The first question I asked was “What sort of shots do you like to take?”. The answer – ones with people in. Landscapes etc didn’t really interest him, so we needed to optimise for people shots.
Scene mode – Lady with a hat on – otherwise known as Portrait mode is two clicks on the dial away from full auto. This is what I recommend as a default setting for most people coming off full auto. It creates a shallow depth of field where the face of your subject is in focus and the background is out of focus, and also has the added bonus of giving you generally faster shutter speeds than full auto, which means that more of your handheld shots will likely be in focus.
Multi shot mode. To the right of the scene dial in the picture you can see a switch with 4 positions. It’s in S mode – single shot – in the picture, but I moved this down to the next setting – Multi shot. When shooting people, especially at an important event like a wedding, shooting several shots to ensure a keeper with everyone’s eyes open etc. is much easier if the camera can keep shooting as long as you hold down the shutter button. On the D3100, the Multi shot is slow enough that if you just want a single shot, you can take it and then lift your finger, or keep it pressed down for 2 or 3 shots in succession.
A big memory card. This trip was for a week, and the card in the camera when I arrived was full, and had never been cleared since he got it! So my advice was that he get 2 new, good sized cards – 8 or even 16Gb cards – to take with him, to make sure that he not only had plenty of space to shoot, but also a backup in case 1 card developed problems. Your daughter’s wedding in a remote Italian village is not the time to find you have a corrupted memory card and no backup! I showed him how to format a card – press the menu button, navigate down to the spanner menu (Setup) then choose option 2 – Format. This sets the new card up for the camera to write images to it – always best to format a card in the camera it is going to be used in, as formatting in the computer or another camera can lead to corrupted files if you then put it in another camera.
A fast memory card. Some memory cards are “faster” than others – they let the camera write data to them much quicker than a slow card. For normal single shot work this doesn’t matter much, but if you are using Multi-shot mode, or shooting video, then using a fast card means that the camera is ready to shoot the next shot again much faster. So pay a bit extra and get a card with x133 or x200 speed and you’ll never miss that shot because your camera is busy writing the last one down to your card.
VR on. On the left hand side of your lens, most modern Nikon kit lenses have a little slider switch called VR. Vibration Reduction is a great bit of technical wizardry which compensates for some hand shake and gives you sharper shots. Move it to on and leave it there.
Autofocus on. Just above the VR slider is the slider for manual or autofocus. In most situations you are going to want the camera to handle the focussing automatically, so move this to “A” and leave it there.
ISO Auto on. Now I’m not a big fan of auto-ISO, but I understand ISO and its relationship with shutter speeds, exposure and the issue of noise at higher settings. My friend doesn’t, so for this situation we set his camera up with ISO auto on, and with a top limit of 3200. On a Nikon 3100 shots at 3200 ISO are going to be pretty grainy without some work later to reduce the purpling, but the church where the wedding will happen is very small and very dark, so high ISO will be essential if he wants to avoid flash (which will be very unflattering to the bride’s flawless complexion!).
JPG Fine & Large. I always shoot in RAW, but my friend will probably want to get prints while he is in Italy, so we set him up for JPG shots at the highest resolution. Out of the box, Nikon sets their cameras up to shoot JPG Normal not JPG Fine, which is crazy, so if you shoot JPG be sure to go into the menus and make sure that you have changed from Normal to Fine. You should also make sure that the Image Size option menu is set to Large to ensure the maximum resolution for your shots.
Single point focus. We spent a while exploring the different focussing options before opting for single point focussing. I showed how using this option gives great control over where to place the focus point in the viewfinder, so you can for instance pick out the bride from a room full of people and have her in focus even when she is further away than other people of objects which would grab the focus when using the default full frame setting.
It’ll be interesting to see how the shots from the wedding come out, but the camera was set up to maximise his chances of capturing some lovely shots on the day. It’s always worth spending a little bit of time with your camera before heading out going through the settings and putting them into a state where there’s nothing too out of whack. You’ll probably end up changing them during the day but at least you’ll not be shooting high ISO on that sunny day because last time the camera was out was in that dark cathedral… Or even worse, shooting with the lens on manual focus and ending up with an afternoon of blurry shots which looked OK on the camera screen because it’s so small you didn’t notice.
Joe Houghton Photography runs small group photo shoots, individual 1 to 1 tuition, and photography assignments. You can see some of Joe’s photography on ArtistRising or at The Canvas Works, or on his Flickr site.