I use the 50mm f/1.4 extensively and could pretty much shoot an entire wedding with just this lens.

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Nikon 24mm f/1.4 Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Nikon 85mm f/1.4
If prime wide lenses are your thing, this Nikon 24mm f/1.4 is what you’re looking for. It’s pricey but the focus is fast and the images are ultra sharp, even wide open. Great for group portraits and wide shots of venues at night. Not so great on the pocketbook. A 50mm f/1.4 prime is the cheapest f/1.4 you’ll use, and a great entry into low light wedding photography. You can get by with the cheaper 50 1.8, but the depth of field on the 1.4 creates a much nicer bokeh effect for portraits. On full-frame, the 85mm focal length is great for tighter shots of band members, and especially singers and drummers. For DX cameras, the 85mm offers a narrow field of view that’s great for headshots.

Nikon Speedlight/CLS

I’m a big fan of Nikon’s speedlights and but not so hot on their “Creative Lighting System”. Even with great line of sight, I have missed shots I wanted badly and have since upgraded my wireless capability to the Radiopopper PX system.  I use one flash and two Nikon SB-600’s, which have since been replaced by the SB-700.

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Nikon SB-900 Nikon SB-700 Westcott Softbox
The SB-900 is Nikon’s top-tier speedlight flash that also acts as a commander for your other lights. It’s much easier to use than the SB-800 and has several features that set it apart — my favorite being the “even” setting that disperses light more effectively, creating less shadows on the subject.I most often use it though in conjunction with the Radiopopper PX system, commanding my two SB-600 speedlights. The new Nikon SB-700 do the job well and like their SB-600s, perform great for most any general application. I use them extensively on light stands with softboxes, umbrellas, or other modifiers.The 700 is also cheaper, smaller and lighter than the SB 900, which can really help if you’re shooting with a heavy body. It also works as a master, making it a great all around flash. When good light can’t be found, studio quality portraits are fast and effective with this portable 28-inch Westcott Softbox. Mounted on top of a lightstand, these are perfect for bride/groom portraits, either outside in bright light or inside a dark reception venue.  It does not however travel in a standard carry-on, so it usually stays home if I’m flying somewhere.

Recommended Accessories

These are the accessories that I use for my work. Recommended for any wedding photographer.

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SanDisk Extreme CF Nexto DI Portable Storage Macbook Pro
Sure there are bigger cards out there, but I wouldn’t want any more than 8GB of work in any one place at one time. Card failures do happen and I have recently lost two –one which I could not retrive any data at all. I now prefer using SanDisk and whenever possible, shoot with my D3 which has dual card slots for instant backup. When possible, I prefer to backup throughout the wedding day during the brief moments of downtime. I dump my photos into Aperture, and simultaneously backup the files to an external drive. If I have to reformat a CF card in the field, I know that I will have at least two copies of that day’s work, an absolute minimum in wedding photography. Really? Do I need to explain this? It’s stable, fast, and a great way to display your favorites from the ceremony with all the guests at the reception, especially when you project the photos. It also allows you to backup your photos continuously and if needed, free up CF card space.

Just Starting Out

So you’re a beginner and really can’t afford $17,000 of equipment to see if you’re cut out to be a wedding photographer. What you can do is get yourself a Nikon D300s and a Nikon 50 1.8 for less than $1900. This is an excellent entry point and allow you to comfortably 2nd shoot for a more experienced photographer.