It’s a new month which means I’ve got a new piece of education content for photographers! Last month I talked about where in the heck to start in regards to pursuing photography professionally. If you didn’t get that little nugget of advice, you can read about it HERE! For those of you that are newer to photography, I want these educational posts to go in a reasonable order and not jump all over the place. In my mind, the next question most beginner photographers ask themselves is which camera lens to buy first.
You’ve decided you want to turn your hobby into a career and, in order to do that, you will slowly start to invest in professional equipment. It’s just a natural flow to start building up your gear inventory. BUT there are a few things I want to touch on first before I get into some of the nitty-gritty that will help set your business up for success.
1. Please please please don’t start going into debt by charging equipment purchases on credit cards. You can do SO MUCH amazing work with your the starter equipment. A large part of what makes a photograph so stunning isn’t the expensive gear but rather the knowledge and experience of the photographer themselves. If you start going into debt for your business it will ultimately create stress and resentment towards something that used to bring you joy.
2. Do not just get whatever lens someone recommends without doing some research first. Sure, knowing that a photographer you love primarily uses a certain lens or piece of equipment can be a key part of being able to recreate a style that you adore. BUT there is so much more that goes into the final product than just the lens choice. Are they photographing the same subject matter as you? The lens that you may use for large family photos could be a lot different than the lens that you use for a high school senior. Are they capturing images that are really tight/up-close or are they more pulled back/wide? Choosing the right lens for the job can make all the difference!
Ok, so now that I’ve given you those little caveats, I’ll go into MY specific lens choices for what I’m photographing. Just keep in mind I’m an engagement and wedding photographer. If your specialty is different, than your priorities/choices will differ. Also, my preferences are just that: PREFERENCES. My choices are not the end-all-be-all of what’s out there.
Within each lens category/type, I also have Amazon links that will take you directly to the pieces of equipment I use!
Funny story: when I was in your shoes trying to decide which camera lens to buy first, I had NO IDEA that there were different TYPES of camera lenses and bodies. They are known as a crop-sensor camera and a full-frame camera. Full-frame cameras are what you would consider professional-grade. I won’t get into all the technical differences between the two, but it is SUPER important to know which type of camera body you have so that you can make the correct lens purchase. I use a full-frame camera body. Want to know what type you have? This article from SLR Lounge should help clear things up! 😉
By the time I wanted to invest in more expensive gear, I had already figured out what I really loved photographing: couples. I didn’t have to worry about getting groups of 10+ people in a shot (just yet). I also didn’t need to worry about shooting from super far away. Both of these are KEY in choosing which camera lens to buy.
What really made my heart sore like crazy was when I had the background really blurry and my subject just seemed to pop right off of it. If you like images where you can see a lot more detail in the background, then you would have a different lens preference. After doing hours of research, I had come to the conclusion that the best portrait lens I could buy to make this look easier to achieve (and more consistently) would be an 85mm lens. I don’t have to be super duper close to my couples, but it also doesn’t require TONS of space to be able to get them in the frame from head-to-toe.
85mm Nikkor 1.8| for Nikon: https://amzn.to/2C9k5AY
Now, I knew that I also wanted to dive into weddings and the 85mm lens would not allow me to get portraits of families together with the bride and groom. It was a possibility that I wouldn’t have enough room (backing up far enough) to get larger room shots of reception spaces, dancing, etc. So I knew I needed to look for a lens that was a little wider. I still wanted to get some of that background blur if I could because I just loved it so much. That brought me to my second lens purchase: a 50mm lens.
You will hear it over and over again: the phrase “Nifty 50.” This focal length is great for so so many different subject matters and, if you can only invest in one lens at a time and you need to be able to photograph a variety of different subjects, this would be my practical recommendation for which camera lens to buy first.
50mm Nikkor 1.4 | for Nikon: https://amzn.to/3fvqsx9
Wedding ceremonies are a beast of their own for sure and there is absolutely NO WAY I would want to photograph them for my couples without this next lens choice. I need the ability to reach the bride and groom standing at the altar but I also can’t get 2 ft away from them to get the shot either. The SIZE of ceremony space can change quite a bit, too. Maybe it’s an intimate ceremony outside with only a few guests and about 5 rows of chairs. Or maybe it’s a church ceremony with dozens of pews that I have to weasel through and guests are scattered all over. I need flexibility and as much reach out of my lens as possible. That’s why I never shoot a ceremony without my 70-200mm zoom lens.
70-200mm Tamron | for Nikon: https://amzn.to/3fwZeGj for Canon: https://amzn.to/2CzKGXQ
Just a side note: if the lens only has one number in front of the “mm” that means it is a prime lens that only has one set focal length. If it has two numbers with a dash, like the one I just mentioned, it is a zoom lens and can be set to any focal length within that range. I want all the options at my fingertips to move quickly during ceremonies, so a zoom is hands-down my go-to choice.
This next lens is definitely a luxury purchase. There are lens accessories you can buy to achieve a similar look, but you just can’t beat having a lens on-hand that is made for photographing details up close and personal. I use this lens for capturing the engagement and wedding rings, earrings and other jewelry, the intricate details of the wedding gown, the groom’s cuff links, etc. So many pretty things! The lens I use for these types of images is another prime lens: the 105mm lens.
105mm macro Sigma | for Nikon: https://amzn.to/3fH5V93 for Canon: https://amzn.to/3gT324W
The lenses above aren’t the only ones that I own, but they were the lenses that I chose to buy first. I eventually added on a 35mm for wider shots (like big reception spaces, dancing, huge family photos that the couple might request, or if I just wanted to feature an epic location). Later, I invested in a “just for fun lens” : the 135mm. I can use it for low-lit ceremony spaces where I need to still have a lot of reach. But my favorite thing to use it for is portraits when I have enough space to back up. The creaminess of the background is freaking incredible!
35mm Sigma 1.4 ART | for Nikon: https://amzn.to/32inIiU for Canon: https://amzn.to/30oWp3Z
135mm Sigma 1.8 ART | for Nikon: https://amzn.to/38X7tJt for Canon: https://amzn.to/3fAq8gI
So that pretty much sums up my lens collection and WHY I chose the types of lenses that I did. Hopefully any beginner photographers reading this found the info helpful! I do lots and lots of research before I choose which specific brand, type, quality, etc. lens to buy. I guarantee you that if you’re trying to decide between two brands (Ex. Nikkor vs Sigma) someone has written a review on it with all kinds of tech specs and pretty pictures. DO YOUR RESEARCH before you invest hundreds to even thousands of dollars!
There is a tool that I HIGHLY recommend for all beginning photographers to help you get awesome, accurate from your images no matter what environment you’re shooting in. It’s called an ExpoDisc and you can read all about exactly how to use it and where to buy one here.
Want to see more educational content that I’ve written for photographers? Check out this section of my blog!
I am not paid to talk about or endorse any of these products. Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means, at no cost to you, I may make a small commission when you click the links and purchase.
Christy Hunter is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Tucson, Arizona.
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