Photographer Q&A: What Camera Settings Do You Use to Shoot a Wedding?
Welcome to my new set of articles featuring Q&A for photographers! I’m going to be answering some of the questions I get a lot, in this and future posts. I know when I was starting out I loved the opportunity to learn as much as I could from experienced wedding photographers. I’m so excited to share some of my knowledge with you!
Before I dig into what settings I use when shooting a wedding, I just want to point out that every photographer is different, and no one way is the “right” way. As long as you can produce consistent work that makes your clients (and you) happy, you can do it however you want!
Ok, now that that’s out of the way, here we go!
First of all, I shoot weddings with two Nikon D750 bodies on a Holdfast Moneymaker strap. One camera has my trusty Nikon 35mm 1.8 lens attached, and the other has my Nikon 85mm 1.8 lens. I’m constantly switching between the two cameras to go between a wider and closer-up view.
I’m skipping over the rest of the details on my equipment and how I actually shoot the ceremony (I’ll go over that in a later post) and focus just on my camera settings.
I use back-button focus. That means I’ve programmed my AE-L/AF-L button on the back of my camera to be the button I focus with- not the shutter button (camera default). On some Nikon cameras you’ll use the AF-on button, and on most Canon cameras. There are many reasons why this works better for me, the main ones being that I have a way better percentage of images that are in focus, and it’s easier for me to lock focus on a moving subject. I have my focus mode set to continuous focus.
I use a single point to focus. So when I’m shooting, I place the focus point on whatever I want to be in focus, and then I hold the AE-L/AF-L (we’ll just call it the BBF for back-button focus from now on) button down. It continuously focuses on the subject, and then I can use the shutter button to snap photos at any time. This works great when you have people coming down the aisle- just pre-plan where a face will be in your frame and then you can make minor adjustments as needed. If you shoot with your aperture very wide or wide open, you’ll really need to be accurate with your focus point. If you shoot a little higher, like 2.8-3.5, you have a little more depth-of-field and can focus on bodies or clothing.
With BBF and continuous focus mode, it’s easy to not continuously focus, too. Just put your focus point where you want it, use the BBF to focus, and then take your finger/thumb off the BBF button! The focus will remain right where you set it! This can be great for using a focus/recompose technique. It’s not something I do very often.
I shoot in manual mode 99% of the time. First, I set my aperture. I always shoot pretty wide open, but not all the way- like 2.2 or 2.5. The only exception is for formals or if I absolutely need a little more depth of field- like for some detail shots.
Next, I check my ISO. I have a pretty good idea what ISO I can get away with for different lighting conditions, and I try to go with the lowest setting possible.
Lastly, I check my shutter speed. I don’t like to go below 1/250 if I can help it, because I’m not very steady and there’s lots of movement at weddings. So I’m always checking to make sure my shutter speed is high enough.
I almost always use the Matrix Metering mode (Evaluative on Canon) and the in-camera meter as a start to check my exposure. I typically shoot underexposed by a stop or more, and most of the time I try not to blow out my highlights- especially if the highlight is on a subject or their clothes. I love the rich, deep tones I get when underexposing and then editing to bring back detail. I know the limits of my cameras as far as being able to bring back shadows, etc. in editing, and that’s something that just comes with practice.
I check my histogram constantly! I can see right away if my highlights are blown out (too bright to the point of no recovery) or if my photo is too underexposed. If I need to adjust settings, I do it quickly. I start with the shutter speed. If I’m going below 1/250th of a second, then I know I need to increase my ISO. If it’s really dark, I might have my ISO all the way up to 10,000 or 12,800- I know with my cameras the noise is minimal at these high settings as long as the exposure is correct.
Another weird trick with my cameras (and I think it might just be a D750 thing) is that if you shoot at a lower ISO, I’d say, 400 or lower, you can REALLY underexpose a photo and then bring up the exposure in Lightroom with very minimal noise! The image below was taken at 1/4000, f3.2, ISO 125. You can see it’s super dark, but look at the edited version! I didn’t use any noise reduction!
Sometimes I’ll use live view when I’m shooting- but usually only to get a really high or low angle- because it rapidly sucks my battery!
I use auto white balance. I feel like, for the most part, my cameras are pretty good at picking a good white balance, and I end up tweaking it while editing anyway.
I’m almost always have my camera set to burst-mode, so I can hold down the shutter and take multiple frames, rapidly. I mainly use this for creating GIFs (another post you’ll probably see later!). Regardless, I do take a LOT of frames almost constantly, shooting right through when I anticipate a great moment is about to happen.
I also use Nikon SB-700 flashes for the reception. I usually don’t break them out until after the dance floor opens- unless the wedding is indoors and there isn’t enough light. I NEVER use flash during the ceremony, no matter what. I use on-camera flash 99% of the time. I almost always just use one with my 35mm. If I need two, I have one on each camera. I bounce the flash and I also use it pointed straight-on for dance floor shots. I’ve also used my flashes on stands with umbrellas for formals that happened inside when the lighting wasn’t good. There’s a lot more to using flashes, but (you guessed it) I’ll save that for another time!
There it is- I think I covered everything! There’s so much to remember when photographing someone’s wedding day, and it’s so important that you don’t mess anything up. There are no do-overs, and this is one of the most important days in people’s lives! No matter what settings you use, it’s important that you feel comfortable and know what works for you and what doesn’t. Practice as much as you can when you’re not at weddings, until you know all the functions of your camera and what settings you should use for any given scenario.
I also offer 1:1 mentoring for wedding photographers. If you’re interested in something like that, hit me up!
I hope this post was helpful to you in some way, shape or form. Feel free to leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below!