I don’t know about you, but I used to fear church ceremonies because I didn’t know how to light them or what my camera settings should be. I mean, you can’t ask for a more iconic, spiritual, and classically beautiful setting to pledge yourself to your soulmate than in a beautiful church like the one below, BUT it’s also one of the toughest ceremonies to photograph!

You know the churches I mean, right? They’re beautiful but dark. They don’t have natural light because of the stained glass. There are lots of glowing yellow incandescent lights on the altar and guests seated in pews that might as well be a black hole. Not to mention you show up minutes before the bride and have to lock down settings super fast. Oh, and you probably can’t use flash because you’re in a church and they often have strict rules against using flash during the ceremony. Eek! This is when my palms would start to sweat and I’d fight off panic as I scrambled to figure something out before the bridesmaids started walking down the aisle. You know this feeling too, right?!

I knew there had to be a better way. A way to quickly hone in on my ideal manual mode settings for church weddings so I could capture those tricky ceremonies beautifully for my couples. Over the years I’ve developed a set of starting points that take the guess-work out of finding my settings and allow me to hone my settings quickly for each wedding day scenario – especially those beautiful and tough church ceremonies.


boston church wedding ceremony choosing manual mode settings for dark churches

Let’s dive into the starting manual mode settings for church ceremonies that I use now and why they work as a way to quickly fine tune my settings on the fly:

Manual Mode Starting Settings For Churches

ISO   2500          f/2.8          SS   1/200          WB   3200



Even though the church itself is often quite dark, the altar is usually well lit. 2500 ISO is a nice middle ground that allows me to properly expose the church altar without losing the highlights. I can then quickly adjust my shutter when I turn and grab photos of the reactions from parents in the first few rows. In some cases, I pop my ISO up to 3200, but starting at 2500 lets me fine tune quickly.


I list 2.8 as my starting setting because I’m almost always using my 70-200 during church ceremonies and that is as wide open as it gets. I’ll go as low as 2.0 with my 35mm. By stopping down as low as possible I let in as much ambient light as possible.

Shutter Speed

To avoid camera shake (especially with my 70-200) and make sure hands in motion aren’t blurring, I start at 1/200. I adjust to 1/400 for the altar or down to 1/125 for people sitting in the pews as needed.

White Balance

Last but certainly not least is the setting for Kelvin white balance. Kelvin gives me the most possible control to reign in the yellow glow of incandescent lights. 3200 Kelvin should bring the yellow glow of incandescent lights to a slightly warm, but fairly neutral clean light. And with only a slight adjustment, you can fine tune the look!

Dark Church Manual Mode Settings

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Download My Free Manual Mode Pocket Guide!

There you have it – my manual mode camera settings for church wedding ceremonies! I hope these starting setting will ease your stress and give you confidence to capture even the darkest of church ceremonies in manual mode! And if more starting settings like these could help you all wedding day long – download my free Manual Mode Pocket Guide! Inside you’ll find stating settings for every wedding day scenario from getting ready through the reception!

Manual Mode Pocket Guide For Wedding Day Starting Settings



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