What Settings Should I Use for Wedding Photography?

Camera Setting

They call it “The Big Day” for a reason. Weddings require a massive amount of planning. And those logistics don’t just apply to the ceremony, the cake, and the conga line. 

Photographers have two schools of thought on wedding photography: journalistic and traditional styles. You can do both with your digital SLR. Journalistic wedding coverage means you include everything — from the program with the couple’s names and wedding party to the soggy hanky Grandma left on the church pew. A series of traditional wedding photographs concentrate on the bride, the groom, and the wedding party. 

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Wedding Photos Are Only Part of the Equation.

“I respect the hell out of wedding photographers,” says editorial and portrait photographer Grace Rivera. She doesn’t usually do weddings, but shooting a recent destination wedding gave her a new perspective on the genre. “It’s tough. You have to embody fashion, documentary, event, portrait — every field of photography — into one day where you have seven hours to create a huge body of work.”

With so much to juggle, from lengthy shot lists and multiple locations to wrangling a large wedding party and a finite amount of time to get your photos, it’s a tall order for even the best wedding photographers. Putting together a strategy is essential, and that preparation can save you when the best-laid plans fall apart.

What Is Wedding Photography?

Let’s have a closer look at your actual task if you are booked as a wedding photographer. Of course, it’s about taking the best pictures possible of the whole day. This includes getting ready with the bride, the ceremony, a wedding shoot, and the party.

While the wedding shoot is the only part of the wedding that you can actively control, the other parts are more like reportage. Your job is to take pictures of what is happening in front of your lens without interrupting anything. Nothing is worse than a photographer trying to get people to pose for the camera during a wedding. Always try to stay invisible and let people act naturally. Could you not make them feel watched? That’s how you’ll usually arrive at the best shots.

But it is not only about the photographs. As a wedding photographer, you’ll also find yourself on an intimate level, acting as an advisor for the bridal couple. This is because you are the one with the most experience in weddings, or at least you should be!

Choosing Digital Slr Camera Settings for Weddings

Wedding Photography Manual Shooting

When you photograph a wedding, you use an array of settings. In most shots, people are the centre of attention, so you need to control the field’s depth using Aperture Priority mode. 

Other suggested settings include:

  • Drive and Focus Modes: Single Shot
  • Aperture: f/4.0 for details and close-ups and the formal spouse-and-spouse photos to f/7.1 for a small group shot of the wedding party to f/8.0 for the church and large groups
  • ISO Setting: 100 for a bright or sunny setting to 800 in a dimly lit church; at a nighttime reception, you may go to 1000 or higher
  • Auto-Focus Point: Single auto-focus point lets you pinpoint specific people
  • Focal Length: 35mm (the whole wedding party and the church or reception setting), 85mm (portraits of wedding party members and guests), and 100mm or macro (details such as the rings sliding onto fingers)
  • Image Stabilization: On; it enables you to capture sharp images at slower shutter speeds than usual.

How to Prepare for Wedding Photography.

Schedule and Shot List

  • With just one day to get it all done, you don’t want to miss a thing. Meeting with the wedding couple in advance to go over the schedule and develop a shortlist means you won’t have disappointed clients.
  • “I give couples a timeline planning worksheet,” wedding photographer and author Khara Plicanic says. This not only lets her get the day’s schedule down on paper but also provides a way to address potentially unrealistic timing.
  • Helping a couple realize they won’t go straight from the wedding ceremony to the reception when they have to greet 300 people in the receiving line will ensure you’re scheduling the proper amount of time to capture the shots that are most important to the bride and groom, or brides and grooms.
  • Here are key wedding shot list considerations to cover with the couple:
  • Do either or both people want photos of them getting ready? If so, when does that process begin?
  • Will photos of the wedding party and family be taken before or after the ceremony? What family members should be present for these photos, and when do they need to show up? Will members of the wedding party’s dates be in these photos?
  • If the first look between the couple occurs before the ceremony, it needs to happen before any other images. Make sure to leave enough time for this critical emotional moment.
  • Get a basic rundown of the ceremony so you can be ready to capture special moments during this packed 30- to 60-minute part of the day.
  • What’s the schedule for the reception? Are events like a first dance, father-of-the-bride dance, and cake cutting happening? Get the timing on these, so you’re not changing camera batteries when the bouquet’s being thrown.
  • When are you going to eat? It’s essential to find holes in the schedule that allow you time for food, water, and trips to the restroom.

Taking Pictures at Weddings

Talk with the couple well in advance of the ceremony and ask them which shots are important to them — a group shot with college friends, pictures with the grandparents, and so on. If you’re going for full coverage, you’ll need a second photographer to get photos of one soon-to-be-spouse getting dressed while you chronicle the other.

Any picture that includes the bride should show the detail of her dress. The happy couple won’t care that the officiant is in the shade or that the bridesmaid is slightly blurry so long as the newlyweds look good.

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Keep your eyes open for everything, but have a list of must-get pictures that includes:

  • The couple’s parents were ushered into the wedding. Use medium telephoto focal lengths (of up to 100mm) and a large aperture (a small f/stop number) to blur the background and foreground to see the display’s emotions and not the experience.
  • The betrothed couple is walking down the aisle, whether they do it with their parents, alone, or with each other. Look for reaction shots of guests and family members.
  • The ceremony itself. The exchange of vows, the giving of rings, the first kiss are all essential wedding photos. And be sure to capture any special rites, such as a candle-lighting ceremony.
  • Formal shots of the wedding party and the newlyweds with their families. These are the pictures the family sends out. Get the entire wedding party, the couple on their own and with their primary attendants and with other notable members of the wedding party — flower girl, great-grandfather, and so on.
  • The reception. Get the traditional shots of the first dance, the parents’ dance, cutting the cake, removing and throwing the garter and bouquet, and be prepared to document emotion and enjoyment throughout. Most receptions are held in dungeon-like conditions, so you need to use on-camera flash and a high ISO. You may want to try a flash diffuser.

What Equipment Do You Need to Photograph a Wedding?

Camera Gear

There are no fixed rules for what camera gear you will need to bring to a wedding day, but some parts of the Equipment are obligatory, while others are optional.

Regardless of location, once the day begins, there’s no popping out to grab another lens. So come prepared. Beyond a flash, you’ll want lenses that can capture a variety of shots. Consider the types of images you’ll want to get to build out your wedding photography equipment checklist. Plicanic, for example, uses a versatile 50mm lens for capturing live photojournalistic moments, a 16–35mm lens for wide shots necessitated by large wedding groups, and a 70–200mm lens to capture intimate moments from a distance. 

Prepare yourself for the elements as well. If you’re in sunny southern California, dress appropriately for the heat. But if you’re in Chicago in the winter, bundle up and prepare for the snow. You don’t want to be distracted during the shoot, so make sure you’re in professional, comfortable gear. Another set of eyes can be an invaluable resource, as well.

“I had two cameras on me, two cameras on my second shooter, and a variety of lenses,” Rivera recalls. “You want to make sure you have a long lens to catch faraway moments and a wider lens so you can switch between the two rapidly — especially during the ceremony when you only have 30 minutes to get everything that you need.”

Cameras

Of course, you will need a camera that is capable of high ISO speeds. Most churches are not very bright and have dim lights. If it gets late at night, you will have to push your ISO high up to capture the scenes you want.

Sometimes, you have to use IOS 6400 if you don’t want to use a flashlight. So in terms of cameras, the ISO speed goes over resolution. High-resolution cameras are also very shake-sensitive if you go for longer shutter speeds, such as 1/30 sec, for example. So cameras with 40+ megapixels are not the weapon of choice here. Your hard drive will also be very thankful, by the way.

The mirrorless cameras are excellent because they are more silent while shooting, which comes in handy if you are trying to be low-key during the ceremony. But for wedding photography, we recommend the Sony Alpha 7 MK III, Nikon Z6, Canon EOS 5D Mark III or IV, or the Canon EOS R.

Lenses

When it comes to lenses, opinions tend to differ sharply. Usually, you will hear only about prime lenses with wide apertures for wedding photography. Of course, this is right; prime lenses have a much better image performance in terms of sharpness and bokeh, and they are much faster than zoom lenses. However, they are not as flexible.

Over the years, weddings require a lot of different lenses, including both zooms and primes. A good mixture works best. While in a church, use a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens most of the time as you don’t have to move that much. It’s handy in moments when you have to be quick, for example – during the first kiss. It is much easier to have a zoom lens for obvious reasons. You can also use other lenses for portraits, close-ups, and still-life images.

I am not a big fan of flashlights for wedding photography. Why? Because they kill the mood! Not only is it disturbing for the guests, but it also kills all ‘natural’ light sources from chandeliers or disco balls, even if used indirectly and bounced against the ceiling or a wall.

Sometimes though, you’ll have to use them. The first dance is one of these occasions. Usually, there will be a romantic light setting lit up by lighters or candles. I try to work with two cordless flashlights gently used not to destroy this beautiful scenery and only help me get some details in the shadows. In general, you should always try to work with the available light and use the flash just as a support and never as your primary light source.

Knowing the day’s schedule will help you understand what type of lighting you’ll be working with. While golden-hour lighting (flattering, soft natural light that happens typically an hour after sunrise or before sunset) might be ideal for wedding portraits, many weddings occur during the middle of the day when the lighting is harsher.

 “With the sun directly overhead, you end up with deep shadows under people’s eyes,” wedding photographer Anna Goellner explains. “I always look for shade this time of day, be it from trees or buildings — whatever you can find to provide more even lighting. If no shade is around, try to put the sun behind your clients for a softer look.”

Show up before guests arrive at scout lighting around the venue. It can save you some stress later on.

If the festivities move into the evening, it might be necessary to use a camera flash. A technique called “dragging the shutter” can be perfect for capturing dimly lit wedding scenes without losing background details, photographer Kilen Murphy says. 

By slowing down the shutter speed of your camera and raising the ISO (which controls the camera’s sensitivity to light), a flash can illuminate the foreground subject while still taking in the background light — perfect for capturing guests dancing at the reception without losing details of the venue around them. Even without the flash, Goellner says that a higher ISO and slower shutter speed, with some experimentation, can be great for low-light reception photography.

Sometimes, a flashlight is handy for the wedding shoot with the bridal couple to set some accents to the eyes or brighten up faces. I use two types of flashlights: two Canon Speedlights for the reportage with small bouncers attached and a big battery-powered studio flashlight with a softbox for the portraits.

In terms of lighting, a reflector can help the wedding shoot itself, especially if you have an assistant with you. It is an excellent way to model the available light without using a flash.

Besides a camera bag, memory cards, and batteries, that’s it for the must-haves. Things like reflectors or light meters are optional, depending on what you are planning to do. A tripod can help if you want to take some night-shots or group pictures without changing the frame.

Working With Different Lighting Setups

Working With a Reflector

As mentioned before, I like to work with natural light more than with artificial light sources. So a reflector or sun bounce can be an excellent tool to create nicely lit pictures without using a flash.

Shooting with backlight situations creates depth and makes the picture look more interesting for the viewer. It can be tricky sometimes, but if you master your light setups, your photographs will improve drastically.

To have the reflected light appear not too strong or harsh, you have to vary the distance between your motive and the reflector. In this case, the glass was placed around 5 meters away from the couple to be only slight brightening. Keep in mind that if the reflected light is too strong, move the sun bounce further away until you achieve the intensity you like.

Reflectors can also be used to make eyes look more vivid when you shoot close-ups. When you place the glass under the chin of the person you photograph, you can create nice reflections in the lower part of the eyes. This gives a beautiful, vivid glow to the eyes and also brings out eye colour much better. This works best with diffused light on a slightly overcast day or in combination with a softbox and a flashlight.

Working With a Flash

You won’t always be in the comfortable situation of having available light during a wedding photography shoot. If the available light is too weak due to an overcast day or if the sunlight is too strong, then the contrasts may be too hard, and you’ll have to compensate with a flash. At Vines of the Yarra Valley we have compiled a list of the Best Photographers in Melbourne to help you choose who captures your magical day.

However, it is essential to be creative and think outside the box when it comes to lighting. Before you go on your first wedding shoot, you should practice a lot to master the light and have all the knowledge about what your Equipment does, as well as what you can achieve by using specific techniques. Watch tutorials on YouTube or read articles about it and try to build upon what you have seen or read. The information in this guide is only a fraction of what you’ll need to know about lighting. Keep experimenting and playing around with different kinds of light sources. It is fun, and you will learn quickly. 

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