Do You Need a Macro Lens for Wedding Photography?

An engagement ring in flowers.

It's all in the details. To be fair, it's always been in the details, but lately those details have grown in the weirdest ways.  When it comes to wedding photography we've seen a considerable shift in recent years towards focusing on every little detail that went into the wedding itself.  Think about it, do you remember seeing 30+ photos of shoes, center pieces, place settings, custom napkins, and dresses hanging from windows at your parents' wedding?  Probably not.  Yet here we are, and it's more than just something nice to have, it's become almost just as important as photos of the family.

To that end I was talking to another wedding photographer this week who was asking about my macro lens.  A macro lens, for those who aren't aware, is a lens capable of incredibly close photos which makes it particularly valuable for people who want to take REALLY close up photos (Think of any close-up photos of insects you've ever seen - probably a macro lens).  I have a Nikkor 105mm F/2.8 VR macro lens, and he told me that he didn't see any value in the lens because he already has a 70-200 F/2.8 VR II, which can be set to 105mm F/2.8.  It's true, he's got a point. I also have a 70-200 F/2.8 VR II, and it IS a way more versatile lens; it also offers even more vibration reduction than the macro does, but the reasons I picked it up were completely overlooked by him.  Here are the main two reasons I specifically needed a macro lens for my wedding photography.

1.  Small Rooms (a.k.a. Minimum focus distance)

Have you ever taken photos of a bride getting ready on her wedding day?  Usually it happens in a hotel room or bedroom surrounded by the mother of the bride, bridesmaids, makeup artist(s), all the bags/purses/dresses/accessories etc. that go with getting ready, and invariably a half-dozen sets of shoes strewn across the floor in what can only effectively be described as a, "wedding photographer's obstacle course."  If the room wasn't small to begin with it certainly feels that way by the time the photographer and his assistant arrive and have to constantly move to get shots.

The problem with using the 70-200 in this scenario is that the minimum distance is 1.4 metres.  That means you need to be almost 5 feet away from whatever you're taking a photo of, and you need those 5 feet to be clear of other people.  Sometimes that's incredibly hard to do.
With the 105mm macro the minimum focus distance is 1 foot.  That's it.  It's a WORLD of difference if you're packed like sardines, and as a photojournalist I need to be enabled by my equipment, not have it throw more challenges into a pressured situation.

2. Cropping (Cutting out the extras)

This one directly ties into the last one.  The less you have to cut out of the original photo, the higher the quality the final photo will be. Take a look at the original images taken with both lenses.  Forgive me, but for the purposes of this example I had to go with what was immediately available, so I've tossed my wife's engagement ring into a set of decorative flowers we have in our kitchen.  It's not ideal, but you get the point.

Here is an un-cropped photo of the ring in some flowers taken at minimum focus distance (as close as possible) with the 70-200 zoomed to 105mm:


Nikon D810 w/ 70-200 F/2.8 VR II shot at: 1/400s, F/2.8, ISO 64


As seen there, you can barely make the ring out at the 105mm focal length.  You may argue the versatility of being able to move up to 200mm with this lens, but realistically if you research the Nikon 70-200mm you'll learn a couple things, namely that up-close it really only goes to 130mm, and that it's sharpness at F/2.8 beyond the 150mm point significantly decreases.

Here again is an un-cropped photo the ring taken from the 105mm macro:


Nikon D810 w/ 105mm F/2.8 VR shot at: 1/400s, F/2.8, ISO 64


It's mind-boggling how much closer you can get!  You can actually see the ring easily without having to hunt for it!  Not to mention that they're both the same size images, so if I want to zoom into the macro shot there's still SO much more data before it starts to show any pixelation/noise (Let's be honest, I shot at ISO 64 - there's no noise there).

Look take a look at how much is cut out of the original 70-200 in order to get a similar shot, the section in the red square is the 105's shot overlaid over the 70-200's shot:


What does this mean?  It means that if you want to get the same shot with a 70-200mm lens then everything outside of the red square has to be cut off when you're editing the shot later.  That's a MASSIVE amount of data lost, and if you're shooting in low light conditions (like so many weddings are) and your ISO is high or your sensor is small, that may render the image absolutely unusable.

Bottom line: Yes, of course you can absolutely shoot a wedding without using a macro lens.  You could get absolutely phenomenal coverage of a wedding without a lot of things.  But if you're professionally shooting modern weddings then you're professionally shooting the details, and why wouldn't you want to get the best tools to ensure that your job is done right?  It's entirely dependent on your style, experience, budget, and the requirements of your clients, but to me it is an absolute must-have for what I do and how I do it.

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