When it comes to wedding photography equipment, what lenses do professionals rely on? Photographing a wedding with just three prime lenses and no zoom might seem counterintuitive to many wedding photographers – given that the job requires quick and efficient shooting to capture every short-lived moment – but it's former Canon Ambassador Marina Karpiy's preferred approach.
Known for her uplifting, natural and informal pictures, Marina has three Canon L-series prime lenses in her wedding photography kitbag: the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM and the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM.
The wedding photographer, based in Ukraine and Georgia, shrugs off any suggestion that prime lenses might slow her down on the big day. "I have two cameras, so I have quick access to two focal lengths," she says. "I use a shoulder strap, and that enables me to work comfortably."
Shooting from early morning until late at night – or longer depending on the faith or cultural background of the people getting married – means that even tiny increases in the weight of your wedding photography kit can make you more tired. While zoom lenses are convenient for covering a range of focal lengths, Marina's three Canon L-series prime lenses each weigh less than 1kg (lighter than many high-end zoom lenses), which makes them perfect for shooting handheld for long periods.
All three lenses used by Marina have extremely wide apertures, which give her the aesthetic quality she values most in a lens: "I like to shoot at the widest aperture not only because it lets in more light, but also because of my passion for bokeh," she says. "The bokeh creates depth."
Shooting at f/1.4 or f/1.2, the background quickly drops out of focus, creating large bokeh that are unrepeatable in lenses with narrower apertures, such as f/2.8, which is commonly found on professional zoom lenses.
Here are the three Canon L-series lenses in Marina's wedding photography kitbag that she couldn't do without.
The unexpected portrait lens
"Out of the three lenses, the one I use most is probably the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM," says Marina. "I love to shoot portraits with it, despite it not being considered a portrait lens. It creates a sense of intimacy."
She likes to shoot larger portraits of newlyweds with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM and then move in for close-ups. "Such portraits turn out to be incredibly atmospheric," she says. By first shooting wide and including more of the surroundings, Marina can set the scene and give context. As she moves in closer, still shooting on the same lens, she can document the couple's expressions and tender moments. The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is ideal for shooting a series in this way because it has a wide field of view and a minimum focal distance of 0.28m, so you don't have to worry about losing focus as you close in.
Capturing an intimate and romantic portrait is difficult if your gear is noisy. Thanks to its ring-type USM autofocus, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is almost silent as it adjusts, making it ideal for hushed moments during the ceremony, or when you need to communicate with your subjects. "This is probably my favourite and the most versatile lens," says Marina.
The pro-level 85mm lens with IS
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM may be the heaviest of the three lenses, at 950g, but it has a 4-stop Image Stabilizer (IS) to help negate camera shake. So, whether you're shooting in a dimly-lit hotel room or inside a church, you get four times the amount of wiggle room when it comes to exposure time. If you follow the shutter speed law of reciprocals, the slowest exposure shot on an 85mm lens is normally around 1/100 sec. By adding four more stops, this can be as slow as 1/10 sec and still prevent blur from camera shake.
"The 85mm is the king of portrait lenses," says Marina. "I always start shooting the morning of a wedding with this lens. I shoot the bride preparing, then move on to details. Close-up portraits with this lens are much better at conveying emotions."
It's not just the perspective compression that Marina likes: she can also shoot from further away, remaining unnoticed while still getting close to the action. "This lens allows me to become almost invisible and watch the process from a distance, catching important unique moments," she says.
The mid-range master
While the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM is Marina's go-to lens for tight portraits, she uses the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM for slightly closer crops of couples and landscape footage. Choosing a 50mm prime lens over a zoom for the mid-range shots has several benefits. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM weighs just 580g, some 225g less than a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, which makes it easier to carry during a long day's shoot. The 50mm also lets in two and a half stops more light than the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, giving it a big advantage when shooting in low light and when you want to generate a shallower depth of field.
One of the things Marina loves about the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is that its Super Spectra coating resolves flare when shooting into direct sunlight, creating fantastic clarity on backlit portraits. "I place a couple so their backs are facing the setting sun," she says. From here I can catch beautiful, natural highlights, emphasised further without the use of a lens hood, to produce an airy, sunny effect in my photographs."
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is not the only lens to benefit from a professional-level coating. As well as Super Spectra, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM has an Air Sphere Coating, which drastically reduces internal ghosting and flare. And the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM has Blue Spectrum Refractive optics to correct chromatic aberration.
For those who can't justify the cost of an extra half or full stop of light, despite the unparalleled image quality, Marina suggests opting for other EF lenses that cost a little less. Instead of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM and Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM, she recommends considering the lightweight Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM and Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, which still produce great bokeh.
But having the three Canon L-series prime lenses in her wedding photography kitbag, with their enhanced optical clarity, wide apertures and superior lens coatings, allows Marina the flexibility she needs to cover all her assignments. "I use these three lenses not only in wedding photo shoots, but for all kinds of portrait work," she says. "I use the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM exclusively for solo and close-up portrait shooting, while the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM and Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM are perfect for family photoshoots. I also like shooting children's portraits on the EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM. Overall, though, I love all three because they are quick, sharp and fast."