As a wedding photographer I’ve shot many weddings now with both the Nikon Z6ii and Z7ii, and have finally settled on the best settings that work really well for me. To give you a little context, I have been working as a documentary wedding photographer for 15 years, using the best Nikon cameras available to me at the time, from the D2 through to the D4s, then the D850, so I know the system well. Having used Nikon for all my working life, I have to say the Nikon Z6ii and Z7ii are simply the best cameras I have ever used as a wedding photographer. They are light, ergonomically great to hold all day, fun to use, and lightning fast, which makes shooting a wedding as a photographer a real joy.
There are many reviews out there about how good these cameras are, so this article is about getting the most out of the camera itself. Most photographers familiar with Nikon will be able to use the camera straight out of the box, but there are also quite a few other features, some obvious, some not so, which can really help up your game and get the best out of the camera when shooting a wedding. With all cameras, learning how it works inside out is key, to become ‘one’ with the camera. In this respect, the Nikon Z series are so intuitive and easy to use.
Here is a list of how I set up my Nikon Z6ii and Z7ii, both with identical settings*, for shooting weddings. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and that is the beauty of these cameras in that they allow you to do just that. Here is what works for me, and hopefully there are things you can take from this to improve the efficiency of how you shoot weddings for yourself.
*The only difference in how I set up the Z7ii is by using medium RAW to keep image size close to that of the Z6ii for consistency, but if there is a chance for an epic large format portrait, I can simply change this if I need to.
Become ‘one’ with your camera
The key to getting the most out of the Z series in my view is to become ‘one’ with it. I said this above, and I’ll say it again. This is true for most cameras of course but the beauty of the Z series is just how easy this is, more so than any of it’s predecessors. In doing so, you massively increase your capability to change modes and settings in a split second to ensure you capture moments. Set the camera up how you like, then practice practice practice!
And on this note, it surprises me how many photographers I meet who have never read the manual. Yes it is long, but there is so much information in there which can really elevate how you shoot. Know your camera inside out, especially for those times when it doesn’t do what you intended (more often than not due to user error!). I have a copy of the manual saved on my phone as a pdf for access all of the time.
I have also started shooting with one hand a lot more with the Z series, which means I can access all the controls I need while the camera is held high above my head (I am vertically challenged!), and also down at floor level. So I set the camera up to allow me to do this. I know some people questioned the wisdom of removing the buttons to the left of the monitor as they were on the DSLR, but as well as making the body smaller, it also enables one handed operation. There is something satisfying about holding the camera behind the vicars ear without them knowing you are there, or just being able to access hard to reach places quickly and effortlessly! On another note though, with these cameras being narrower on the right, I find changing lenses to be much more secure using an L-bracket, which also protects the camera too.
I’ll start here, as these are a little more limited that the menu options, so I set what I can to these first, then any remaining settings can be applied to the ‘i menu’ and ‘my menu’.
Custom controls (in the Custom Settings menu) can be modified in f2. Where you see any mention of a letter and number like this in this article, I am referring to the custom settings menu.
Fn1 – I set this to subject tracking (more on this later!)
Fn2 – Focus mode/AF area mode (more on this below too!). This is the camera default.
AF-ON – Set to AF-ON – I use back button focusing, as I find it so much more intuitive – plus your thumb has little else to do, so you might as well put it to use!
Sub selector- Focus point selection.
Sub selector centre – Live view display off. This is a great way to immediately clear the viewfinder or screen of any clutter when shooting, so you just see the image, nothing else, it is truly liberating. To get the info back, just press it again.
Movie record button – I set this to ‘my menu’, for super quick access to many key functions that I use (see below)
Lens control ring – Set to the default as focus, which is key to how I use focus during the day with manual override.
‘You can save the settings you access the most in ‘my menu’, and order them from top to bottom. The settings I have are below, which means I generally never need to hunt through menus, because all I need is on one page. These are the settings which aren’t available in the ‘i menu’, but I still need from time to time.
The ‘i menu’
This my ‘i menu’, with core functions on the top, and the settings I turn on and off regularly on the bottom. I save these same settings to all of my user groups for consistency, and it is worth noting the ‘i menu’ is not global to the camera. This is a really important point, as if you shoot with dual cards as back up (and with 2 card slots there really is no reason not to), then this only applies in the shoot mode you are in, so it is possible to change modes and inadvertently be shooting overflow, rather than backup. So I have ‘card info’ set as the first item in all of my modes. Hopefully in the future Nikon will introduce a firmware update that won’t allow you to shoot without 2 cards inserted if you are running in backup mode.
Basic camera settings on the top row (with easy confirmation that I have TWO cards running), turn on/off mechanical shutter, turn on/off silent shutter etc, then settings I occasionally use below such as exposure delay, multiple exposure, interval timer, and wifi if I want to quickly transfer a shot to my phone during a wedding for immediate use.
This is the big one, and the options available on the Z series has revolutionised how I shoot, in a good way. With the D850 and predeccessors, I used 3D tracking most of the time, occasionally single point, but I had to change between modes all of the time. Subject tracking on a DSLR was based on recognition of a physical presence in a single focus point, and only available in the centre portion of the frame, which the camera would track. With the Z series there is a huge difference, as the camera can effectively see and recognise what the subject is in physical form, and keep track of it visually with a form of photographic memory, as well as using all of the frame. And it works, seriously well. It sticks like nothing I have seen before, to the point where I have complete confidence it can track a bride down the aisle, and not get distracted. And for this reason, I use subject tracking a lot.
So for wedding photography, I run my Nikon Z series in Wide Area Auto AF nearly all of the time. Now, I know that single point AF is potentially much more accurate, but for me personally, time spent changing to this mode, allocating the focus point and focusing, is the time when moments are missed. And weddings are all about moments. So I set my camera up in a way that allows 4 different focus options which can be activated in a split second for complete versatility. You need to be in auto area wide to be able to use subject tracking, since the camera needs the whole frame to be able to do this.
1 – Focus is set to area wide in AF-C, which gives you the red boxes when you press AF-ON. This is OK for some situations, and if it hits the mark, then I’ll shoot. It isn’t the main way I focus however, as usually one of the options below comes in to play much sooner, but it is how the camera is set up to operate in this mode.
2 – If a person enters the frame, face autofocus and then eye autofocus kicks in automatically. These have been an absolute game changer, and so accurate! I am yet to encounter issues with success, and coming form cameras that didn’t have this at all is a huge step forwards. You can use the cursor to move the focus point across to the next eye or face identified by the camera following the yellow arrow.
3 – If eye autofocus isn’t giving me the results I need, (usually because the subject is non human), I press Fn1, and activate subject tracking, move the camera so the white square is over the subject (quicker than moving the joystick in my opinion), then lock on, and shoot my chosen subject.
4 – If subject tracking doesn’t hit the mark (usually because the tracking box is bigger than the subject, or if shooting through small things), then I simply keep AF-ON depressed, and turn the focus ring on the lens, which activates manual focus override with focus peaking (coloured highlighting around whatever is in focus), so I can quickly dial in to what I want to be in focus. Focus peaking needs to be activiated in d11, and once on, I leave it on.
This was one of those moments where there was no time to react, just frame and shoot – the eye af kicked in here in seconds, and nailed it! Had I been fiddling changing focus modes, the moment would have been gone.
These 4 focus options are what I use most of the time, with a successful focus hit rate higher than I ever achieved with the D4s and D850, which is saying a lot considering they are high-end professional cameras. There are times that I want to use single point focus for pinpoint accuracy, or when photographing a couple at a distance, and when I need this I usually have time to change mode quickly with the Fn2 button and dials.
For low light, if the camera struggles I then switch to AF-S, which then activates the AF assist beam (this only works in AF-S, not AF-C). This setting needs to be turned on in a10, and once on I leave it on and let the camera decide if it needs to use the green beam or not. If light level is an issue, AF-S gives much quicker results as the camera is not hunting as much as it would in AF-C. Personally though, if the light is low, then this is a sign that I need to improve the quality of it, and then focus is not an issue. Just because cameras have incredible high ISO capability it doesn’t mean we have to use it, and image quality will always be far superior in well lit images, and this is what I strive for.
A great tip to reduce the number of focus modes when scrolling through the dials is to untick the modes you don’t use in a8, so when you scroll through the modes with the fn2 button, only the ones you use are there.
For confetti runs I trust subject tracking implicitly, and it has never let me down. Rather than using eye af which may hunt around with many faces to chosoe from, if you lock tracking on to the bride or groom BEFORE the confetti is thrown, it sticks so well and sees through the confetti.
This is one of those moments any camera is going to struggle with. Eye-af would work, but I knew I would get really quick results with manual focus peaking, holding the AF-On button, and rotating the focus bezel till the red outline hit the subject. This is another reason I use the 4-in-1 focus system, because I can quickly change how I focus without changing modes, and use the best method for focusing in any situation.
Focus blocked shot response and tracking speed
To get the most out of your autofocus, it is worth delving in to the shot response and tracking speed settings a little deeper. This might seem like a little black magic, and it can be hard to work out what works best for you, so a little trial and error might be required here. You will find blocked shot response in a3, and the logic is that it determines how quickly the camera gives up finding the subject of something gets in the way. I set this to 5 since I want the tracking to lock on as much as possible and not get distracted. So this optimises your tracking if you really want it to stick to the chosen subject. If you go into g5, you can then adjust your autofocus sensitivity. I set this to faster, since I want the autofocus to be as rapid as possible, and then choose ‘always’ below. Whilst a video setting, this transfers across to the photo capture side of the autofocus as well. Feel free to try this and compare it to the standard settings to see for yourself. Even if this doesn’t work the way you would like, the point is you have the option to adjust how your focus performs to suit your shooting style.
Standard shooting settings
My work is very much moment driven, so I want to let the camera do as much work for me as possible. While I use manual for my commercial work and off camera flash, for most of the day I am in aperture priority mode, with Auto ISO on. I set ISO sensitivity (Photo shooting settings) to on, with a maximum of 12800 (I don’t like to push noise personally, and if the light really is low, I always think it is better to add light, rather than rely on high ISO), with a minimum shutter speed of 1/160th for my left camera (which always has a lens of 85mm or above), and 1/100th for my right camera, which always has a lens of 50mm or less fitted, so following the reciprocal rule. You can set this to auto, but I prefer to know that my shutter speed will always be fast enough to capture any moments, but not too high that it pushes the ISO up unnecessarily. The in-camera stabilisiation is great, and does allow you to shoot at a shutter speed close to the focal length of the lens without camera shake, the problem I have is that I work really quickly, so camera movements are usually down to me wanting to swap cameras or move around quicker than I should, so I prefer the security of a higher shutter speed.
I then have ISO sensitivity settings in ‘my menu’ for easy access on the go.
I use Matrix metering nearly all of the time, because I have always found it to be so good. I then turn on easy exposure compensation (b2), which then transfers exposure compensation to the back dial without needing to press the exposure compensation button. Normally I use between -0.7 and -0.3 exposure compensation as standard, I then simply adjust this on the fly to change what I see in the EVF, to give me images that look a little under exposed, but I know I haven’t blown the highlights. It is always easier to recover shadows, than blown highlights.
I also shoot with mechanical shutter most of the time, and just use silent when I need to, activated through my ‘i menu’. There are two reasons for this, firstly there is less chance of banding with mechanical shutter, and also with an auditory response, I know in my mind how many frames I am firing, so I don’t overshoot. (Plus I’m old fashioned, and just like the sound!)
I tend to shoot with a fixed Kelvin white balance for consistency, and change this through the day if I feel the need, more to allow my eyes to see colour correctly more than anything else. So this is in my ‘i menu’. On my D850 I used the movie record button for quick access, but this has now been replaced by access to ‘my menu’, because I use this more than changing the white balance. Having shot the Z6ii and Z7ii side by side I have found subtle differences with the white balance tint if using auto white balance, so I prefer to use Kelvin to make the edit much more consistent.
These modes are a great way to customise your defaults, or ‘go to’ settings. Each time you turn the camera on, or change to each mode, the camera will go to these defaults, which include your chosen aperture, shutter speed etc. This is great if you need to change modes quickly, such as when using manual flash, and you spot a documentary moment you want to capture quickly. Kind of a ‘get out of jail’ card. For me, U1 is my ‘go to’ mode with Auto Area AF and eye AF, ISO auto, aperture priroity, and an aperture of f3.2.
It is really important to note which settings are saved in user modes, and which aren’t. The user modes set core camera settings such as mode, aperture, shutter speed, and also the ‘i menu’ and custom controls, which can be tailored to be different for each user mode, which is great, but it does mean more time in setting up your camera. Personally I like to keep the custom controls the same for consistency (except for one when working in manual flash, which I will come to). Each time you change a setting you want to keep, you need to save it, so I added ‘save user settings’ to ‘my menu’ for quick access.
The settings which aren’t saved in the user modes are drive mode, and also the focus modes, which stay on your last used setting when the camera is turned off and on.
My settings are as follows;
U1 – ‘Go to’ mode for documentary wedding photography as a starting point – Aperture priority, f3.2, ISO auto (max 12800, minimum shutter speed 1/160th).
U2 –Manual mode for first dance (see what I did there?!) – Manual, Shutter speed 1/200, f8, ISO 5000 (as my start point) I also have the sub selector centre set to ‘flash preview on/off’ which I will touch on below.
U3 – Manual mode for dance floor action with on camera flash – Manual, shutter speed 1/10th, f10, ISO 1000. This follow my incredibly simple ‘rule of 10’, which is so easy to remember, as everything is set to the number 10, and it’s a great all-round way of working for shots in the dark. Having this as a seperate mode to U2 allows me to shoot with different styles on the dancefloor. This is another subject in itself, which I describe in my blog about the best dance floor flash settings with the Nikon Z series.
To chimp or not to chimp, that is the question! To be honest, with the Z6ii or Z7ii, there is no need to, as you see the image you are going to get when you shoot (with d9 ‘apply settings to live view’ selected). So I have review set to off, but I have the OK button set to Zoom in playback in custom controls (f3), for those images where you want to know you have nailed the focus. Simply press the playback button with your left hand, then OK with your right, and it zooms in on your focus point so you can check if you nailed it. This is all I really need to know.
EVF vs display
There are several options for this using the monitor mode button next to the flash shoe, but to be honest the automatic change is so good, this is the only option I use. You can untick all the other options in the setup menu under ‘limit monitor mode selection’ which is handy to prevent you inadvertantly pressing the button and losing your evf, but not realising why. In this respect for me this frees up a button, so hopefully in the future Nikon may add it as a customisable button with a firmware update.
Power off delay
A big thing for me is not missing moments, and as I use two cameras, the chances are one will have gone to sleep, which creates a delay as the camera ‘wakes up’ for the next shot. So I set power off delay up from the default 30 seconds to 5 minutes, in c3, and it is the top item in my menu if I want to change it through the day to preserve battery life. Yes, it uses more power, but I carry plenty of spare batteries, and not missing shots is the priority. It also prevents that little ‘squeak’ in the church as the camera wakes (less than the noise of an old DSLR shutter I know, but still a noise!)
A lot has been said about battery life with the Z series, with a few questions as to why the battery life isn’t as good as DSLR’s, with the same batteries. It’s quite simple. A DSLR would use the battery to focus and operate the shutter, whereas with the Z series, it is powering a screen or viewfinder as well. It is just one of those things you have to accept as a trade off, it certainly isn’t a fault or backward step. So it is down to us to ensure we have enough power through the day, and I use this simple strategy below, which works really well. I keep my spare batteries in a small Holdfast pouch on my belt at the front for easy access. My batteries are numbered 1,2,3 and labelled for each camera, so I know which is which, and in which order to use them, which saves time hunting around for one which is full. Generally, with the settings above I get between 3-4 hours and 1500 shots per battery, which is plenty.
- The first battery of the day – once discharged, it gets swapped out.
- Second battery. Once this is in, I try to put set 1 on charge when I have a moment, in a dual Procube II.
- Third battery. This in my pouch, and usually gets used at the reception.
You can usually find power at the reception if not in your car, so once I have finished set 1, these go on charge and get swapped out so I can always have a set charging if I need to. So generally, I always have one battery in camera, one fully charged spare, and one on charge, which keeps you going ad infitum. Simple!
(I also keep one spare in my bag in the van in case I ever lost one at a wedding, which would of course disrupt my strategy!)
I use Continuous Low most of the time, as I usually want more than one frame, but I find continuous high is too much. You can customise the frame rate in d1, from 1 to 5 fps. I have it set to the default 3fps.
Off camera and manual flash
On camera flash with AF assist
In the past with the D850 and it’s predeccesors, I used af assist on a Nikon Speedlight to give a red beam to help with focus (This only worked in AF-S mode). I know there has been some panic that this no longer works with the Z series, the red beam won’t fire. This is true, but there is a reason, and a solution! As the sensor is the focus source (rather than a mirror), the sensor can’t read the infra red light channels, so Nikon built in a sensor to the body which fires a green light, and also saves the need for a cumbersome speedlight just for focusing purposes. Again though, you can only use this in AF-S, and it needs to be turned on in setting a10. I leave this set to always on, as the camera can make the decision for me as to whether it needs the light or not. More work for the camera, and less for me equals one very happy wedding photographer!
Shooting the dance floor
I’ve now started shooting the dance floor using manual focus, because with the way I shoot, the subjects are usually the same distance away from my camera. As I don’t need shallow depth of field for dancing photos, I can go up to f10, which emans there is latitude not to use auto focus at all. This takes a little getting used to, but is actually rather liberating, as you don’t need to think about focus, and the camera isn’t working hard to find it either. This is a whole subject in itself, so I have written a separate post about it here.
One of my absolute favourite things with the Z series is to dial down the exposure compensation to get the exact look I want, before I even fire the shot, it has elevated my photography in a huge way. This was one of those shots where the RAW file looked this good, and hardly needed any work at all.
I hope you have found this useful, as I have said, camera set up is very individual, so if there are any other settings you use which work really well, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Robin Goodlad is a professional documentary wedding photographer based in Dorset. These views are my own based on experience, and I am not affiliated with Nikon, aside from being a registered professional user.