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Camera, Church, Nikon, Photography

Setting a Nikon D3100 up for a wedding shoot

I spent an hour earlier on this week doing a session with a friend of mine who is off to Italy for his daughter’s wedding. He has a Nikon D3100 which has up to now basically been used as a point and shoot on full auto mode. He wanted me to go through some basics with him to help him get some lovely shots while he is away for the trip.
D3100 Mode dialI thought that the settings with which I set the camera up, and why I chose them, might make interesting reading if you are still getting to grips with the complexities of your DSLR. These settings may not be the ones a more advanced photographer would use, but I think that they offer a wider creative control than full auto whilst still being usable and accessible to someone still working things out.

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.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment, “Like” it on one of your social media sites or even better subscribe to the blog to get all the posts as they go up. Happy shooting :)


About Joe Houghton

As a self confessed gadget and app lover, here are my personal musings and thoughts on useful, interesting or maybe just odd technology which caught my eye...


18 thoughts on “Setting a Nikon D3100 up for a wedding shoot

  1. Great information as usual – thanks Joe

    Posted by Anthony Cullen | April 16, 2012, 12:03 pm
  2. Thanks for the advice am doing a wedding July 7th, at the Marriott Hotel with my D3100. The good part about this before I actually shoot the wedding is I will be at the wedding rehearsal the night before to take some shoots to see what settings will work.

    Posted by Bobby | June 25, 2012, 1:20 am
  3. Thank you for a good article. I just bought my D3100 to take pictures of 10 month son. I’m playing around with the settings to get my hands dirty with the camera. Keep up the good work. E

    Posted by Harry | April 7, 2013, 8:17 pm
  4. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest
    but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back down the road. Many thanks

    Posted by jocuri de strategie online | July 28, 2013, 2:37 am
  5. I have to say that your article is exactly what I needed today – my niece talked me into taking her wedding photos – so your settings above have all been followed…THANKS!

    Posted by Leanne B | August 30, 2013, 12:15 am
  6. I found your article very informative as I fly out to Cyprus tomorrow for my daughters wedding so I have made a note of the settings as I am extremely wet behind the ears with photography but got to start somewhere. Photographer wanted 450 euros for approx 20 photos. I have worked on the basis that if i take 1,000 pics I should get at least 20 good pics………Much obliged..

    Posted by mark | September 10, 2013, 11:05 pm
  7. Great article! I just was asked to photograph a wedding this Saturday and I’ve only ever done one set of engagement photos as the main photographer. All of your tips are great, I feel much more relieved now going into all of this!

    Posted by Gabriella Carosella (@gabby_carosella) | October 24, 2013, 4:38 pm
  8. Shooting my first wedding this weekend…Thanks for the tips!

    Posted by Fran Wyner | July 13, 2014, 3:39 pm
  9. Any tips on Lens usage… 40mm??

    Posted by Fran Wyner | July 13, 2014, 3:40 pm
    • Hi Fran – 40mm is fairly wide angle so great for group shots but less so for the close-ups like the rings shot. Inside use a large aperture (small f number) to maximise your shutter speed, and put up your ISO if you need to to get sharp shots indoors, but then remember to bring it back down to 200 or so when you get outdoors! I avoid flash if possible inside – too intrusive – but some fill flash outdoors can lighten shadows and also give nice catchlights in the eyes. Best of luck with the wedding – hope it goes well for you!

      Posted by Joe Houghton | July 13, 2014, 9:12 pm
  10. I so much Love these Article from you.
    I want ask you a question basic, fine, Normal which one is the option to use in a dark room or even in the church where light is not well compated?…. I need to learn more from you!

    Posted by Kessyphoto | November 4, 2015, 3:01 pm
    • Thanks for the message – I always shoot in RAW as there is far more latitude to adjust exposure afterwards. This can make a lot of difference when shooting in dark rooms or churches where the option to introduce more light with flash or strobes just isn’t possible.

      Posted by Joe Houghton | November 4, 2015, 3:06 pm
  11. Love this article! I’m shooting a friends wedding next weekend. I have a Nikon d5100 and a 18-55mm lens and a 40mm lens. I’m thinking I’ll use the first for ceremony shots and the other for portraits and close ups. It’s a late afternoon wedding in s garden. Any tips for me?! x

    Posted by ivycake | November 22, 2015, 11:26 am


  1. Pingback: 10 Tips for … A trip to the Rockies « JoesTechThoughts - July 29, 2012

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