The Nikon D750 is one of the most talked about cameras in a long time. It’s a small lightweight body that packs a major feature set and has even lured Nikon D4 shooters to "upgrade." The camera is packed full of customizations, some of which can be pretty hard to understand and even difficult to find. I’m here to explain what I feel to be the best overall setup and why. This article is geared towards the Nikon D750, however the majority of the settings, if not all, are applicable to most cameras.
I know... manual is the best and you’re not a pro if you don't shoot manual. However, if I’m shooting a bride getting ready in front of a window, then her dad walks in to see her for the first time and he is standing in a dimly lit doorway, the quickest way to get that shot is aperture priority. In addition to aperture priority, I have auto ISO set to ON, my minimum shutter speed set to 1/200, and my max ISO set to 12,800. With these settings I can walk around looking for moments and not have to worry about what my shutter speed is at. Is it too low and I need to raise my ISO? Is it too low and the last 10 images I took are a mess with motion blur? No more worrying and double checking.
The key to using aperture priority like this is that in the menu, under custom settings, I have ab3 easy exposure compensation set to ON. What this does is links my exposure compensation to the rear wheel so that I can quickly adjust exposure compensation without the need to press any buttons. With practice you’ll be able to quickly see a scene and know if you need to go up or down with your compensation. For this kind of work it’s important to realize you are not looking for perfect exposure in every shot (although that helps), you are trying to catch the moments as they happen. If you are not sure whether you need to go up or down with your exposure compensation, then err on the side of underexposed. It’s pretty easy to bring detail back from the shadows whereas it's significantly harder and sometimes impossible to bring the detail back from blown highlights.
When I first started shooting I had my camera setup like every other camera I have ever played with. You press the shutter button half way down to focus, and then all the way down to take the picture. It makes sense right? That’s the way it’s always been. Yet, there are a couple problems that I generally run into when shooting like this. One problem occurs when I’m taking a picture in single-shot autofocus (AF-S) and the focus locks; then it stays locked until I half-press the shutter button again. This is how I normally shoot. I am able to focus on my subject and then adjust my framing to how I like it because my subject doesn’t always align with a focus point. In this situation, if I’m trying to focus on a child and that child starts walking toward me, they are now out of focus and I miss my shot. The way I fix this is by switching to continuous autofocus (AF-C) and now whatever my focus point is on, it will constantly adjust focus as the subject moves toward or away from me. Now, if I go back to take a picture of the bride and want to focus and adjust my framing, I need to go back to AF-S. If I don’t, then when I adjust my framing the AF-C will readjust the focus to whatever the focus point is now on and I miss another shot.
This is where the back-button focus comes into play. In the custom settings menu I have the AE-L/AF-L button set to AF-ON which takes the focus away from the shutter button. From here I set my autofocus to AF-C. Now, when I press and hold the AE-L/AF-L button it will continuously focus on whatever my focus point is on. If I want to focus and recompose all I have to do is hold the button to focus, let go of the button, and then I’m free to adjust my framing and the focus won't move until I press the AE-L/AF-L button again. It’s the best of both worlds. One trick I found with using AF-C is in the custom settings menu I set a3 equal to 1 for quicker refocus when my subjects move. I also have a7 set to AF11 because these 11 points are the fastest cross-type autofocus points. This also speeds it up for me to move my focus points around the screen, since I can make larger jumps than I can with all the points active.
I have this button set to MYMENU. This just allows me to make certain items within the menu quicker to access. Currently, the items in MYMENU are pretty minimal, but I will be adding things as I find the need to do so. Right now I have ISO sensitivity settings in here so that I can quickly adjust my minimum shutter speeds and my minimum and maximum allowed ISO. If im shooting at 20mm and my subjects are not moving a lot, then I can get away with 1/20 and get a much lower ISO. Next I utilize the image overlay function. This allows me to use any image on the camera to create a multiple exposure. The last item I have is the AF settings. I use this when I want to change from AF11 back to using all the autofocus points.
I have this button set to flash off. I love this button. When I’m shooting with off-camera flash and want to take an ambient only shot, I no longer have to remove my flash trigger or turn my flash off. I just press this button with my ring finger and it kills all the flashes, as long as I have the button pressed.
Live View Exposure Preview
Probably one of the most hidden and hard to find settings on the D750 is the Live View Exposure Preview. It cannot be found in any of the menu subsets. In order to turn on the exposure preview function you first have to turn on live view. Then, press the "i" button on the left of the screen and scroll all the way down. From there, you can change ExpOFF to ExpON. Now when you are using live view you will have an on-screen representation of what exactly your exposure will look like. I love using this for situations that have difficult lighting. I don’t have to worry taking three or four test shots to nail in the exposure. Now I just turn on live view, adjust my settings until the image looks right, and fire away. I have no idea why this setting is off by default.
A great feature of the D750 is the ability to save custom user settings. I don’t use this as intended, but say you share the camera with someone and you both like to have it set up a completely different way. With the D750, you can save the settings for user one as U1 and the second user saves their settings to U2. In order to adjust every setting to the way you like, all you have to do is adjust the dial to U1 or U2. Since I don’t share my camera with anyone, I found another way to use this option:
For this setting I have all the same settings that I shoot with when using aperture priority but without back-button focus. Instead, I have the AF tied back to the shutter button. The reason for this is because I always shoot with two cameras and in certain situations, for example the first kiss, I’ll use both cameras at the same time. One camera in my right hand at 35mm and the second camera in my left hand at 85mm. But holding the cameras this way it’s impossible to hit the back-button focus, therefore I resort back to the shutter button focus. In addition, when handing my camera to someone, I don’t want to have to explain to them how to focus with the back button. So instead I switch to U1, hand them the camera, and let them take the picture.
I have this set to the exact same settings that I use all day when shooting aperture priority but I have the flash set to off. The reason for this is because when I’m shooting the formals, reception, or anything to do with flash, I’m shooting in manual. If I’m shooting the formals and the flower girl starts doing something cute behind me, I don’t want to have to switch to aperture priority, adjust my ISO, and hold my kill flash button in order to grab that shot. Instead, I quickly switch to U2 and grab my image. Then I switch back to manual and continue on with the formals.
Nothing is more annoying than hitting that little flash button on accident and having the pop-up flash spring into action. A lot of people just tape the thing down and call it done. However, I like to use this pop-up flash every once in a while as a commander flash for off-camera lights. So I still want the ability for it to pop up, but I don’t want it to pop up accidentally. To fix this, press the flash button and have the flash pop up, then hold the button and spin the rear wheel till you get to the flash off setting. Now, press the pop-up flash back down and it will no longer pop up when you press the button. You do have to turn this setting back to on if you want to use a hotshoe flash or flash trigger. Or, back to what I was saying earlier, you can save this setting to U2 and never worry about it again.
These are not all the custom settings I use, but they are what I feel to be the most important. Here you can download my actual Nikon D750 settings file and load it to your camera if you would like. You should know this will not save settings to your U1 or U2, and this will change the copyright info and file naming to my information. So if you use it, make sure you change it or I’ll own all your images!
What do you think? Do you use any of these settings? Do you use something different? Why? What do you have saved to your MYMENU and user settings?