It has been a while since my last post about equipment & technique, so I thought it would be time to open my kit bag to you again.  This time I thought I’d talk about the settings I use on my camera and a few shooting techniques.


It is so important for a photographer to be in tune with their equipment,  settings and technique because the moments we capture happen so quickly. The most extraordinary ones happen in milliseconds and they often only ever happen when you least expect it.  Like the image below, this was a “one take” only opportunity, there was no way I could ask this little guy to repeat his action of curiosity (having 3 little boys myself I know).

Program Modes:

There are 3 program modes that I regularly use shooting a wedding (in order of priority):

  1. A (Aperture Priority),
  2. M (Manual) and
  3. S (Shutter Priority).

In addition to using the above program modes I also use the “AUTO ISO SETTING MODE & QUICK EXPOSURE COMPENSATION” when using both Aperture and Shutter Priority.  I will turn this off when working in M-manual mode, as I prefer to use this mode in complete MANUAL.   (Though if you do need to have a set aperture and shutter setting, it is nice to know that you can set these and then use the Auto ISO to correct for exposure.)

I use the Aperture priority mode most of the day to allow for variable lighting exposures.  I shoot with Av mode with Auto ISO on with a minimum shutter speed of approx 1/250th sec.  This is based however on shooting in environments that are not too low in light and is adjusted accordingly. I then set the ISO maximum to a whopping 12,800 on the Nikon D3s.   This limits both camera movement and mirror slap and enables me to shoot multiple scenes extremely fast.

Once I’m in an environment where the lighting is consistent, I prefer to shoot in full M-manual mode.   This is when I resort back to my early beginnings as a photographer. For most of my Canon years, I used to shoot my entire weddings in manual mode, taking control of everything. But after spending some time shooting with some of the great photojournalists  like Jeff Ascough and  Greg Gibson a few years back, they re-opened my eyes to the advantages of using Aperture mode.  Now I feel that I use the best of both worlds at the right time in the right situation.

Once, in dark environments, we had no other choice to drag the shutter speeds of 1/15th of sec or even slower as High ISO performance was non-existent.  But this meant that you got beautiful movement within the image, with the main subject pin sharp but the surrounds or other people were blurred, due to the use of the slow shutter speed.  Sometimes, I still use slower shutter speeds on purpose just to recreate this effect.  Here’s an example on an image I shot of the famous Brisbane author “Nick Earls” at a busy Brisbane street crossing some 6 years ago using this technique.

Here’s an example of pushing the boundaries shooting at a very slow shutter speed in dim light.

These days, to capture movement and expression I usually just set up my S (Shutter priority mode) between 1/15th and 1/30th sec.  I then simply swap over to this mode whenever I need to shoot at slower shutter speeds.  This overrides the minimum shutter speed set out in the AUTO ISO setting.


Most importantly, when I work in either Aperture or Shutter priority, I’m constantly adjusting the camera’s exposure to compensate for the light in the scene that I’m capturing. For instance, for a bright scene like a bride on the beach, I will dial the exposure into the positive, adding between 1 and 3 stops of added exposure.  Where the scene is a dark suit against a dark wall, I do the opposite.  Camera metering systems see the world as 18% grey and so you need to adjust the cameras settings to accommodate.


A feature I absolutely love is the “MY MENU” available in most cameras.  I simply program the settings I always use & they are right there at the ready.  It makes using multiple modes throughout the day a breeze.   For example, one feature I’m always turning off and on is the Auto ISO setting.  Having it quickly accessible makes it possible for me to switch between “A” (Aperture priority) and fully “M” Manual mode

Every photographer has their own personal style and they also have their own way they use the camera to record the moment.  There is more than one way to get the job done and it really just comes down to personal preference.  But, it really is about knowing your tools, and being able to quickly get the most out of your equipment at just the right moment.   A great camera will get you so far, but creative use of your equipment and the ability to see a beautiful shot and to bring it all together in that moment, that is the true mark of a professional. And that is what provides the adrenaline rush that I love about wedding photography.


8 Responses

  1. Nice post. It’s great to find someone else who is actually USING the amazing AUTOIso feature Nikon hooked us up with .

    I shoot Nikon FX as well, recent convert from Canon actually. I don’t know if you found this feature or not but you can actually program the AE/L button (or any of the other programmable buttons) to Exposure LOCK and HOLD. You can then specify how long the meter remembers the exposure settings.

    What this lets you do is the following… you can set the camera say to Aperture priority in AUTO ISO … meter on something, dial exposure compensation if appropriate then press your “Lock AND HOLD” button (if you want to try this it’s critical that you select LOCK and HOLD… and that you set a reasonably long timer (I use 30 minutes) on the meter. lock only is as worthless as on Canon LOL). The exposure will “Lock” essentially in the same way that it would in Manual. Hence say you’ve exposed for the bride’s face… you could move around her, photograph her against a bright window, against a dark wall… and the exposure would NOT change… just like in Manual.

    But it gets better. Say that you’re shooting at F2.0 for some portraits while she’s getting dressed…. and you’re locked to expose her well in Aperture priority … you’re going about your business… when dad walks in. You can spin that Aperture dial to F8 in an instant and the amazing thing is that the camera will STILL give you the same exposure you were working with. The meter is essentially locking the Ev of the light as you metered it… so when you go from F2 to F8 it will vary the shutter speed and then the ISO (based on your AUTO Iso parameters). If you want to darken or lighten the exposure you are ALWAYS free to use the Exposure Compensation dial.

    The huge benefit here is that you get the consistency of Manual with it’s post-processing benefits… and the amazing ease of Aperture priority (or shutter priority… it works with both). Oh yeah… it also works in Manual … so you can use AutoISO with Manual (to set specific A and S) and have the “Locked” benefits of non-autoISO WITH AutoISO.



  2. Thanks you ! You just made me realize how personalize menu can be powerfull. I waist so much time to find Iso setting in menu. I just never think to use personalize menu to find it more quickly.

  3. Thank you for the courage of sharing your approaches to your image making. I am still working on manual for the most part, because I am mostly in a controlled environment. But occasionally, I will of course miss that all important ‘impromptu’ image because of my settings..I may or may not get said image. I will give your experiences a go and see if I can be as fast as you in adopting the various modes to accommodate the scenes. Maybe, I just relate all to the experience I have had over the years in controlled scenarios, film, correct meter readings etc, when, if done correctly, always yielded perfectly exposed trannies. Anyway, thanks for posting. It was most informative.

  4. Fantastic article Marcus. I too shoot a lot of a wedding on aperture priority after a conversation with Mr Ascough too, the top end cameras really do a fine job in changeable lighting. I also found the auto ISO setting last weekend but have never tried it with AE, I will have a play with that.

    Thanks again,

  5. This is the best article I have ever read on exposure. I mainly shoot in manual mode, but this is such a fabulous argument for Aperture priority! I am definitely going to try out these great tips. Thank you so much for sharing! It was also awesome to get this perspective from a Nikon shooter. Love my D700 🙂 D3…one day…oh one day 🙂

  6. I shoot Nikon FX as well, recent convert from Canon actually. I don’t know if you found this feature or not but you can actually program the AE/L button (or any of the other programmable buttons) to Exposure LOCK and HOLD. You can then specify how long the meter remembers the exposure settings.

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