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Lenses For Indoor Event Photography – Must Have Fast Glass

Five lenses every indoor photographer must have in their kit. It doesn’t matter whether you shoot Canon or Nikon, or whether you shoot crop or full frame. These five are a must have for capturing emotion and action in low light. If you’re still using a variable speed, package zoom lens then I implore you to consider purchasing at least one high-speed lens. Both Canon and Nikon offer an identical lineup of fast glass. In this article I want to focus on five different lenses. Three prime lenses and two zoom lenses.

The intent of this article is not to argue the importance of fixed verses zoom lenses, nor is it to examine the pros and cons of each. It is intended to look at how a professional chooses and uses the best lens for the situation. Event photography, especially wedding photography, incorporates a mixture of both technical and creative photographic opportunities. It doesn’t matter if you shoot traditional or photojournalistic you will use techniques and compositions from both schools of thought.

For any work indoors the first thing a photographer will consider is the speed of the lens. Anything under f/2.8 is too slow for professional work. Even with the advent of relatively noise free high ISO camera sensors a professional must know that they got the shoot. You do not want to be concerned with motion blur or camera shake while great photographs pass by.

Primes

Prime lenses offer increased color accuracy and intense depth of field control. Not only that, but they have a single advantage in portrait photography that zooms do not. They offer uniformity in style. In exchange for this they give up the flexibility in composition that a zoom lens offers. You will want to use the same prime lens for all or most of your traditional portrait shots. That way there will be a certain continuity of style, tone and feeling running through them. Simply, by limiting yourself to a single focal length you will give your images a feeling that they belong together.

Both Canon and Nikon offer beautiful prime lenses in both a mid-range and professional category. Don’t let this confuse you if you are on a budget. Both categories offer superb optics and technical features. Canon offers their primes in a standard lineup and in their L-series professional lineup, while Nikon offers their primes in the standard D-series and the professional G-series lineup. The price range for the standard lines run between $300 and $500, and the professional L-series and G-series lenses run between $1200 and $2000.

Wide

At the wind end of the spectrum a 24mm f/2.8 is available in the mid range while the professional version of these lenses offers a maximum aperture of f/1.4. These lenses are great for traditional group shoots and formal interior shoots. Using a wide angle lens like this for action shots during the main event or a wedding reception will produce photos that give the viewer the feeling that they are there immersed in the surrounding of the photograph. This style lends itself well to documentary work and photojournalistic photography.

Standard

The “nifty 50” or 50mm prime lens has traditionally found itself to be the workhorse of many professional photographers. It is offered as a 50mm f/1.4 and is well suited for portraiture and documentary work. This lens gives beautiful color saturation and intense rich blurring, or bokeh, outside of its narrow depth of field. The professional series offers a maximum aperture of f/1.2. Use this lens for close portraiture, and interior detail photography. In low light situations this lens excels at stopping the action, but be aware that the small depth of field may cause focus issues in rapidly changing subjects as they move outside of its small range.

Telephoto

For most photographers an 85mm f/1.8 lens is the ideal portraiture lens. It offers great depth of field while minimizing the foreshortening effect of the shorter primes. The lens is also offered in a professional version with a maximum aperture of f/1.2. The 85mm focal length is somewhat limiting for general purpose use but makes up for this with gorgeous traditional portrait shots. This is the lens you will use most of the time when you get the lighting gear out and pose your clients for their formal shots. The wide aperture also gives you the ability to take advantage of available lighting for soft natural portraits.

Zooms

Zooms offer one thing primes cannot. They offer the ability to compose your photograph while standing relatively in the same place. For event photography this is a big plus. You cannot always get close enough to the action for the shot that you want. Zoom lenses also give you a big advantage if you’re trying to capture candid photographs. They allow you to sneak up next to the subject without them noticing you. This makes for natural looking images and removes the observer effect from your subject.

The zoom lenses offered by both Canon and Nikon are vast. There are however, only two lenses that you need to focus on. A wide angle and a telephoto zoom. The 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 70-200mm f/2.8 are both industry standards for this type of photography. They are both professional class lenses though there are lesser priced aftermarket lenses that offer comparable optical and technical features.

Wide

The wide-angle zoom offers a range of 24-70mm and a maximum aperture of f/2.8. This lens is great for closer indoor work and detail photography. Break this one out when you will be getting close to your subjects such as a dressing room or small bar area. This also makes a great walk around lens allowing you to get moderately close for candids and yet wide enough for small shots, table and room photographs. The zoom range on this lens is within the operating spects of most on camera flash equipment making it the go-to lens for any direct flash work.

Telephoto

The telephoto zoom lens offers a range of 70-200mm and maximum aperture of f/2.8. The 70-200mm lens is offered with image stabilization (IS) Canon, or vibration reduction (VR) Nikon. This lens is also offered in a model without any anti-shake technology. The VR and IS lenses are the best choice for low light situations providing forgiveness for shake due to low shutter speed. This lens is the one you want when you need to step away from the action and blend in to capture emotion and raw candid expressions. If your style aims for a photojournalistic look and capturing the moment. This might be your all purpose lens.

Wedding Photography Lenses That Every Photographer Can’t Do Without

There are generally four kinds of photography lenses that every wedding photographer should have in his or her gig bag:

  • Wide-Angle Zoom
  • Wide-to-Telephoto Zoom
  • Image-Stabilized Telephoto Zoom
  • Prime/Portrait Lenses

Wide-Angle Zoom

Wide-angle zoom lenses are one of the most important photography lenses that every wedding photographer should have, typically 17mm to 35mm in length with a fixed aperture of f/2.8. They provide a large depth of field, making it simple to have foreground and background in focus. They are an indispensable wedding photography equipment which allows versatility in confined areas such as a small banquet room or crowded dance floor. While shorter photography lenses allow you to capture more details, wide-angle zoom lenses allow you to capture more reactions and atmosphere to tell a richer story.

To elaborate further, wide-angle zoom photography lenses allow you to shoot a wider perspective of moments happening around the major subject, hence providing a bigger picture of the entire event. For example, wide-angle photos have the capability to tell “stories within a story”, allowing you to reveal more of the story behind the shot. This is essential for a good photojournalistic wedding photography. As events surrounding weddings are so time sensitive, good photography lenses will allow you to capture as many actions or emotions in the quickest time as possible.

When used in a venue such as the church or ballroom, wide-angle zoom photography lenses also magnify the grandeur and spaciousness of the area, which encapsulates the creative feel for a photojournalistic wedding photography.

However, you need to be selective of the scenes or actions using wide-angle photography lenses, as a caveat to shooting wide is that it creates some body distortion, particularly when a subject is photographed close-up. Generally, people tend to look heavier and shorter on the edges, while arms can look huge. The last thing you want is to have the bride cursing you for making her look like she has put on 10 pounds! To get around this problem, you should as far as possible avoid putting the bride and groom at the edges of the wide-angle distortion. In addition, wide-angle photography lenses might also introduce distracting or unwanted elements into the frame, which would otherwise ruin a picture perfect moment.

Wide-to-Telephoto Zoom

Wide-to-telephoto lenses are the single most important photography lenses that a wedding photographer cannot do without. They should ideally be lenses that cover somewhere around the 20-70mm focal length range with an aperture of f/2.8. This ideal range lets you get wide enough to take a group photograph and close enough to capture facial emotions in your candid shots or a three-quarter portrait of a couple without the undesirable effects of wide-angle perspective distortion. They also double as good lenses for portraits. Given just this lens, you would be able to capture most of the shots needed for a wedding decently well.

Image-Stabilized Telephoto Zoom

Image-stabilized telephoto zoom lenses are also essential items in your wedding photography equipment checklist. The 70-200mm focal length is an important range for wedding ceremony photos. It allows you to give your subjects more space in situations where you don’t want to get in the way. As you will often be photographing down the aisle from the back of the church, image-stabilized telephoto zoom lenses will come in very handy. 200mm is long enough to be able to take 3/4 length images of the bride and groom exchanging their vows while staying at a reasonable distance away from the action and 70mm is wide enough to take in the bridesmaids or groomsmen as a group without switching photography lenses.

A good point to note is that when using such photography lenses, nice blurred background can be achieved with maximum wide apertures of f/2.8 and long focal lengths of 200mm or 300mm, whether you are using a full-frame or a small sensor body. This allows you to isolate the subject from its background, and to focus attention on the image as the main subject you want to portray. Such photography lenses are especially useful for shots where you are unable to get in close and for intimate and private moments, where you want to be an unobserved stranger at a distance. Some examples include a stolen glance, a mischievous grin, a kiss – the details that are effectively conveyed by the emotions. Image-stabilized telephoto zoom photography lenses hence play an important role in capturing such moments.

These image-stabilized telephoto zoom photography lenses aren’t only good for blurry backgrounds or shooting events from a distance. They could also be used to photograph stunning facial close-ups from creative angles above or below the subject that don’t exhibit the normal distortions of large chins or shrinking heads that come from wider photography lenses.

Yet another advantage of such photography lenses is that you can use the small-sensor camera’s 1.5x crop factor to your favour. The 200/2.8 long end of the standard zoom effectively becomes 300/2.8, a lens that would cost $4000 for a full-frame camera. The effective 300mm length allows for more creative photo angles than shorter photography lenses, such as tightly cropped images of the groom’s hands lifting the bride’s veil or the bride and groom’s hands while they put rings on each others fingers.

The obvious disadvantage of image-stabilized telephoto zooms is that in many cases, long photography lenses tend to disconnect the subject from the main scene and there might be little to no context as to why the subject may have had expressed how they were feeling, the whereabouts of the subject and who else was there.

When using a small-sensor camera as your primary or backup body, the other disadvantage of image-stabilized telephoto zoom lenses is that neither Nikon, Canon or Sony make an f/2.8 lens that gives you an effective 70-200mm focal length. Hence, you would have to pay the high price and carry the weight of photography lenses designed for a full-frame camera.

Canon’s Image-Stabilization, Nikon’s Vibration-Reduction and Sony’s SteadyShot INSIDE systems are indispensable in allowing you to hand-hold these large and heavy long photography lenses, especially in low light situations. Every wedding photographer should ensure that the image-stablization and vibration-reduction features are available on their long lenses. You might also want to consider using a tripod to ensure continuous, accurate subject placement and sharp photos. Such telephoto zoom photography lenses are huge investments and if you have a budget constraint or an amateur just starting out, you might want to consider rental instead.

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses are essentially photography lenses with fixed focal lengths, as opposed to zoom lenses, which have variable focal lengths of say 24-70mm or 17-55mm. Prime lenses generally have a better optical quality than zoom photography lenses, and usually come with wider maximum apertures such as f/2.8 or f/1.8.

Good prime lenses are must-have photography lenses for any wedding photographer, as they are excellent for taking good portraits. Although you will be adequately equipped for a wedding shoot with the three zoom lenses in your lens kit as discussed above, it is worth including two to three fast prime lenses in your bag as well. These photography lenses are compact, light, and fairly inexpensive and would probably be needed in about 10 to 20% of a wedding shoot.

Faster prime photography lenses are ideal in situations where f/2.8 aperture is not enough to get the motion-stopping shutter speed or shallow depth of field desired, whether for artistic or technical reasons. For example, an image that requires a 1/20th of a second shutter speed at f/2.8 will only require 1/60th of a second at f/1.8, forming a distinction between a sharp image and a blurry one. Many professional wedding photographers actually include prime lenses in their gig bags as an economical backup to their zoom lenses. Not many people could afford to purchase an additional 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens as a backup and you also want to prevent a frantic situation whereby your photography lens fails on you during a crucial moment.

There are many prime lenses available on the market but most photographers would include a 28/1.8, 50/1.8, and 85/1.8 in their prime photography lenses kit to be used on a full-frame body. The 28mm is wide enough to cover most ceremony locations and confined spaces, the 50mm is good for small groups or a priest blessing a couple, and the 85mm is long enough for ceremony vows and exchange of rings. A wedding can be successfully photographed with just these three photography lenses.