How I Have My Camera Set Up to Shoot Weddings

How I Have My Camera Set Up to Shoot Weddings

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.

Aperture Priority

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.

Image straight out of camera

Image with fixed exposure and recovered shadows.

Back-Button Focus

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.

PV Button

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.

Fn Button

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.

User Settings

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:

U1

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.

U2

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.

Flash Button

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.

Conclusion

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?

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88 Comments

Previous comments

Hello Jason,
have not you ever felt that you like to do a full body shot of the couple with even less depth of field than your 85 1.4? You never missed a 135 or 150mm lens?

Jason Vinson's picture

there are a few moments that it would be nice to have, but nothing that can justify me carrying it around all the time.

I use the Tamron 24-70 with the Tamron 70-200 for the whole wedding, I do use a spiderpro belt though! highly recommend you get one if you dont have one, it takes things ALOT easier!

I actually lost my original belt and had to reorder one but it didnt arrive until after my last wedding!! I had to carry 2 d750s around my neck along with my backpack and other kit, it wasnt enjoyable!

Weird how reliant I have become on that belt!

fred lefeuvre's picture

I guess I'm totally old school... Manual mode, no auto-iso (never above 1600), no user menu... Hopefully I can do some nice shots like this... the crazy DR range of Nikon lastest bodies is crazy and can save you everytime... I'll try to explore your tips to improve, some of them seems pretty usefull :)

Jason Vinson's picture

manual isnt really a bad thing its just a slower process that leads to missed shots. You're rule of never going above ISO1600 may still be valid since that is dependent on the ability of your camera. But give some of this stuff a try and see what you think!

fred lefeuvre's picture

I'm pretty quick with M mode, and pretty hard with the quality above 1600... but we always need to go further ! I'll try some for sure

Will you post the settings in pdf so I can make changes to my settings. I am encouraged on the high ISO, something I will try on my D750. Thank You for the post.

Jason Vinson's picture

I'm not sure how to save the setting file as a pdf? you can always export your setting and save them on your computer, load mine to try/see what they are, and then reload your file if you don't like them.

Mary Thorsby's picture

Great piece, Jason! About that annoying pop-up flash -- are you familiar with Lightscoop? It's a camera accessory that you slide into your hot shoe to bounce all of the light from the flash off a ceiling or wall. It does the trick when you don't have time to set up your off-camera lighting. If you'd like to experiment with it, and perhaps do a review, I'd love to send you one!

Can I ask a potentially silly question? I have been a Nikon shooter for over 10 years and I am really trying to work on the quality of my images. I shoot natural light, airy "exposed for the shadows" type of images with my D750. But I also shoot weddings. This article is excellent as it gave me insight into what someone else may be doing differently from me. My question is about the ISO. I found that there is still a lot of noise at 12800. Am I doing something stupid or is everyone also getting noise but it doesn't matter when printed or reduced for web viewing? It drives me crazy to see a non-sharp image on my screen when editing. And on another note, for the fine art photographers - how do they get their images so crisp?? I use all Nikon glass and I typically keep my f2.8 depth of field (except for family portraits). I get that some pics may be soft if someone moves slightly but there are some collections out there which are so sharp and I just can't figure it out! :) Ps. I love my D750!

Jason Vinson's picture

I think the thing to keep in mind is that if you are shooting at 12800, then that's probably the only option you have for getting the shot unless a tripod is usable. So for me a noisy shot is better then a blurry unusable shot. And yes, there is a decent amount of noise 12800 and you want to try and nail your exposure the higher you go in ISO since the dynamic range falls off the higher you go, so pushing you exposure around can make it worse. The great thing about the D750 is that the noise pattern is pleasing and almost has a film quality to it so it much easier to use. I would say forget about how it looks on your screen. print a few images out at various sizes and see how they look in real use.

Thanks Jason... I will do just that. I am guilty of handing the images off to my clients without ever checking out how those reception images look with the potential noise. Excellent advice. Thanks!!

Jason Vinson's picture

you don't have to print all the images you question either. Just find a few you are not sure of, make a print, and then you'll have a better idea of what that questionable noise level will look like in print and will know its acceptable or not acceptable for you.

Great article. I'm thinking of upgrading my body to a D750 as well. Stoked! I'm curious about your Post processing techniques. Do you use LR, with some custom presets, or photoshop with LR with some actions - just photoshop?

Jason Vinson's picture

I use lightroom with a few different presets that I built myself for 95% of all my images. Only time I go into photoshop is for the one off cases where I can't do something I need from within lightroom.

Awesome article -thanks so much for posting. I'm getting the D750 this week (upgrading from D7000 - can't wait). I had one question about when you change from 11 point focus to auto focus. You say "The last item I have is the AF settings. I use this when I want to change from AF11 back to using all the auto focus points." When do you use all the auto focus points when shooting a wedding? I would imagine you use the 11 pint system when you're composing portraits, or wanting a shallow DOF with certain shots, just curious about your reasoning with and when choosing one over the other. Thanks.

Jason Vinson's picture

ill switch to all AF point if i need to be super accurate with my focus with low depth of field. Like if i was composing a shallow depth of field image and the subject didn't line up with a focus point. But for 99% of the time im on the 11 point AF.

i've just loaded your bin file and noticed one thing. You use 11 point focus system, but you dont use the joystick to select the points. Is that right? I use to select the area in the camera where I wanted the red focus dot to go to, then shoot. I when i use your bin file, its not setup that way. edit: I think I get it. this is different to my d7000 where i chose the point points based on an 11 point system with the joystick. Am i right in assuming that i can just back button focus, recompose, and the focus will stay on my subjects.

what do you have your AF-c set to? “S”, “D 9”, “D 21”, “D 51”, “3D”, “Grp” and “Aut”.

Jason Vinson's picture

i have not messed with any of that so whatever the default setting is.

Jason Vinson's picture

nevermind. i just looked it up and realized what those were talking about. I only use S right now but have never played with the others to see how well they work.

Beauty! When i changed that setting I got the option to use the joystick again. awesome. thanks. Im setup as per my old d7000 - cant wait to get this thing going.

last question .. when would you use multiple exposures for wedding photography?

Jason Vinson's picture

Just for creative portraits

You have mentioned in the comments section that when you use Aperture mode u most of the time do it with Matrix Metering..I wanted to know the reason for that ? Also please explain when in the menu of auto iso settings if we set the max ISO value and minimum shutter speed value my camera most of the time go below this minimum value and i end up getting blurry picture ..how to cope up with this issue ? thanks in advance

Jason Vinson's picture

I use matrix metering because it gives my more consistent exposures when i have bright spots or dark spots in the frame. I have my max ISO set to 12800 and I have my minimum shutter speed set to 1/200. hope this helps!

Justin Haugen's picture

Five months later and I'm a happy owner of two D750's as of yesterday. Looking forward to using the tips here to set my cameras up!

Justin Haugen's picture

All dialed in. I really like how the easy exposure compensation feature works at helping you manage shooting in aperture priority mode with auto ISO. I found auto ISO not so intuitive in the past.

Btw, I sent you a msg on FB and I'm sure it went to the 'other' box. I had a question for you regarding Instagram.

Thanks again for this article, it was in the back of my head while I pieced together my switch.

Jason Vinson's picture

drop me a line on Instagram and i should see it. I'm normally only on Facebook from my phone and don't think you can check the "other" inbox from mobile.

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