Gear for an Event Photographer

A reader recently asked me about what gear I use for event photography, since that is a large part of what I do. I wanted to share the thread for others who may be similarly interested.

What camera gear do you use and recommend for event photography in general?

I think the key here is recognizing that every event is different in terms of the lighting conditions, the house rules of the venue, and the specific needs of your client, which may dictate factors such as how much you are allowed to move around and how close you can get to the action without being in the way, as well as how much you can alter or add to the lighting without being a distraction. The combination of gear I use and recommend provides excellent performance for capturing any scene:

In terms of event photography, whether it’s a wedding or a birthday party or a conference, my most common two-camera setup is a Canon 5D Mark III with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and a Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens for optimal coverage. This is my combo for 90% of event shoots. The reason I want to have two cameras with me the whole time is so that I can cover a full range of the action. When I need a wider shot, I pick up the Canon 5D with the wide-angle lens. When I need to get in close, I use my Canon 7D with the telephoto lens. Yes, you can of course use “sneaker zoom” by walking closer to or farther from your subjects, but you don’t always have the luxury to do so, due to the speed at which events are unfolding or due to the house rules of the venue. For example, I’ve now been to several weddings where the church coordinator’s rule was, “Pick a spot, any spot, but you’re not allowed to move around during the ceremony.” So my gear has to be able to cover a full range. The reason I’ve invested in two camera bodies is for speed — I can immediately change ranges without fumbling with lens changes. There are many events I cover where this optimal combination allows me to not have to change lenses at all during the entire event. That is a huge plus to me.

There are of course times when it makes sense to change lenses, so in my gear bag I also have a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens for extra wide shots, and Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro lens for the serious detail shots (like rings, etc). I used to shoot with more primes like the 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8 when the venue was very dark, but I hardly bother anymore because I can pump up the ISO to 3200 and 6400 and still get great image quality on these camera bodies (particularly the Canon 5D Mark III). I like the versatility of zoom lenses when the scene is unpredictable and I want to be ready for anything.

In order to carry both cameras on me during the event, I use the BlackRapid DR-2 double strap, which has been way better than getting tangled up with two standard camera straps. The DR-2 can also be separated into two separate shoulder straps so you can keep your cameras mounted on them even when you only need one camera. The only thing that is annoying about the BlackRapid design is that it requires use of the tripod mount, which effectively means I have to take off the BlackRapid fastener before using the camera on a tripod or monopod. Those are not part of my standard arsenal for event photography anyway, so it has not been a major issue for me.

I do also set up portable lighting for some events, such as wedding receptions, and that is covered in the Gear for a New Strobist article. You can also check out the rest of the gear I use on the Gear I Love Using page of my photography blog.

Finally, to carry all of this gear with me everywhere I go, I use the Lowepro Pro Roller x200, which is a serious roller bag that is also carry-on compliant for flying. The pop-up pull handle can be very easily deployed with one hand, and you can even mount a camera or an external flash on the handle if you’re in a pinch for a tripod or light stand. I like that it comes with a security cable mechanism so that you can lock it down to an immovable object, and I’ve used it a few times at events so that a thief can’t just easily walk away with my whole bag while I’m distracted. It has lots of configurable compartments and heavy padding to protect my stuff while providing quick access when the bag cover is unzipped. I usually have the following loaded up in there: Canon 5D with 24-70mm lens mounted, Canon 7D with 70-200mm lens mounted, Canon 16-35mm lens, Canon 100mm Macro lens, four YongNuo 460ii strobes with wireless transmitters, Canon 580EX II flash, and a bunch of smaller accessories, batteries, etc. No doubt, this thing gets VERY heavy when fully-loaded, but having this bag has certainly saved my back! I can’t believe I used to try to carry most of this stuff in two overloaded backpacks!

Anyway, here was a long answer to your question. This is how I find myself best prepared for whatever happens at an event. Hope that helps!

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