Shooting weddings can be stressful, especially when considering what gear to bring to the event. 50mm lenses are popular and can achieve some fantastic shots, but many people wonder if a wedding can be shot with them. In the interest of pairing down on gear and getting the best, most consistent shots, some research is necessary before you commit.
Can you shoot a wedding wit a 50mm lens? Weddings can be shot with a 50mm lens. They are great for portraits and low light areas such as receptions and provide great, unique shots. However, these lenses struggle at long range and will be difficult to capture groups in. Having a variety of lens sizes will prove useful. Clients will feel more comfortable seeing you show up with more than just a 50mm lens as well.
With that warning, it is entirely possible to shoot many weddings with only a 50mm lens, if the photographer gets creative and unique with shots.
50mm Lenses Are Great for Portraits and Candid Shots
Focusing on the positive elements of 50mm lenses is essential when shooting a wedding with one. They are a perfect focal length for portraits and candid shots of people, so using a 50mm lens will often result in a wedding shoot that focuses more on the guests than the environment.
A 50mm focal length tends to work well for portraits due to a variety of reasons. Some of the important ones include:
- Fast shutter speed
- Even framing of faces at many lengths
- Perfect background blur
The other benefits of a 50mm lens, such as being lightweight, are applicable to general use. While they help with taking great portraits, they are not an essential reason why 50mm lenses excel at them.
In contrast, each of these three points contributes directly to creating warm, focused shots of the bride, groom, and guests alike that are sure to be cherished.
Fast Shutter Speed
50mm lenses traditionally have fast shutter speeds, allowing for quick photographs that let a lot of light in. Both of these qualities are essential for shooting weddings, especially when taking portraits of guests.
The more light that a lens lets in, the better. This is especially important when considering portraits, as people tend to look worse or unhappy when covered in shadows or dim light. The fast shutter speed of a 50mm lens combats this by letting in more light than many other, similar focal length lenses.
Of course, the lighting of the shot itself still reigns supreme. A 50mm lens will not fix poor lighting or composition, so thought is still required when setting up shots.
The other consideration of the 50mm lens’s fast shutter speed is reducing blur in images. Often at weddings, people want to live in the moment and enjoy the event. The quicker you can take a portrait of people and move on, the better. Toward that end, a quick shutter speed helps reduce blurriness and movement, providing crisp portraits more often.
This is also applicable when taking candid shots of the event as a whole. With a fast shutter speed, people will still be clear and not look like a blurry mess even if they are moving within the shot.
Different focal lengths distort images. A key component of taking flattering images of people, things, and landscapes is finding which focal length actually makes them look best or provides the feeling you want the photo to illicit. Thankfully, 50mm lenses are terrifically well suited to taking portraits and candid shots of people.
This distortion of images is called lens distortion. All lenses, even incredibly high-end ones, have it to some extent. Working around lens distortion is important when considering the framing of a shot, the editing of a shot, and the composition of the shot. Lens distortion, at its core, causes images to either pinch in at the center or balloon out. The specific effect depends on the exact lens you have.
While the effect is subtle and many nonphotographers will not even notice, accounting for distortion and focal length is essential for taking good portraits. If it is ignored, wedding-goers could end up looking wider or slimmer than they are, or taller or shorter. Especially when taking portraits, faces need to be kept in proportion or people end up looking caricature-like.
50mm lenses are wonderful because they focus properly on the face and shoulders up. At this length, humans look natural and are not distorted by the lens. For comparison, take a similar shot at a 150mm lens and you will see the face warps and shrinks to fit the lens.
Background blur, or bokeh, as it is often referred to, really separates professional photographs from those taken by other wedding guests. The amount of background blur in portraits determines how in focus the person is. Finding a personal style and amount of background blur will come with time, but using a 50mm lens provides an excellent starting point.
50mm lenses are naturally adept at focusing sharply on what is closer to the camera, like a head, while blurring the back. This blurring puts the person in render quicker and almost always makes for warmer, happier portraits – the exact feeling that wedding photos try to convey.
Bokeh is another essential part of background blur easily done by a 50mm lens. Bokeh is the blurring specifically of lights and other small particles that results in small circles or other shapes in the background and occasionally foreground of an image. Foliage, string lights, netting, and other small things are common to turn into bokeh.
Bokeh specifically makes photographs warmer and provides a professional touch, as the depth of field required is difficult to find on most phones or nonprofessional cameras. These extra touches will make your 50mm lens portraits stand out and look great!
50mm Lenses Are Versatile
50mm lenses are incredibly versatile in the number of shots they can take, and the light-levels they can operate in. Due to these two key factors, they are wonderful for shooting long weddings that stretch across different environments and times of the day.
It is important to remember that, when taking shots with a 50mm lens, you will be moving around the venue more. Rather than sitting in the back with a zoom lens and capturing from a select few locations, you will often need to be right in the action. This results in more intimate shots that are often incredibly creative, but you should warn the bride and groom that you will be close by and do your best to stay out of sight.
Operating Well in Low Light
Low light operation is vital for shooting any wedding reception that is outdoors, at sunset, or in a dark interior. 50mm lenses are highly consistent across a variety of lighting situations and, as such, are uniquely suited to almost every environment that a wedding photographer will need to shoot in.
Taking good shots in low light relies on a fast shutter speed, which is determined by the lens, and effective ISO ranges, which is determined by the camera body. Thankfully, most 50mm lenses have a fast shutter speed.
Consistency is key when it comes to lighting for pictures. Especially at weddings where you are running around all the time taking different shots, it can be difficult to quickly glance and figure out the best possible lighting for all shots. Using a 50mm lens will often result in even more running around as you need to correctly frame the shot, but thankfully lighting worries can often fall to the wayside.
This consistency in lighting is why it is theoretically possible to shoot an entire wedding or other events with only a 50mm lens. This wide range can take you from an early morning ceremony in bright light all the way to an outdoor reception at night with little adjustment needed.
50mm Lenses Provide Flexibility at the Cost of Effort
This incredible range in available light levels makes 50mm lenses incredibly flexible, making them a worthwhile part of any wedding photographer’s kit. However, it is important to remember that this flexibility comes at the cost of effort. Especially as light levels drop and shots need to be thought out more, photographers using a 50mm lens will often have to move close to the action to properly capture it.
Luckily, most night shots at weddings will be of the reception. As the wedding becomes less formal and strict with event times, you will be able to move around and grab photographs more freely. This is especially important when using a 50mm lens because, due to the closer focal length, you will often need to be right nearby.
Become comfortable moving around venues and staying close to people to grab great shots. Be considerate and do not block off guests from seeing special moments like the first kiss or cake cutting, but be sure to grab the best shot you can.
Areas Where a 50mm Lens Struggles
Despite how good a 50mm lens is, it, unfortunately, cannot cover all the bases needed for shooting a wedding. Especially as weddings grow in size and people, a variety of shots are needed to keep things fresh, provide new perspectives, and truly capture the event as a whole.
In the pursuit of providing the most value to clients, bringing along more than just a 50mm lens is almost a necessity. However, there may be occasions where extra lenses are not needed. To figure out what extra lenses you may need to shoot a specific wedding, consider:
- Wedding location
- Wedding length (how much of the day vs. the night?)
- Number of guests
- Specific requests from the bride and groom
- Allowed areas to shoot photos in
And more. Each of these important considerations determines how well you can utilize your camera as a whole, not just the 50mm lens. However, where using just a 50mm lens can often inspire creativity, it can occasionally become a punishment that results in poor photographs.
There are a few specific instances where a 50mm lens may fail you while shooting a wedding. Again, each of these is technically doable with just the 50mm lens, but quality could drop and more effort will almost certainly be required to achieve worse results.
Taking Long Shots
Taking long shots is notoriously difficult for a 50mm lens. There are a wide variety of reasons why long shots of people and items may need to be taken at a wedding, and situations like these will often highlight one of the weakest points of a 50mm lens.
Unlike zoom lenses, any prime lens like a 50mm will have difficulty setting up for shots outside of its traditional focal length. Imagine a scenario like this; you are trying to capture the first kiss from the wedding ceremony, but have been relegated to a seat in the far back.
With only a 50mm lens, you would have to physically move your body closer to get a great shot of the kiss. This could disrupt the ceremony or annoy guests, especially if you have not explained previously to the bride and groom that you will need to be close. While you are unlikely to ruin the ceremony, you could cause some questioning and distraction.
With a zoom lens, this same situation is easily solved simply by switching what lens you are using.
When using just a 50mm lens, you must be prepared to move around more often and be comfortable close to the action, otherwise, your shots will come out worse for it. This can also be a boon, however; where many wedding shots may end up looking the same, capturing a moment like the first kiss or dance intimately does provide a unique perspective.
Grabbing Group Photos
Group photos are another area where 50mm lenses can often falter, for very similar reasons to difficulty with long shots. Because 50mm lenses are fairly focused, it can be difficult to fit more than two or three people in frame comfortably.
Especially for shots of tables at a wedding, bridesmaids, and groomsmen shots, you will likely want to switch to another lens. Otherwise, fitting everyone in will be painful and the pictures will likely turn out worse.
For weddings with small groups, this is not really an issue. This can also largely be avoided when grabbing photos of guests by asking them to group up in certain ways, assuming you are charismatic enough. While there are definitely workarounds for this weakness, it is better to bring along an extra lens just in case.
If you do need to capture group photos with just a 50mm lens, try to make sure everyone is close together. Step back as far as you can while not losing focus on their faces, and do not be afraid to split the group into a front and back section.
Focusing in on the Details
On the opposite end of the spectrum, detailed photographs are often hugely appreciated at weddings. These include shots of the wedding cake decorations, the men’s suits, the bride’s dress, the rings, etc.
Any shot that requires a deep zoom and sharp focus may be difficult to capture with a 50mm lens, but not impossible. Ideally, these are captured with a lens over 100mm, as these tend to have a drastic depth of field that adds a lot to the shots.
However, similar effects that create a bokeh effect even around small items are still possible to achieve with just a 50mm lens. To do so, you should:
- Get as close as you can to the object
- Compose the image with plenty of light sources and background depth
- Angle the shot so that light bounces and reflects off of the detail piece
These are useful techniques for grabbing macro photography shots in general, but they become essential when working with a lower focal point lens. The more preparation work that is put into these shots with a 50mm lens, the better it will turn out.
In contrast, if you were to use an actual macro lens for detailed shots, the setup would be quite easy and less time-consuming. As shots take less time, you could move on and keep a better eye out on what is happening with the wedding as a whole to ensure you are not missing anything important.
Establishing shots are any photographs of the environment, tables, buildings, and venue of a wedding. These shots help tell the story of the day later on when put into a photo album or shown to friends and family. While these may not be as important as the obvious photos of the people attending the wedding, they are still an essential part of the wedding photography experience.
Sadly, 50mm lenses can struggle with properly capturing large venues and establishing shots. The limitations here are very similar to trying to photograph large group photos with a 50mm lens; it is simply not wide enough to get the whole picture into view without being tremendously far away.
Specifically for weddings where the venue is important to the bride and groom, such as being held in an important religious area to them, it is best to take great shots of the buildings and grounds. Doing this is best with a wide focal length lens so that more can be captured in one area.
For weddings with small venues and guest lists, such as home weddings, a 50mm lens may actually do the trick perfectly. This will allow you to grab shots of tables, setup, and the building with little trouble if it is small. It can also encourage creativity with establishing shots, which is great for creating stand out photographs for future framing.
For mid to large venues, a 50mm lens should be one of many you use to capture each moment.