How To Use Your First DSLR Camera


If you recently have purchased a DSLR, after opening the box and removing the contents, chances are you are at least a little intimidated by the myriad of dials, buttons and other parts. It’s okay to feel that way. There is a lot of technical information you must know to use a camera in its entirety. Considering the length and tiny text of most manuals that come with the camera, you may even just be moved to turn to ‘Auto’ and begin taking photos.

That is fine for some or even most people, that removes the create and often fun aspect of photography that often separates the good from the great. This applies to many other professions too. You cannot expect to become the best at something if you only do the easy stuff. So you decide to turn that dial to either shutter speed or aperture. But what’s next?

This is by no means a replacement for the manual that came from your camera company, and while potentially dry, reading that is a first-hand source of information of how to use your camera. Nonetheless, let’s delve into the first topic.

Master Shooting Modes

This is a good place to start for anyone new to photography. In this article, we are only going to cover two of the settings because that’s all you need to start.

We’re going to start with shooting modes. These are usually found on a dial around where your right hand should be on the camera. It looks like this:


Aperture Priority

The aperture priority (Av or A) is the shooting mode where you, the photographer changes how much light the camera lets in while the camera automatically changes the shutter speed to make sure the photo isn’t too dark or overexposed. The aperture is measured in f-stops using an f-number (like f/2.8). This represents the focal length over the diameter of the opening that lets light pass through. If you let more light in by increasing the diameter, the f-number will be smaller. Conclusively this means that if you have a larger f-number (like f/22), you have a small aperture and you are not letting in that much light. Why does this all matter? Well, it happens to turn out that aperture is actually a quintessential concept in photography because it can change what is or is not in focus(link to another page with more info).

Shutter Priority

Shutter priority (Tv or S) dictates the shutter speed, that is how quickly the shutter in the camera lens stays open. The importance of this setting is in that it can affect the brightness or darkness of the image and also blur or freeze a fast moving object. The shutter speed is often measured in seconds or fractions of seconds. Whilst you change the shutter speed, the camera will actively change the aperture to produce the best image. Neat!


ISO (International Standard Organization) is a measure of sensitive your camera is to light. You can typically find it on the digital display of the camera in one of the menus. It can vary by the camera, so be sure to consult the manual or website pertaining to your camera. The ISO can range from 100 (low sensitivity) to 6400 (high sensitivity), sometimes even higher than that. This ISO number controls the amount of light the sensor of the camera needs to get to a given exposure. The general rule of thumb for ISO is that if there’s lots of available light, have a lower ISO because you already have enough exposure. Additionally, by having a low ISO, the fine details in the image will be less grainy. However, when adequate light is not handy, don’t hesitate to have a higher ISO in order to achieve the correct exposure. That is far more important than visual noise up close on the image. Just try to keep the ISO as low as you can. Utilize your camera’s ‘Auto-ISO’ feature if it has one. Keep in mind that multiple factors can be in play when taking a picture and ISO is only one.


As you progress further into more advanced photography, you will learn how to take pictures based on compositional rules and subjects. Factoring in these concepts can be the difference between good and great when it comes to this. And if you don’t achieve your focus when taking a shot, the image won’t come out right.


There is most likely a daunting variety of options on your camera. The two most important ones are AF-S and AF-C. Autofocus single (AF-S) is best used for stationary objects, and the AF-C option should be used if you are photographing something or someone that moves quickly.

Focus Points

Both AF-S and AF-C work because of the defined focus points on the camera. In the viewfinder (where you put your eye) there are rectangles with dots. Place your right hand on the camera and look for the round black button that presses down. Press it halfway and see which rectangle is highlighted red in the viewfinder. That is the focal point and that is where the camera focuses.


Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the most fundamental compositional rules and if you look at professional stock images, you will see it in many of them. The basic idea is to image a 3×3 grid for your image and you want to place the subject where the lines intersect because those are the places where the human eye naturally gravitates towards. Moreover, it causes lines in the image (like a waterfall for example) to flow from one section to another.


There should be options in the menu on your camera to change the size and file type of the photos stored on your SD card (link). Ideally, you’ll want to set the file size to the largest possible to maximize the quality of the images produced by your camera. The .jpeg file type will be easiest to use at the beginning, but for more advanced projects, use the raw format because it is more flexible if you want to edit it on a computer using software like Photoshop, etcetera.



That was an introduction to photography. I hope that what you have encountered in this article has sparked an interest and perhaps caused you to switch off ‘Auto’. Remember that you don’t need to keep in mind all of these things at once when you start off. The most important thing is that you go out in the world and start taking pictures. Experiment with everyday objects if you must. Gain an eye for photography. Your ability to recognize good opportunities will grow with time. But you should pat yourself on the back for taking this step. You already have done more than most. Soon you will understand your camera much better as you get familiar with it and your creative juices will flow. If in the future you are ever stuck or need new knowledge, incentive or ideas, the Internet is a good place to start. There are many tutorials out there because people have already had the problems you will encounter. If you need more equipment for your endeavors, please feel free to browse the PhotoSurplus storefront. Congratulations on your new purchase and good luck!

Matthew Turk

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