Photography: My Approach And Set Up

This post is written for anyone who wants to know what settings I apply when shooting a wedding. Why write this? There is always one person at a wedding who is intrigued by the set up, I've been that guy before. But also it affects the number of photos you should expect to receive, the quality of those photos, and how much time they take to capture.

Each DSLR has a dial similar to the one below. Like an everyday compact cameras, but more advance, you have the opportunity to dictate to the camera how you want to shoot. Here I am going to explain what each one does and why I use what I use.

Lee Maxwell Photography camera settings

My preferred shooting mode is manual (M). I decide every setting for the camera. This removes the risk of the camera guessing what the scene requires. As stated in a previous post, software can recover some mistakes but it's best to get it right in camera. In an environment of consistent light, i.e. a church or sunny day, this setting is perfect for me. The downside is that in changing situations it requires little adjustments, which may mean I miss a shot. If on the move I will switch to aperture priority (A), which means the camera calculates the shutter speed, i.e. if I move to a darker room the camera will move from 1/250th of a second to 1/100th of a second. Taking more time to capture the photo and letting more light through the lens.

Shutter priority (S) allows the shutter speed to be controlled, which has little relevance to weddings. If you hire someone who shoots in program (P) or auto mode you've made a mistake in my opinion. These allow little or no creative control and will at best be 'snap shots'.

With more automatic options you are free to keep shooting and never look at the settings, with more control you get better images but less of them. If a camera had a magic setting which always got the desired shot with no adjustments then photography would be boring. Everyone could shoot a perfect photo. With restrictions in camera ability it allows photographers to work hard and get the best image possible and be creative in the process.

A camera needs light to get a photo, natural or flash, it needs light to function. Outside is easy. It might not be flattering, but it's easy. Inside a church is possible, but harder. With little light source it demands more creativity. This is where iPhones and other low end cameras start to fail. A photographer in a church will probably reduce their shutter speed to allow more light in, but this creates another problem. Blur. People move and cameras shake, and the more time you take the worse it gets. This is the constant struggle of photography, getting the light you need.

A flash is not likely to be used in a church, and it doesn't lend well to documentary photography because it takes longer to set up and is as discrete as a punch in the face. Which brings us to ISO. This is another function that can be controlled in camera. It relates to the sensitivity of the sensor (what used to be film). The higher the ISO number the more light you can have, but unlike other settings it will also affect the quality the image. If pushed too far it creates a grainy effect. The classic use of ISO within the context of weddings is at the church or reception when you have no choice but to increase it to get more light, i.e. the below:

This photo from Kate and Pete's wedding was one of my favourites from the day. I could have used flash on the camera, but that would intrude on the moment and everyone elses photos. My choice was to increase ISO to get what I needed. The result is me capturing a nice moment, which maybe I wouldn't have got with a flash set up, but the consequence is a slightly grainy image. I would much rather have a sharp focused image with grain than a soft blurry image without it. Look at any wedding photo taking during the evening and you're probably going to find grain. But, does it detract from the image? I don't think so. But it explains why it's there.

My approach means that I'd rather provide one creative photo than 5 rapid ones. I try to be discrete throughout and control what my camera is doing, which I think allows more focus on capturing moments with quality in mind.