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A wedding photographer's tools: The 70-200mm lens

Second only to the 24-70mm lens in terms of the number of photos I take at a wedding is the 70-200mm. This is another workhorse lens, and mine sees a lot of use in all contexts except my interiors/kitchen work.

In fact, in some weddings, the 70-200mm sees most use. In the chart below (taken from Adobe Bridge) you can see all the lenses used in what I thought was a fairly typical wedding in Oxfordshire last year. The 70-200mm was actually the most used lens – by some way. I was trying to work out why it was quite so dominant – and then realised – Covid!  The longer focal length was useful to maintain better social distancing!

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The Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 ED VRII

My 70-200mm is the Nikkor f2.8 VRII. Another version of this has come out since, for the same mount, and Nikon has also produced a Z-mount version. Add in the same focal length at f4, and you can see that even from one lens manufacturer there are a lot of options! And Canon, Sony, Sigma and the rest have the same multiplicity. This article is not a review of any particular lens, though I think my Nikon is very good, but a look at how this focal length serves the wedding photographer.

Bear in mind that all of the above is suited to the needs of a full frame camera user. A 70-200mm lens on a crop frame or MFT body would be rather long for many purposes – shorter focal lengths will do the equivalent job.

A wedding photographer's tools:

The 70-200mm lens is a great lens!

One thing that many of the available 70-200mm lenses have in common is that they are very good indeed. The brightness, speed of focussing and overall sharpness these days are breathtaking – certainly wedding photographers of previous generations would be amazed by what is now routine.

I first bought my 70-200 at the same time as my first Nikon D800 body – from that lovely shop the London Camera Exchange in the Strand. When I buy new I always try to use a real shop! The combination of lens resolution and the ludicrous 36 megapixels was pretty breath-taking. I took the lens on a brief break to Paris that summer; these images will show you what I mean.

This shot – of a tourist at the Arc de Triomph – is not a wedding photo, but is a good way of showing the resolution of the Nikon 70-200 on a high-res body. It was taken with the zoom fully extended – so 200mm – on the D800 at f4 1/1000 of a second at ISO100. That is a fairly ideal set of parameters, and you would expect a very sharp image as a result, though f5.6 at 1/500 might have been better still.

Original uncropped image

Crop 1 – top of phone down to the belt, with enough space at top and bottom to not look squashed

Crop 2 – losing the belt

Crop 3 – head only

Crop 4 – landscape, face only, with the phone now visible only as a reflection
For this crop I did a little editing work on skin and nostrils.  

All of those shots are usable, at least for web and moderate-sized prints. In the final one we are right on the limits of that, but to be honest, the challenge is now pixelation rather than a lens resolution issue. The Nikon 70-200mm VRII could actually handle an even smaller pixel size!

When it comes to wedding photography, I have sometimes found that my 70-200 is actually too sharp, and I have had to tone it down in post-processing. A good portrait lens should have some gentleness, some softness. Putting it bluntly, if the bride’s mum has a bit of facial hair, she doesn’t want it coming out in the pictures!

If the bride’s mum has facial hair, she doesn’t want it in her pictures!

A wedding photographer's tools:

So how do you use the 70-200mm at weddings?

Put simply, the 70-200mm picks up where the 24-70mm leaves off. 70mm is a short portrait length – suitable for taking full length or head and shoulders shots of two people, depending on how far back you stand.

200mm is a very long portrait length – longer than you would go to for a formal portrait as it compresses the perspective a bit much – but really good for catching people unaware, for good candid pictures. It is my favourite “hunting” lens at a wedding.

At 70mm, the 70-200 mm can handle a group shot from a distance, giving, in this case, helpful compression through the group, from nearest to furthest.

At 200mm, the 70-200mm is a long portrait lens that can drop the background way out of focus and give you a very pleasing crop on your subjects.

When working as two photographers at a wedding, we frequently work together on the portraits of the couple. The lead photographer stands forward, close enough to talk the couple through the moment. I tend to have either the 24-70 or a 50mm if I’m in that role – occasionally both, on two bodies. The second photographer stands back, with the 70-200mm lens allowing them to come close, even from a distance.

Because of the close distances involved, the 70-200mm rarely comes into its own at the bride’s home/hotel, during the wedding preparations. But I always have it with me. This high-key portrait was taken during bridal preps by my colleague Tim Harman, using the 70-200 on his Nikon D3.

I am very careful to avoid disrupting wedding services as much as I can, but reaction shots during the sermon, when a point strikes home to the heart or brings laughter to the face seem to me to be legitimate. The long focal length of the 70-200 is invaluable.

For the classic head and shoulders or head to waist portraits of bride and groom, the 70-200mm is my go to lens.

The 70-200 is useful for grabbing quick details and “crops” of shots, especially for the second photographer. In this case, under the swirl of petticoat, a glimpse of an Havaiana – Brazilian flip-flop!

Working the big groups with two people means that the lead photographer can work with a wide lens to get the whole group while the 70-200 allows the second cameraperson to focus on individuals or the couple themselves.

My USP as a wedding photographer is that I take photos of all the people at a wedding – I try to get a decent individual portrait of everyone present. Mostly, that means candid shots, although a fair proportion of my clients become aware of what is going on and go along with it. The 70-200mm is my favourite for this. Anything longer (I have a 200-500) is just too long and unwieldy, as well as looking too much like a tank-buster for comfort!

Before I owned the 70-200 I made do with a cheap 70-300 and a 105mm macro. I did good work with them, actually, and looking back, I think that sometimes limitations on gear forced me as a wedding photographer to get the very best from what I’d got. But I was really happy when I had earned enough with my camera to move to this classic wedding photographer’s lens, and I have never regretted buying it.

To contact me to enquire about my wedding photography use my Contact Form or just text (07983 787889) or email me at

Photos © copyright Andrew King Photography or Timothy Harman Photography where stated.

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