Which lens/settings are best when shooting weddings?

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  • Moose
    I was talking with a fellow D5100 owner over on my Facebook page and he was wondering which lens and settings he should use for shooting a wedding. I thought it would be beneficial to share our conversation with all of you...

    John's Question: Can you advise me the best lens to get to a shoot a wedding? I am only helping out at one, so it would be useful if the lens could be used for other types of photography. I am looking at the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 AF-S or the 50mm f/1.8G AF-S. The wedding is a small affair. I have the 18-55mm VR kit lens that came with the D5100 and also a 70-300mm Vr lens.

    I like photographing insects, birds and landscapes.

    Also any advice on what settings to shoot at would be welcome.

    Moose's Answer: Either of those lenses would be great for a wedding (portraits, candids, hands, rings, flowers, food, etc...) thanks to an extremely shallow depth of field which isolates subjects against silky smooth backgrounds. The only difference between the two is the focal length.

    The 35mm will have a wider field of view which can be helpful when shooting indoors or in tight spaces. However, the 50mm is great for capturing subjects from a slightly longer distance.

    Your kit lens (18-55mm) will be beneficial for wide group shots of the wedding party. I wouldn't worry about a zoom lens, unless you'll be restricted from getting close to the bride and groom.

    In addition to a prime lens, you might also think about getting a good speedlight, like the SB-700. With the speedlight, you'll be able to illumate groups of people outdoors, provide fill light for intimate bride and groom shots and bounce light for more natural looking shots when shooting indoors.

    As for settings, I would shoot in Aperture priority (A on the mode dial) and select your f-number based on the subject or scene. Select low f-numbers for portraits and close-ups. Select an f-number between f/4 for small groups (2 to 4 people) and f/5.6 for larger groups (4 to 8 people). I would also leave the ISO set to Auto to ensure you get accurate exposures. In addition to that, you might think about enabling the center focus point rather than relying on the D5100 to select the focus point for you.
  • onoblvd
    When using the SB-800 as fill flash, what settings would you put the flash on? There are so many. This flash is a little overwhelming...
  • Moose
    Howdy @onoblvd - It really depends on your in-camera settings and the subject/scene. Using an external flash with Aperture priority takes some practice to get beautiful "fill light" exposures. In the meantime, you might try sticking with Program (P) or Shutter priority (S). In addition to that, try toggling the flash exposure compensation (+/-) to increase or decrease the level of flash power.

    For more on flash photography, I highly recommend Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Book Volume 2 (see here), which has some great information on flash photography directed towards beginners. What I like about this book, is that it doesn't read like a book...rather, every page is broken down into a particular tip or technique. This makes it easy to reference when you're out in the field (or studio).

    You might also check out the Strobist blog (see here) for more advanced flash lighting techniques. Happy shooting! :)

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Moose's Cheat Cards for the Nikon D5100

If you've ever been in a situation and wondered which settings to use with your Nikon D5100, these nifty little cheat sheets will tell you exactly which settings I would start with. Click here for more info.