For some reason, I've had a spate of emails from photographers asking me about the equipment that I shoot with. I think it was the great Elliott Erwitt that refused to discuss equipment with people that asked, simply because he believed that it was largely irrelevent to the images he was making. I kind of feel the same way in that I don't believe that using the same camera/lens as another photographer suddenly gives you that photographer's eye.
I remember buying a blue Fender Telecaster back in my late teens thinking it would turn me into Andy Summers. I loved The Police, and since Andy's favourite guitar was a Fender Tele, I had to have one. I saved up for the guitar, went to the shop, played it and bought it. I was in heaven. But did that guitar turn me into one of contemporary music's greatest guitarists? Nope. I was still the same teenager playing just as badly, but on a nicer guitar :-)
These days I know the limits of my skills with the electric guitar, and I also know that the actual instrument is possibly the least important part of what makes a guitarist great. It's the same with photography. Great photographers have an innate ability to see and understand what works visually, and a sense of timing and rhythm that allows them to capture the decisive moment. Cartier-Bresson used to insist on seeing contact sheets from aspiring photographers at Magnum. He wanted to see if the photographer's work had a 'rhythm' to it. This was important to him. Not the camera, or the lens, but the photographer's eye and the visual processes that he employed in capturing a subject.
So, you might have guessed I'm not really into this whole 'equipment worship' thing. A camera is a tool to take an image. I've shot weddings on everything from 30 year old Hasselblads, through very early Canon cameras, Leicas, and high end DSLR's from Canon and Nikon. I like to shoot my personal stuff on a Canon point and shoot, and I've won awards with images that were shot on nothing more than a mobile phone. I would like to think that I could turn up to a wedding and get decent images on pretty much anything that I was given to shoot with (within reason). The camera doesn't make the photographer, but obviously a great camera can make it easier for a photographer to take pictures, and these days the cameras we have available to us are just amazing. There really aren't any excuses when it comes to the mechanics of the picture taking process.
On a side note, I had a comment from one anonymous photographer (why is it that photographers that like to criticise never leave their real names and email addresses?) who stated that my work was better when I shot with Leica cameras. The interesting thing for me is that there are five Leica images in my website portfolio. I'd challenge him to tell me which ones they are.
Anyway since so many people are asking about the equipment...
I prefer to travel light when shooting a wedding. I'm constantly amazed at the sheer quantity of equipment that photographers take to a wedding. I often wonder how they can work for 8-10 hours, and stay reasonably fresh with so much kit on board. Magnum photographer Steve McCurry said pretty much the same thing when asked why he shot with smaller, lighter prosumer grade cameras and a couple of lenses. I also think that the less I look like a photographer, the less intrusive I will appear on the day.
Currently I utilise two Canon 5DMKII camera bodies and three Canon prime lenses - 24 f1.4LII, 35 f1.4L, 50 f1.2L. I also have the available 85 f1.2LII just for the speeches if I can't get close enough to the subject.
The 5DMKII's are fitted with EG-S focusing screens, and I currently use manual focus for a great many of the images I make. People will probably be scratching their heads over this, but by utilising manual focus, I'm able to slow the picture taking process down, and this in turn forces me to think about the image in greater detail. I believe this process of slowing down is fundamental to my success as a wedding photographer. Chatting with George Weir last week, he utilises other methods within his M.O. to slow himself down when shooting. It's so easy to let the camera do the work, and blast away without thinking about the image. I was brought up on manual focus, and was shooting photojournalism on a 20 year old Hasselblad 500CM, manually focusing and metering, some 15 years ago. The EG-S screens have given me a choice which wasn't available to DSLR users previously, and I'm enjoying my time with them immensely.
In my opinion the Canon 5DMKII is currently the best DSLR on the market for my style of photography at this moment in time. Its size is perfect for my small hands, it handles like a dream, and the quality of the files especially at high iso is quite extraordinary. It wasn't so long ago that I used to shoot weddings with film speeds no higher than 320 iso. These days I can attain higher quality at speeds approaching four stops faster than in previous years. Yes I could use vastly more complex and expensive cameras, but the 5DMKII works for me and the way I like to shoot.
Fast prime lenses are preferred as I don't like to use flash. I find it to be incredibly intrusive, and it restricts the amount of freedom I have just to observe. I use shorter focal lengths as I like to place the subject in context with the environment and narrative. I find longer focal lengths tend to isolate the subject too much for my taste. Robert Capa's famous quote is ingrained in my soul when it comes to my work "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."
I don't work with an assistant unless there is a substantial amount of driving involved. I find that working alone allows me a greater access to the wedding day, and presents me with more opportunities to get better images. I also do all my own post processing, as I feel that it's important that the image I pre-visualised prior to pressing the shutter, is the same image my clients receive. I don't want to have anyone else interpret that image for me.
So there you go. There are no big cameras. No big lenses. No big camera bags containing tons of equipment. Two small bodies, three small lenses, and my eye for a picture. What else do I need ;-)