This guide will help you be able to quickly identify the best camera settings for wedding photography in every situation.
Wedding photography is a complex photography genre because you have to be ready for everything.
You have to be prepared to shoot wedding photos inside, outside, with mid-day sun, and at night.
Additionally, there are moments when you only get one chance to get the shot.
After shooting weddings for over a decade, I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way and this article will give you a head start on understanding your camera settings.
Table of Contents
What are the Best Camera Settings for Wedding Photography?
The best camera settings for wedding photography depend on what part of the wedding day you’re currently photographing.
Sorry, I know you were hoping for an easy answer that simplified everything for you but the reality is that you need to understand your camera settings deeply enough to know when to use what and why.
Don’t fret, I can give you a few best practices to rely on.
In general, you’ll want to use a fast enough shutter speed to avoid motion blur unless you’re creating it intentionally such as in crazy dancing scenes.
You’ll also want to use a low ISO to maximize image quality.
From there you’ll choose your aperture based on light, effect, impact, or the limitations of your lens.
As we dive in deeper, you’ll want to know the best camera settings for various lighting situations so we’ll walk through those in the next sections.
For now, let’s start but breaking down some general camera settings for wedding photos and then we can move to the specifics.
General Camera Settings for Better Wedding Photos
Let’s break down general camera settings for wedding photographs.
We’ll talk through camera mode, which controls aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
So we’ll break those settings down next.
And then we’ll dive deeper into focus, metering, and drive mode.
Your camera mode is how you shoot your camera and for wedding photography, I recommend Manual Mode (M.)
Manual mode gives you full control over the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Since the wedding day conditions are so variable it’s important to learn to control your settings by shooting in manual mode.
Many wedding photographers use aperture priority mode – you might start out by considering aperture priority mode too, but don’t let that become a crutch that limits your creativity.
Aperture priority mode (A) is a semi-automatic shooting mode in which you have control over the aperture and the camera adjusts the shutter speed and ISO.
There’s also Shutter priority mode (S), a semi-automatic shooting mode in which you have control over the shutter speed and the camera adjusts the aperture and ISO.
The aperture controls the depth of field.
A wide aperture (low f-stop number) such as f/1.8 to f/4 creates a shallow depth of field blurring the background.
A narrow aperture (high f-stop number) such as f/5.6 to f/11 allows more depth for things such as group shots of the wedding party.
Shutter speed refers to the time the shutter is open.
A fast shutter speed freezes the motion whereas a slow shutter speed will show motion blur or camera shake.
Typically you want to freeze the motion and thus will need at least 1/200/
ISO refers to the sensitivity to light.
A low ISO setting such as 100 to 400 is preferred because it maximizes image quality but will only be possible when there’s ample light.
In low-light situations, you will have to raise your ISO while trying to avoid noise so it’s helpful to know the ISO capabilities of your camera.
White balance refers to the color temperature and is based on the lighting conditions such as daylight, cloudy, and tungsten.
If you shoot in RAW your photos can be adjusted in post-production and in most modern cameras will get close with auto white balance.
Your camera has various focus modes such as Continuous Autofocus to track moving subjects.
Some wedding photographers change their focus mode depending on the situation perhaps using single-shot for portraits of the bride and groom.
If you’re going to choose just one focus mode, we use continuous autofocus.
The metering mode measures the light.
Evaluative or matrix metering modes help asses the entire scene for proper exposure.
Metering can help you avoid over or under-exposed images.
Most of the time you’ll shoot in single-shot drive mode taking one photo each time the shutter is pressed.
However, burst mode or high-speed drive allows you to capture a rapid sequence of shots.
This can be useful for quick action shots but you have to be aware of buffering.
If you take too many shots in a row you may have to wait for your camera to catch up before you can shoot again.
Shooting in RAW allows you to obtain maximum information in your images for higher-quality post-processing flexibility.
We shoot in RAW and JPEG modes because we cull in Photo Mechanic but edit in Lightroom.
Most wedding photographers shoot in RAW or RAW and JPEG.
If you’re going to shoot in JPEG you’ll want to make sure you get your images right (proper exposure, white balance etc) in the camera.
Best Camera Settings for Indoor Wedding Receptions
For indoor wedding receptions you will want to use a wide aperture (low f-stop number) like f/1.8 tp f/2.8 to let in maximum light.
That means you’ll want to use your fastest lenses, the ones that are capable of the lowest f-stops.
From there you’ll want to maintain a sufficient shutter speed, ideally 1/200 or greater depending on your focal length.
A fast shutter speed will help you prevent motion blur, especially when people start dancing.
There may be times you want to utilize motion blur to show a certain vibe but then it will be intentional.
Finally, you’ll need to increase your ISO to achieve proper exposure while not allowing it to get too high and create noisy images.
If the reception is fairly dark, you will likely need to add a flash and balance it with the ambient light.
It’s very important to learn how to see and photograph natural light but you also have to be able to create light.
For the first few years of being a wedding photographer, I would always scout wedding venues to make sure I was prepared for the specific lighting conditions.
Even now, if it’s a new venue I might at least scout online in addition to arriving early to make sure I know what I’m walking into and have a strategy for dealing with the various complications of various wedding venues.
Outdoor Wedding Photography Camera Settings
For outdoor wedding photography, you often have a lot of flexibility with your settings because of the ample natural light.
At least until it gets dark and there’s less available light, we’ll talk about that in the next section.
You’ll be able to choose a low ISO for maximum image quality.
You’ll continue to maintain a sufficient shutter speed to avoid motion blur in your wedding photos.
Then, you can plan with your aperture choosing a moderate aperture for group shots and a wide (low-number) aperture for portraits or when you want to create that blurred background.
You’ll likely choose a continuous autofocus mode for moving subjects such as the bridal party walking into the wedding ceremony.
Night Wedding Photography Settings
Nighttime wedding photography gets more challenging due to the low light conditions.
You’ll want a fast lens, meaning something capable of a low f-stop number to gather as much light as possible.
In night photography you’ll need a slower shutter speed so you’ll want to plan for dealing with camera shake.
You might use a tripod and/or ask your bride and groom to stand still for a creative portrait.
You can use long exposures to capture special effects or motion blur or starts or sparklers.
One thing to be aware of is the ambient light from the wedding venue and how you can block it or use it depending on the wedding photographs you’re trying to create.
At first, many wedding photographers find night wedding photography challenging.
Off-camera flash can be intimidating at first.
Eventually, you’ll love the extra challenge and creativity that comes with that challenge.
One of my best wedding photography tips is to not overwhelm yourself with wedding photography equipment, not only is it bad for the budget but it doesn’t help you if you don’t know how to use it.
Challenge yourself with one new technique at a time and you’ll build your way towards unique and stunning photos.
Choosing Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO for Wedding Photos
Asking what the best aperture for wedding photography is seems like a simple question but any professional wedding photographer knows that it’s not.
The best settings for wedding photography might depend on everything from the wedding venue to the size of the bridal party and the camera lens you can afford.
Therefore, I don’t have a cheat sheet for you that simplifies all of your decisions for you but I can give you some best practices for shooting weddings.
And the more you shoot the more intuitive it will get.
Experienced wedding photographers can often walk into a situation and know exactly what settings they want to shoot.
What is the best aperture for wedding photography?
When it comes to aperture for wedding photography, you’ll want to evaluate the circumstances.
Do you want to create a shallow depth of field and beautiful bokeh around a detail shots of the flowers?
Then shoot at f/1.8.
But if you need to take a huge group photo then everyone needs to be sharp and you might need to aim for a narrow aperture like f/8.
However, if in the current lighting conditions f/8 requires you to use a too-slow shutter speed or high ISO you might need to dial that back to f/4.
My point is that it can be helpful to understand various apertures and when you might use them.
If you’re just starting out you might play it safe in the f/4 range where you don’t have to worry about perfect sharpness like with f/1.8 or stress about dropping your shutter too low.
The best aperture for wedding photography is variable throughout the day based on the types of photos you’re trying to create.
What is the best shutter speed for wedding photography?
Like aperture, the best shutter speed for wedding photography is variable throughout the day based on the types of photos you’re trying to create.
In general, however, wedding photographers rarely want motion blur.
Therefore, the best shutter speed for wedding photography is the fastest shutter speed your other setting constraints will allow.
What is the best ISO for wedding photography?
The best ISO for wedding photography is the lowest ISO that you can use within the constraints of your other camera settings.
The lower your ISO, the better your dynamic range.
Dynamic range will give you a lot of data in your images which is an advantage in the editing process and producing high-quality final images.
It’s important to know the ISO capabilities of your camera.
With some modern cameras, you can push your ISO fairly high which allows you to shoot in low-light conditions that were previously impossible.
A camera with high ISO capabilities makes photographing weddings easier than ever while still obtaining wedding pictures that are better than ever.
Final Words from a Professional Wedding Photographer
In conclusion, the best settings for wedding photography aren’t always black and white. Pun intended.
As a wedding photographer, you’ll want to prepare yourself to choose the right camera settings for the right situations.
There are some general things to understand about how camera settings work that will make taking photos a lot easier.
Hopefully, this article helped you prepare for everything from shooting indoor weddings to choosing the right wedding gear.
Remember that memorable images aren’t always perfect and perfect images aren’t always memorable.
So learn your camera’s settings as best as you can and then get out there and create stunning photographs.