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How to Use Your First DSLR? An Ultimate Guide For Beginners

Last updated on July 13, 2019

DSLR beginners Guide

If you have bought your first DSLR camera and after unboxing it you are confused because of a lot of buttons and dials then you must look for the manual inside the box. But the thickness of the manual will also make you confused as you wanted to take the perfect photographs by using your new DSLR.

Many users start taking photos by just setting the dial on “Auto” mode and they capture their favorite moments and natural scenes. Though, for some users that is fine, but this is not the actual use of a DSLR. If you spent a lot of your hard earned money on buying a professional camera, then you must take the professional photos and should know all the technicalities to capture the best photos.

Here is an ultimate guide for the beginners who wanted to start capturing the awesome photos. We will talk about some basics of the DSLR and will not discuss the settings in depth. For that, you must check your DSLR’s camera but for a quick start, this is a perfect DSLR guide for you.

Here are a few things that you should learn first to capture the natural scenes like a pro:

  • Understand Shooting Modes
  • Understand the ISO
  • Understand the Exposure Triangle
  • Metring and Exposure Compensation
  • Understand the Focusing
  • Understand the White Balance

1. Understand Shooting Modes

The first thing you should know is the different shooting modes on your DSLR camera. Every DSLR camera has a dial which can be used to set the camera for different shooting modes like Av, Tv, P, and M. More advanced camera can have even more labels on the dial. A few cameras might have A, S, P, M instead of the Av, Tv, P, M.

i) Aperture Priority

Av or A stands for Aperture priority. When you are using these modes, your auto mode is off. On aperture priority mode, you will set the aperture of the DSLR camera and your camera will set the shutter speed according to that.

Aperture refers to the size of the opening in the camera lens. This opening allows the light to pass through the shutter. If you set the aperture at a larger value, the more light it will allow to pass.

The aperture size is in f-numbers for example; f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0 and many more. It is the ratio of focal length over the diameter of the shutter opening. So, a smaller value i.e f/2.0 means more opening and more light will pass through the shutter.

aperture priority Av DSLR

If you select a small aperture size, means a large f-number which allows less light to pass, it will help you to focus foreground and the background. This is used to focus the more area and more depth in a landscape photo.

To focus your object and taking the background out of focus, you can select large aperture size i.e a smaller f-number.

Aperture size to focus background

ii) Shutter Priority

In Tv or S or shutter priority mode, you have to set the shutter speed of the camera and your DSLR will take care of the aperture size. Shutter speed is measured in the fractions of seconds.

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The more time you set, the more light will pass through the shutter as it will remain open for a maximum time. If you set a lower value, the shutter will remain open for smaller time and it will allow less light to pass while taking the photos.

While taking photos of moving objects and you want to make them freeze, for example, a flying bird, a fast-moving vehicle or a sports photo, you have to set a shorter shutter speed which means the shutter will open for a shorter time and will allow very less light to pass through. It will make the moving object freeze.

While, if you are willing to add a blur effect on a moving object, for example, water stream or waterfall, you have to set a larger value of the shutter speed to allow more light to pass. If you are using very high shutter speed, then make it sure to use a tripod with the camera so there is no shaking and the camera remains steady while capturing the photograph.

shutter speed photo examples for moving objects

iii) Program (P)

This mode is also a semi-automatic mode in which you can set either the shutter speed or the aperture size of the camera. If you set the aperture size, the DSLR will automatically set the shutter speed to provide the correct exposure automatically while if you set specific shutter speed, it will select the correct aperture size.

The difference is in aperture priority or shutter priority you can select only one value, to select the second value you have to switch between the modes. But in the program (P) mode, you can select either the aperture size or the shutter speed without switching the mode and the other value will be automatically adjusted by the DSLR.

iv) Manual (M)

In manual mode, you have the full control over all the settings of your DSLR camera. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture size, ISO settings and exposure as required. This mode is more complex to understand and requires a lot of experience.

To start with the auto off mode, it is better to start with the aperture priority or shutter priority modes and understand how things work for taking creative photos. Once you understand how different values affect your photos, you can move to program mode and then to the manual mode which allows you to capture the creative photos.

Understand the ISO

The term ISO is directly related to film photography and it refers to the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light. In the filmography, the film with different sensitivities used for different shooting conditions. We measure the ISO sensitivity in the numeric values and its normal range is from the low ISO value of 100 to the high value of 6400 or even more.

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The light which is required by the camera sensor is controlled by the ISO value and it is used to provide a required exposure. At low sensitivities, more light is required while at high sensitivities less light is required to achieve the given exposure.

Low ISO Numbers

When shooting outside on a bright sunny day, there is enough light available for the sensor to achieve a required exposure. So, to get the best pictures on bright days, you should use low ISO value, let’s say ISO 100 to ISO 200. This will help in capturing the images in the highest quality and with less noise even if you crop the image to 100%.

Low ISO photo example

High ISO Numbers

For indoor shooting where light is low, it is difficult to capture images with the right exposure. In these conditions when there is less light to hit the sensor, you should use a higher ISO value, let’s say ISO 3200, it will provide more light to get the brighter images.

With the more exposure to the images, the disadvantage of using higher ISO number is a noisy picture. It will look like fine grains on the photo and the noise will be more visible around the dark areas.

high ISO photography

Before you read further check this guide for the best lens for DSLR filmmaking.

Understand the Exposure Triangle

The shutter speed, aperture size, and the ISO, these three values all part of the exposure triangle. These three values are used to achieve exposure. The shutter speed and the aperture controls the light which enters into the camera whereas the ISO is the amount of the light which is required by the camera.

These all three settings are linked to each other and if you change one value, it will directly affect the other values. So it is very important to understand the relation of all the three values to improve the creativity and to master the DSLR photography.

For example, for a particular location, you wanted to reduce the depth of the photograph by increasing the aperture size. When you do this, you need to change the other values as well to maintain the proper exposure.

In this case, you will have three different options. Either you will reduce the shutter speed, or you will reduce the ISO value. Or you will reduce both the values by half of the ratio of aperture size.

While using the semi-automated modes like aperture priority or shutter priority or even on auto ISO mode, you don’t need to think about these things. But when you understand the relationship between the three values of the exposure triangle, then it is important to adjust each value separately, if you want to master the DSLR photography.

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4. Understand the Focusing

It is important to focus the object in the image to get the desired photograph. If a particular object is not focused in the picture, then no matter what shooting mode you are using and what is the defined ISO settings, your photo will not according to your expectation.

Basically, there are two modes for Autofocus in every DSLR camera and these modes are called AF-S and AF-C. If you have to use these modes, then the main control of lens focus should be on AF. These focusing modes will not work on Manual Focus (MF) mode.

i) AutoFocus Single (AF-S)

If you want to take the photos of stationary or still objects, then using the autofocus single (AF-S) mode is a good choice. It will focus the main object that you wanted to focus and take the perfect photograph for you.

To focus, you have to half press the shutter, your DSLR will focus the object and lock it. Now to take the photo, without releasing the shutter, full press it and you will get the photo which has the required object in focus. If you want to change the focused object or the focus point, release the shutter key, set your camera accordingly and again half-press the shutter.

ii) AutoFocus Continous (AF-C)

When you have to capture the moving objects like taking the sports or wildlife photos, using AF-C focus mode is best. Lock your subject and half press the shutter to lock and focus. Now, when the subject moves, the focus point will move along it and keep that subject in focus.

It will refocus the same locked subject all the time until you take your photograph of the moving object.

Focus Point

When you use the viewfinder, you can see different squares in it. These are the different focus points that you can use the focus the subject of your own choice. By default, the center point is in focus and this is the subject which can be seen through the center focus point through the viewfinder.

You can see different other focus points in the viewfinder. You can see about 5 to 50 different squares which mean 5 to 50 focus points on different DSLR cameras. You are the one who knows best which part of the scene should be in focus, so, select the focus point of your own choice by using the directional buttons on the dial.

5. Understand the White Balance

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