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).
There are 3 program modes that I regularly use shooting a wedding (in order of priority):
- A (Aperture Priority),
- M (Manual) and
- 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.
EASY EXPOSURE COMPENSATION MODE:
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.
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