What two lenses should you carry to be able to take a majority of shots in a fast paced environment?

Or more specifically: I just watched a documentary on PBS about Pete Souza, the current White House Photographer. He's always running and having to take split-second photos of the president. Does anyone know what he carries around?

  • I have Canon bodies. One of the cameras that Pete Souza was shooting with inside didn't have a flash. Would it have been something faster than a 2.8?
    – Erik W
    Dec 26 '10 at 22:30
  • 2
    He uses the 5D2 and mostly primes, especially the 35 1.4. Check out the Whitehouse Flickr stream, flickr.com/photos/whitehouse All the Exif data is left intact. The 70-200 will popup a few times in there. I've seen a 50 1.2 before. Dec 27 '10 at 1:29
  • The very first photo that I clicked on at the whitehouse flickr stream was a Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. He's upgraded to a 5D3 Dec 13 '13 at 3:08

Many event photographers carry two primary lenses which cover most focal lengths needed for typical walkaround photos:

  • 24-70mm f/2.8
  • 70-200mm f/2.8

Based on what you describe, those would be my two go-to lenses.

  • Erik did not say what system he is using. This would be the perfect full-frame Nikon combo. For a cropped-sensor, there is usually a 16-50 or 17-55 or 17-50 F/2.8 (different for each brand) that would replace the 24-70. I know some who even do with a middle-range gap by going with a 16-35mm F2.8 as their wide option. Of course you always carry 2 cameras as well to not have to change lenses. That would be a no-no in fast-paced environments.
    – Itai
    Dec 25 '10 at 21:37
  • These two lenses work fine for full-frame cameras. If there's not much light and you're allowed to use it, flash it also great for freezing action.
    – che
    Dec 26 '10 at 16:48
  • I really dislike the 70-200 when shooting weddings, at least the Nikon version. It is super heavy and extremely painful to carry around for hours on end. I go with the 85mm f/1.8 instead. Much smaller, therefore I can aim it at the end of five hours of lifting it.
    – mmr
    Dec 26 '10 at 19:22

If I were photographing a President, I would want something that is very fast, has a reasonable zoom, and definitely image stabilization. That'd be the 70-200mm 2.8L with IS. As for a second, well, probably the 24-105 f/4 L.

Note that I don't own either, but they'd be what I would choose, if I had to, so...


It really depends on the sort of distance you are at, but if you want to limit it to 2 lenses I would suggest zooms. For fast paced you would want fast lenses (small f number) so this would bring me to the 70-200f2.8 (available on both Canon & Nikon systems) and probably the 24-70f2.8 (also available on both systems). The only problem is that on a cropped sensor camera 24-70mm may not be wide enough.

However in this sort of situation I would use two bodies as wel as 2 lenses as you could easily miss the moment while you are changing lens.


A zoom lens offers great versatility and with FF DSLRs nowadays, higher ISOs can really perform quite well. So I would think that the fastest f/2.8 or f/4 of the top-of-the-line general "walk around" zooms from Canon or Sigma or Tamron would be a good bet.

If I needed to get a second lens, I would actually go for a fast prime, like f/1.2 or f/1.4. But the length depends on how far you're usually working away from your subject. The dof and the way you shoot with a prime may lead to some different angles which will be more interesting than the usual 70-200 look in my personal opinion.

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