Why I Use Prime Lenses For my Wedding Photography


Why I use Prime Lenses for my wedding photography

In the golden age of twentieth-century film photography, there was no such thing as a zoom lens. All of the famous photojournalistic images we know and love were shot with a fixed focal length lens. The most used focal lengths were 35mm and 50mm. It is safe to say that the 35mm prime lens is considered the most versatile all-round lens. There are many advantages of prime lenses for wedding photography and I will try to explain in more detail in this article

With the advent of zooms, we now have the convenience of a wide-angle lens (24mm) with a short telephoto (70mm) all in one lens. That is like having a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and (near 85) all in one lens. If you add a telephoto zoom you can go from 70mm right up to 200mm. If you add up all of the prime lenses you would need to cover this range you would need a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm and 200mm! As a Liverpool wedding photographer, it’s important that I use the best tools for my work and that is why I use prime lenses for weddings.

All of the following photographs are from my first wedding using prime lenses.

bride and groom smile at each other during the wedding vows

I love capturing the big moments between the couple during the ceremony. It’s a buzz to know the couple will remember this moment in years to come looking at this photograph.

Big is Better (Isn’t it?)

When I first started wedding photography I went for the zoom set up of two camera bodies with the Nikon 24-70 (2.8) and the 70-200 (2.8) The thought of using primes terrified me! I also added grips to my D700 full frame cameras to make them look like the flagship D3 in case I had to go head to head with rich uncle Fred and his top camera kit at a wedding. I thought you had to look impressive! The advent of the mirrorless Fuji X system blew that idea into dust. (But that’s another story).

You seriously couldn’t miss me with two bodies and the massive 70-200 and still substantial Nikon 24-70 dangling from my shoulders. The Nikon 70-200 makes you look like a Dalek looking for something to exterminate! Even with my relatively high ISO D700 (for the time), I would still need my speedlights in the evening and especially in the winter. (Now you are talking bulky).


bridesmaids flowers

I love the light on this photo, it really accentuates the flowers and the lace of the dress.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Nikon 24-70 (2.8) and the 70-200 (2.8) are both fantastic lenses. (If you are a canon shooter the equivalent lenses are ace too).

As I gained more experience I noticed I only used the 70-200 for about 10% of the day, and a most of the time it would be to zoom right in on mum during the ceremony, or it was used for the portraits and standing at the back of the church. (Although I can still do that now with my 85, just walk up the aisle a bit).

The one thing a 200mm does do that I miss, is compress the background, but I can live without that!

After looking at some of the big hitter wedding photographers in the North West and joining fearless I started to see the beautiful imagery that can only be achieved with primes. I knew it was the next step but I was scared!

Why I was scared of going prime.

I was scared of losing the telephoto range of 135-200mm (I was under the false assumption I needed that range).

I also thought I would need three cameras with 24, 50 and 85 attached!

It was just so safe knowing I had the full focal range of 24-200mm on tap!

bride and groom dancing

I love this photo, the bride and groom really loved dancing together and you can see it on their faces.

Taking the plunge into prime world. (My hand was forced)

I was asked by a client to meet a few days before the wedding at the church, which is something I don’t normally do. I am so glad I did.

The wedding was in October and the church was the darkest church I had ever visited. The bride and groom had already commented on the light levels, (which is why they asked me to come), so I brought my camera kit and discovered my 2.8 zooms were just not enough.

For some reason the designers of the church had decided to put the windows really high up and there was a 30ft gap (right where the altar was) with no window light. The windows then continued to the back of the Altar area.

To add insult to injury the designers also decided it wasn’t that important to put lights right up to the altar. As I pointed the camera to the clients as they stood in the place they were to be married their faces were almost dark!

I will take my D700’s (I still have them) up to ISO 10,000 extend ISO but I was getting a shutter speed of 1/30th or something like that at ISO 10,000. This was unacceptable.

On discussion the priest and client suggested we use flash (and were quite happy to), but to be honest I was reluctant because the ceremony is such a special time. To have the flash popping away during the wedding ceremony felt very wrong.

I knew prime lenses were needed. Thankfully my great friend Matthew at Aaron Rose wedding films had a 24mm f1.4 and 50mm 1.4

This saved me the expense of hiring the equivalent lenses.

father and son hug

A big hug from dad. (I noticed I could get closer to my subjects without the bulky lenses and flash on top).

Brave New World.

During the wedding ceremony I used the 24 and 50mm at 1.4 and caught some great shots of the couple smiling at each other during the exchange of vows, but the one think I noticed while editing the images was the rim lighting on their heads from the church lighting!

I was in another world of light with these lenses, this I had never seen with the zooms because they max out at an aperture of 2.8. The primes were capable of 2 full stops more! This gave me 4 times the amount of light gathering! So my 1/30th at an extreme ISO 10,000 (only to be used in extreme emergency and would almost certainly need to be in black & white) could be a comfortable 1/60th with a very usable ISO 5000.

Another thing I noticed was the beautiful bokeh and shallower depth of field. There is a big difference in depth of field at 50mm between f2.8 and f2, and even more dramatic difference at f1.4.

It does take some getting used to though, you have to be more precise with your focus point. I now use the longer lengths 50 and 85 mostly at f2 until I need the f1.4

So that was the ceremony out of the way, phew!

a couple kissing

Getting closer without your subjects noticing  will bag you more intimate moments like this.

Be Brave my Son.

It was after the ceremony during the after drinks and canapés I stuck my trusted 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 Dalek lens back on my cameras, but again the lighting forced me to put my speedlights on both cameras.

The venue was such a lighting disaster on my usual ISO 3200 and 1/100th shutter speed (with flash full), it was all over the place. The lighting was very green and there were small windows bringing in kelvin 5000 light in.

With my kelvin 5000 flashes it was making a mess of peoples faces White balance wise. It was going to be a lot of work post production. In some parts of the building the ISO 3200 was too much (by the windows) and just right (in the alcoves).

I pushed myself to put the 24mm and 50mm onto my two Nikon D700’s at least for 10 minutes.

I will go over the advantages of primes in another article but I was in another world of light with these two lenses. I had always been disappointed in the lack of separation with the 24-70 at f2.8 around 24-35 mm and I as I became more experienced as a wedding photographer I used the range of 24-35mm the most.

The problem was too much depth of field and distracting elements in the background.

Not so with the 24mm prime. Even at f2 it isolates so much more than f2.8.

two women dancing

primes give you more freedom to move around with the smaller kit especially on the dancefloor.

You Got the Look.

The look that I was admiring so much in other wedding photographers was now available to me!

Prime lenses just have that special look. You just can’t get it with zooms.

No matter how good the technology gets, a 24-70mm can have 18 separate pieces of glass. This creates one big lens whose bokeh can’t get near a good prime at f2 or f1.4.

I was capturing images in a dark room with just an overhead light, which was creating a rim light on the subject!

Like I have already said the Nikon 24-70 is a big lens, and it weighs a hell of a lot too. With the lens hood it’s definitely a mini Dalek. People notice you with this lens. With a 50mm you become so much more invisible. You are able to get closer to the action with family and friends and so capture more intimate moments.

bride and groom doing a salsa dance

The bride and groom loved dancing together, here they are doing a Salsa with their Salsa club friends.

I had the best wedding of my career up to that point. I kid you not. I really enjoyed myself. I was getting closer and there were a lot more intimate shots happening. The couple were a little unconventional, and after the ceremony and formals were out of the way it was just a party with lots of dancing.

The bride and groom were into salsa dancing and the groom was Greek, so there was loads of Salsa dancing and Greek dancing from about 6pm.

Another big advantage was having no flashes on the cameras. So no big tell tale sign to the room that there was a photographer about. People were just so much more relaxed and I could get so much closer without alerting people to my presence.

Depending on the time of day, I use a 24 mm 1.4 and 50 mm 1.4 on 2 bodies. During the speeches and ceremony I swap out to a 35 mm 1.4 and 85 mm 1.4. I think I prefer the 24 mm-50 mm combo, but sometimes you need the reach of the 85!

groom doing a traditional Greek wedding dance

The groom performed a traditional Greek dance. He has just got up from a crouching position!

Just do it!

I dare you to go out and hire (or borrow from a tog friend) one of the combinations above. Get to the bridal preps 30 minutes earlier and try the primes out. There will probably be a lot more cropping until you get used to them, but I guarantee you will love it. Have fun!


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