How to use a DSLR Camera
A simple guide to getting to know your DSLR camera
Welcome to the journey of photography! Picking up a DSLR camera for the first time can be a bit daunting. As you would have noticed, there are many more functions and buttons than the basic ‘point and shoot’ cameras available.
I can assure you though, once you learn your camera’s functions, it can be very simple to begin your adventure with photography. Have a look at the diagram below. I use a Nikon D3200. The Nikon D3200 is an entry-level camera and I’ve been using mine for the last 3 years with no intention to upgrade. Let’s be honest here, it’s not the camera, it’s the way you use it…
DSLR Camera Features
Power switch: Shift this switch from side to side to turn your camera on and off. If the camera is off, you can still see through the viewfinder, which can be a bit confusing if you’re trying to take a picture and nothing happens… (Yes, I’ve done this more than once).
Shutter release: Something we are all familiar with! Half press this button to focus your subject and then complete pressing the button to take your picture.
Record video: You’ll find a lot of camera’s today will have a film option. Press this button and you’ll be able use your camera for filming.
Aperture adjust: Press and hold this button while turning the exposure wheel to adjust the aperture.
Exposure: Turn this wheel to adjust the shutter speed of the camera.
Mode toggle: Turn this wheel to change the mode settings.
View finder: View your subjects through the view finder.
LCD screen: View settings and your photographs here.
Playback: View your photos after you have taken them.
Menu: This button can be used to adjust the settings of the camera, like the ISO. Some cameras have extra options. Explore your menu settings to see what your camera is capable of.
Zoom: Use these buttons to zoom in and out when viewing your photos in playback.
Information: By pressing this button, you’ll go back to the display screen shown above. Here you will be able to see the shutter speed, aperture size, mode setting and general information of your camera.
AE/AF Lock: Use this button to lock the focus and exposure
Exposure: Turn this wheel to adjust the shutter speed of the camera.
Live view: You’re not limited to using the view finder. You can view your subject from the LCD screen. This is great if your camera is on a tripod.
Multi selector: Scroll through your photos and settings with the arrows.
Self timer: Set the timer for photos. Great for family shots and long exposure if you don’t have a cable release.
Delete: Delete photos if you need to while searching through playback.
Flash: When you press the flash button, the flash will pop up. To turn it off, just clip the flash back down.
Function button: You can assign functions for your camera via the menu. Use this button to quickly use these functions.
Lens release: To change lenses, press and hold this button, then carefully turn the lens anti-clockwise to release the lens.
Now that you know what the buttons do, I’ll explain the mode toggle. Most cameras will have the same modes to choose from. It’s important to familiarize yourself with each mode so you know which one to set to get the best picture. I personally stick with manual and adjust the exposure and aperture as needed, but I’ll get to that later on.
DSLR Camera Mode Dial
M: Manual: This mode leaves everything up to you –which is a good thing! You can set your desired exposure and aperture, meaning you can take a picture exactly how you want it.
A: Aperture Priority: Here you can select your own aperture setting. The camera will automatically select the best exposure settle for you.
S: Shutter Priority: Here you will select your own exposure setting and the camera will select the aperture for you.
P: Programmed Auto-exposure: This mode settling will automatically select the exposure and aperture for you. You can however, adjust these and other functions after the camera has decided.
Auto: The camera takes over here. When set on Auto, your camera will automatically decide the best exposure and aperture for your subject. Many people find this takes away the fun. I prefer adjusting the settings myself as I normally don’t want what my camera thinks I want.
Portrait: This mode will give a softer background to produce a flattering look on your subject. This mode is great for taking posed photos of people.
Macro: Use this mode to take close up photos of flowers or smaller objects. You can also use dedicated macro lenses with this mode. I use my Micro Nikkor 85mm lens with this mode to get photos like the twine ball below.
Landscape: This mode sets the camera’s aperture to infinity, meaning the whole image is focused. That’s why it’s great for large photographs of landscapes. It will also sort out the exposure for the image.
Sports: In this mode, your camera will take a burst of photos, which is great for fast actions like sporting events or wildlife photography (where an animal is quick). In this mode however, your camera will only focus in the centre, so make sure your subject is always in the centre of your camera.
The LCD screen can be a bit confusing at first, but it’s quick to pick up. Have a look at the exposure setting (shutter speed) and the aperture setting. You will need to become familiar with both of these settings, as you will be changing these the most. On a bright day, you may want the shutter speed to be faster to let in less light. Alternatively, you may want to have a slower shutter speed, but the subject is still too bright, so you can adjust the aperture to be higher.
It is important to note the measure bar below the exposure and aperture setting. This bar will automatically move back and forth as you point your camera into various light. When the sensor is sitting in the middle of the bar, then you have adjusted the exposure and aperture to the optimum lighting setting. If the sensor is not in the middle, then your picture could be too exposed or too dark. You can experiment with this to find the type of photo that you like. Some cameras will also how this bar inside the view finder so you can adjust it while looking at your subject.
The other information displayed on the monitor will give you more details such as the file type you are using, ISO setting and the battery status. You can adjust the ISO setting and file type via the menu. I usually shoot in RAW as the camera will then record all of the available information for the image. I find it is easier to edit the pictures afterwards if you are working with a RAW file.
Now have a look at your camera. Each brand and model will be slightly different, however, this guide should give you a good idea on what to look for. Explore your camera and settings, and have a go at the exposure measuring bar on the LCD screen.