Michael Caswell Photography

Other Useful Items for Photographing Weddings

While much of the focus when discussing gear naturally centers around cameras and lenses, there are other helpful things to have on hand in order to make the day go as smoothly as possible.

My Bag and Belt System

So, how do I carry my stuff around on the wedding day? For many years, I've been a big fan of ThinkTank products, particularly their roller bags and modular belt systems.

My current bag is the Streetwalker 2.0. The great thing about this bag is that it not only rolls, but also has built-in stowable straps that allow it to be worn as a backpack. Of course, it's not especially comfortable in this role (especially when full of gear), though it doesn't have to be, as it spends most of its time on wheels. But occasionally I need to be able to shoot on the move, particularly for certain second line parades, and the backpack mode is a blessing for these instances.

The Streetwalker 2.0 has enough room for all of the camera bodies and lenses listed previously, and most of the speedlights (for weddings and most portraits I typically bring four of the V350's, and one of the larger V860's), along with extra camera batteries, accessories, etc. A folded light stand and umbrella can be strapped to the front of the bag, making for a system that is very easily transported through the bustling French Quarter.

The bag also features zippers that have overlapping holes in them that allow for them to be locked together with a small combination lock (some other ThinkTank bags feature a built-in lock). Combined with a lightweight security cable that lets me tether the bag to a pipe or piece of furniture, this gives me a reasonable degree of confidence in leaving the bag unattended for a while (for instance, if I want to leave the bag at the reception venue before heading to the bridal prep location or the ceremony). Of course, a bolt cutter could make quick work of the lock and cable, or a sharp knife could be used to simply cut the bag open, but the security measures of this bag are not intended to stop a prepared and determined thief, but rather to just prevent your gear from being casually and discretely stolen. In other words, it makes it more difficult for someone to inconspicuously slip a hand into the bag and make off with a lens or camera body, or carry the whole bag away unnoticed (the latter being a significant problem with hotel weddings in some parts of the country, where a thief dressed like a guest will infiltrate the reception looking for photo or video gear to steal).

That being said, when my bag is left unattended, it will typically contain only a minimal amount of equipment (just my backup camera body, probably just one lens, a few extra flashes, and some miscellaneous accessories), as I'll have all my most important and expensive gear on my person.

ThinkTank's modular belt system is extremely useful and practical for a wedding photographer. It's infinitely customizable, and with how I have mine configured, I can easily carry at least three extra lenses along with a couple of speedlights, and a bottle of water, so that these items are always within reach when needed, without the worry of having to keep track of a bag. Because pouches can easily be added or removed, I can configure the system to carry more or less gear as needed. I'll typically have this belt on me during the pre-ceremony and ceremony portions of the day, and often for the beginning of the reception, but once the party kicks into full gear, I usually shed the belt, as by then I've settled into the two lenses I'll be using for the rest of the night, and not having the belt helps me be able to squeeze my way through the crowd more easily.

ThinkTank has legendary support for their products. In general, if something ever breaks during the lifetime of the product (for the original owner), they'll fix it. While my current roller bag is relatively new, I used my previous ThinkTank bag for well over 10 years, and on two occasions when the wheels wore out (thanks to rough French Quarter streets and sidewalks), they sent me a new set!

Useful Miscellaneous Items

I also carry several things that are not necessarily photography-specific (camera bodies, lenses, flashes).

Hearing Protection

At the very top of this list are a variety of earplugs. Most wedding receptions are LOUD. The band or DJ might start out the evening at a lower volume as guests are mingling and eating dinner, but by the time the party kicks into high gear, the music gets cranked up. To make matters worse, sometimes the best place for you to shoot from to get a particular shot might happen to be right in front of a huge speaker. Obviously, prolonged and repeated exposure to this kind of elevated sound levels for weeks, months, and years will do serious damage to your hearing over time. Protect your ears!

My favored hearing protection product is EarPeace HD Concert Ear Plugs. These come in a set of three earplugs (so you have a spare in case one is lost or damaged), and include a cylindrical aluminum carry case. Made from a soft silicone material, they are comfortable to wear all night long, and are easy to insert and remove. They also include three sets of filter inserts that allow you to customize the amount of sound reduction. I actually carry two pairs of EarPeace HDs, one configured for normal reception sound levels, and the other with the more aggressive reduction inserts for those receptions when the music is especially loud. I also keep a pouch of cheap disposable foam earplugs in my bag as emergency backups, just in case.

Lens-Fogging Prevention

Another good thing to have, particularly for the warmer and more humid months of the year, are those inexpensive disposable air-activated hand-warmer packs. A common problem wedding photographers encounter is that after shooting inside in a very cool air-conditioned space, when you go outside in high humidity, your cold lenses fog up. Wiping them with a microfiber cloth only results in them fogging right back up again, because the thick glass of the lens retains that cold temperature for some time. While on a hot, sunny day, the ambient heat will warm up the glass after a few minutes and alleviate this condition, it's a much bigger problem on a muggy evening of moderate temperatures and 100% humidity, as is typically the case during Spring and Summer in this area. In many cases you'll find yourself having to go outside and immediately shoot a send-off or a second line in these conditions, and it can take 15-20 minutes before the lens acclimates to the temperature outside and no longer fogs up.

Years ago, I did have generally good experiences with a Nikon-branded lens fog prevention product, which consisted of a light powdery substance on a wipe (which could be saved in its pouch and reused a number of times). This is not something that you use once the lens has already fogged up, but rather is done beforehand as a preventative measure. This actually worked pretty well up to a point, but once you hit a certain intersection of cold lenses and extreme humidity, the lenses would fog up anyway, with the fog prevention substance making a hazy mess on the lens that was quite difficult to clean up.

A better solution, as I learned from a fellow New Orleans wedding photographer a few years ago, is to keep the lens warm well before you need to shoot with it. Pick the lens you want to use outside at the end of the night, and stash it in your bag with a hand warmer pack near it. This keeps the glass warm enough so that when you later go outside with it, it's not cold enough for condensation to form. This does require some planning ahead though, setting aside the lens you intend to use, and then picking the right moment near the end of the reception to swap it onto your camera (a few minutes inside typically won't make the lens cold enough to cause condensation issues when you then go outside).

Alternatively, if you really want to shoot the send-off with the same lens you are using during the reception, for the last half hour or so of the reception you can carry a hand warmer pack around with you and hold it against the front element of the lens in between shots, which will usually warm it up enough to prevent condensation once you head outside.

Video Light

I keep an Aputure AL-M9 Amaran LED Mini Light in my bag. This is a very compact flat panel light that I saw a videographer using at a wedding once, and borrowed it for some shots of the couples' rings. It was so nice to use, I ended up ordering one for myself! It has variable brightness, and has a built-in rechargeable battery.

Why a video light and not just bounced on-camera flash? One reason is focus. I use a macro ring and manual focus for these shots, and to ensure adequate depth-of-field, I stop down to f11 or so, which with a mirrorless camera means there's a lot less light hitting the sensor, so it has to amplify and slow down the refresh of the view in the EVF and LCD. The video light up close provides a good amount of light on the rings, and makes it much easier to focus.

Secondly, a well-positioned video light makes the rings "pop" quite a bit more than the softer light of bounced flash, and I like this look.

Other Items

Moving on, a useful item for the bridal prep phase of the day is a suction cup. If you lament the fact that in hotel rooms there is often not a good spot to hang the dress to get a photograph of it, grab yourself a heavy-duty suction cup hook. This makes it possible to utilize a large window that is otherwise an ideal place to shoot the dress but has no means onto which to hook the hangar.

A small flashlight (such as a penlight) is good to have, not only for finding something like a lost lens cap in or around your bag, but also for doing a quick camera sensor inspection to check for large and obvious dust specks, as shining a light directly across the sensor makes these much easier to see.

Finally, USB rechargeable battery pack is nice to have (numerous shapes, sizes, and capacities exist, but I use the variant that is about the size of a deck of cards). I don't typically bring this along, but for a particularly long wedding I'll go ahead and throw it in my bag. These are flexible devices that, in addition to being useful for giving your fading cell phone battery a boost, can also be utilized to charge camera batteries via a USB-connected third-party charger, so that you're not tied down to finding an AC power outlet to plug in a regular charger.

I've never actually been forced to do this, as the two sets of batteries I carry with me are enough to get me through even the longest weddings that I shoot (plus I carry a couple of third-party batteries as an additional backup). But if I have a very long wedding, when I do my battery swap I'll go ahead and put one of the depleted batteries on the charger to have it ready for later, just in case.