As a photographer there’s always a moment of well, almost embarrassment I guess, when you bump into a figure who is present at seemingly every wedding that takes place anywhere in the world – the amateur “Uncle Bob” photographer who happens to be carrying more or less exactly the same camera as you.
With the advent of Digital SLR cameras, their relative affordability and the ability to just preview and delete a picture rather than waste an expensive bit of film, semi-professional level cameras are now a common site amongst the guests with some of the keener (and presumably wealthier) amateurs even bringing identical cameras to those used by the hired professional, and it’s often drawn the question of whether you really need a pro anymore if the same quality of equipment is available amongst your free-shooting guests.
Now we’ve talked at length in the past about the skill involved in capturing not just a flat image but a piece of art, after all a hammer and chisel in the hands of an amateur can cause untold damage, yet in the hands of a true artist can produce an exquisite sculpture like Michelangelo’s David. But let’s put aside arguments of artistic merit for a moment and get back to the equipment – isn’t it right that the photographer should be embarrassed if a keen amateur is carrying the same equipment that they are when they’re charging £1500 – £2000 for their services?
The thing is you see, it’s not just the camera that’s generally sitting in that big heavy old pro camera bag of theirs… so let’s take a look at a few of the items you might find inside a pro photographer’s bag that Uncle Bob might just have forgotten…
**Disclaimer – as we’ve explained in some detail in our past posts different styles of photography require slightly different tools and the following is simply a list of some of the items carried either by ourselves or by photographers we’ve spoken to, not a definitive list of what every photographer should be carrying!!**
Primary camera – well you’re pretty much going to need one of those whether you’re a pro or keen Uncle Bob. Certainly for the pro it’s probably a pretty expensive one, although the quality of the camera is in all honesty far less important than…
Lenses – Anywhere from 2 – 8 of them, several of which probably cost more than the camera due to their extraordinary image quality and the different types of shot each one can help to create.
Flash Guns – Not every photographer uses flash but most will carry at least a couple of flash guns just in case the lighting situation requires it. Many photographers will make very deliberate use of flash though and some will use several off-camera and usually indirect flashes to illuminate the room for key shots such as the first-dance.
Memory Cards – Most photographers now have both top professional quality compact flash and SD cards in their cameras with one card generally being used as a live backup of the other. Photographers will also be carrying several more cards than they think they could ever need just in case and will generally switch repeatedly through the day so that if one card should fail it would only affect a limited number of pictures.
Batteries and Chargers – You can’t afford to run out of batteries on the day so again only top quality batteries tend to be used with emergency chargers at the ready and plenty of spares beyond what could possibly be used on the day.
Ok, so your average keen amateur may be carrying several of those items, although perhaps not to quite the same spec or in quite the same quantity, but that’s not the limit to the equipment you might find hiding away in that camera bag…
Backup Camera – However expensive your camera may be it could fail on you at any moment and every pro should be carrying a top-quality backup
Second Backup Camera – But what if your backup camera fails? Many photographers will have a second backup available to them, or if there are two shooters they may well have 4 cameras available to them, all of professional quality, just in case something goes wrong.
Tripod – For most wedding photographers the tripod probably never comes out of the car, but occasionally they may be called upon for shots where slow shutter speeds (for example for photographing fireworks) may be required.
Portable Studio Equipment – For some styles of photography additional lighting or photographic equipment may be required and sometimes full portable photography studio setups are brought along on the day.
Laptop/Card-reader/Hard-drive – You wouldn’t believe how paranoid most photographers are about any possibility of you losing any of those precious images, and you’ll find that many photographers use their dinner break to grab their laptop and start making backups of the memory cards they’ve used thus far.
Video Light – Video lights have become an increasingly common site in the pro photographer’s bag as they can be extremely useful in adding light to dark areas or in allowing the photographer to control the light levels for the shot artificially using these powerful battery powered lights.
Photo-booth & Props – One of the big recent fashions has been to have a photo-booth, complete with lots of crazy props, at the wedding and the photographer is often responsible for the booth.
Wedding Day Schedule / Groups List – You need to be on top of the schedule at all times to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time and also have full details of any formal group photographs the couple would like you to take.
Blu-Tak and/or Gaffa Tape – Having a sticky surface can come in extremely handy for some shots such as photographing the rings standing up unsupported. They also sometimes come in handy for temporary repairs to equipment etc.
But it’s not just equipment that photographers keep with them, so here’s a few of the items photographers sometimes have with them to make sure that everything runs smoothly from their side:
Medication / Sanitary Products – Your wedding day doesn’t stop just because the photographer isn’t feeling at their best… whatever happens their job is to make sure you have amazing wedding photographs at the end of the day and you’ll find many photographers bags loaded up with painkillers, Strepsils, Immodium, bandages… whatever they need to make sure that they can continue to take photos even in the most difficult of circumstances and continue to do so with a smile on their face.
Drinks – A photographer may well be on their feet from morning ‘till night lugging around heavy equipment and believe me you need plenty of liquid to stay on your feet that long!
Food – Photographers only to tend to get one meal break on a wedding day and that meal is not always provided (or sometimes there’s just not enough time to eat it) so it’s important to have food and snacks with you to keep the energy up!
Smartphone – Having contact details for the main wedding party is essential in case something goes wrong, and having a smartphone with internet access can help in all kinds of emergencies, including in finding a backup photographer should something go spectacularly wrong on the day or if the photographer becomes horribly delayed.
Sat Nav – Weddings often take place over multiple locations and having all of the locations pre-programmed into a Sat Nav helps to ensure you’re always in the right place at the right time.
Cooling Spray – Essential in hot conditions!
Cash – In case of transport failure having cash for a taxi can be a life-saver.
RAC / AA Membership Card – You can’t afford a lengthy breakdown on a wedding day so having an emergency number to get you out of trouble is very important.
Rain Coat, Fingerless Gloves and Waterproof camera protection – Whatever the weather you’ve got to be ready to brave the conditions and make sure you never miss a shot.
Change of Shoes / Clothes Anything can happen on a wedding day and it’s difficult to know what to expect so having a spare pair of shoes and clothes can be extremely useful.
But it doesn’t end there… one of the most useful things about having a photographer with you for the full day is their previous wedding experience and knowledge of the things that often go wrong, and many photographers carry all kinds of get-out-of-jail-free-cards so that should any of the more common wedding issues occur they’re ready to spring into action and assist… here are just a few of the items that some of our fellow photographers told us they have ready in their bags to help out in an emergency based upon their past experiences:
Umbrellas – You don’t want a little rain spoiling your day.
Tissues – you don’t want those happy tears ruining that carefully applied makeup!
Cloths / Plastic Bags – The last thing your wedding photographer wants is to ask you to sit somewhere that might mess up your wedding dress so many will carry things for the bride and groom to sit on to protect their outfits.
Safety Pins / Sewing Kit – for clothing emergencies
Hair Grips / Pins / Bobbles – for hair emergencies
Lipstick – You get the idea
Small pair of scissors – For cutting tags off groomsmen’s outfits etc.
String – This is starting to sound a bit like a Scouts “Be Prepared” collection…
Mints – In case anyone needs to freshen their breath
The list goes on… and on. But the point is that whilst sometimes you might find a guest carrying seemingly the same equipment as that expensive pro, the truth is that the camera is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being ready to capture amazing wedding photographs. When you hire a wedding photographer you’re not simply paying for someone to come along who knows how to use a good camera, you’re not even really paying for those extra lenses and bits of technical kit that might be pulled out of the camera bag. First and foremost you’re paying for their skill and artistic flair, but secondly you’re paying for that bag full of experience they bring with them to each and every wedding. You’re paying for the fact that they know that they need all that backup gear ready for a seamless switch should things go wrong, for the fact that they understand the need to carry all of those little items to help you through your wedding day, you’re paying for a wedding expert who really cares about your day and about making sure you have amazing wedding photographs to show for it. A camera is just a tool, a photographer is so much more.