Using a DSLR camera is a great way to explore the possibilities in photography. However, its plethora of controls and functions can be overwhelming for beginners. DSLR cameras will never beat your smartphone’s ease of use, but they can introduce you to a hobby or even a profession you can enjoy for a lifetime.  

This article touches on the basics of DSLR cameras and their controls and provides tips on optimizing their use.

DSLR Camera
photography gear on wooden table, digital camera lens and other accessories.

What Is A DSLR Camera? 

DSLR stands for digital single lens reflex. A DLSR camera has an internal mirror and a prism system. This system directs light from the lens to the optical viewfinder. This design feature makes DSLR cameras distinct from other types of cameras.  

In point-and-shoot cameras, the viewfinder uses a separate lens. Meanwhile, the image is viewed on a digital screen directly from the sensor on mirrorless cameras and smartphones. DSLR cameras also have several features for adjusting image composition, making them ideal for professionals and serious enthusiasts.  

Camera Controls 

A DSLR camera’s controls allow photographers to make their images unique. As a beginner, it’s best to understand the different modes’ effects on your shots. When you know how the elements work—like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO—you can use the different settings to suit your preference. Learn how these settings can enhance your photographs and more here.

Below, you’ll find the key controls needed to learn to make the most of your DSLR camera.  

Mode Dial 

The mode dial lets the camera know how much control you want over its settings. Apart from the standard ‘Auto’ and ‘Manual,’ there are usually other scenery modes you can use when taking a landscape or portrait shot. These automatic modes let the camera know what scene you’re taking, allowing it to apply relevant settings automatically.  

Additionally, there are other modes bridging the gap between full auto and full manual. Depending on your DSLR model, these modes allow you greater control over your images. 

  • P Mode: This program’s automatic mode lets you control exposure compensation, ISO, and white balance.   
  • A Mode: Aperture Priority mode lets you set the aperture, which is excellent for controlling the depth of field. You can also manage ISO, exposure compensation, and white balance. This makes it ideal for landscape shots. And because this setting is halfway between auto and manual, the camera judges the light in the scene and sets the shutter speed to get optimal exposure.  
  • S, T, Or Tv Mode: In shutter priority mode, you can control the shutter speed instead of setting the aperture. This mode is great for capturing movements, such as in sports events or bird photography. It’s also excellent for showing movement in long exposure shots, such as rivers and waterfalls.  

There are different philosophies when it comes to using manual mode. Some photographers want complete control, while others give the camera system more credit and freedom. 

Exposure Compensation 

This setting gives you control over the brightness or the amount of light that reaches your camera. In most cases, the camera may correctly calculate the exposure in a scene. But there are instances when it’s inaccurate, resulting in an image that’s too bright or too dark. This setting lets you adjust the exposure accordingly without going full manual.  

ISO Button 

This button lets you increase or decrease the camera sensor’s sensitivity to the light. This is another way to control exposure. Keep in mind that a higher ISO will cause more digital noise to be introduced into the image. Hence, the grainy appearance of the image becomes more pronounced. 

As a beginner, it’s best to stay within an ISO range of 100 to 400. Remember that when you manually set the ISO, the camera will keep shooting at this setting until you change it. As such, always check the ISO before taking any image. 

Focus Mode 

This feature ensures that the images you take are sharp. In autofocus mode, the camera will do this for you. Depending on your camera, you can also choose what to focus on. Newer cameras allow you to tap on the touchscreen display, while older models have a dedicated button. You can also adjust the camera focus using the focus ring on the camera lens.  

Focal Length Ring 

This controls the camera’s zoom. Just rotate the ring to adjust to the zoom you need.  

Tips For Using A DSLR Camera 

Now that you know what the DSLR camera controls do, it’ll help to remember the tips below when you go out there and shoot.  

Holding The Camera 

Correctly holding your camera minimizes movement, which lessens the chances of capturing blurry images. This is why beginners should hold the camera with two hands. The right hand should be around the camera grip, while the left supports the lens from underneath. It would also be best to tuck your elbows close to your body for added stability.  

Learn The Rules Of Composition 

Composition refers to placing your subjects within the image and blending other elements to create a visually stunning photograph. There are many rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, and framing. These guidelines can provide you with a solid foundation for photography.  

Utilize Depth Of Field 

This photography concept refers to how much focus is in front of or behind the subject. Adjusting the aperture lets you control the depth of field. For example, when taking a landscape shot, a deep depth of field lets you capture most of the scenery. For portraits, a shallow depth of field gives it the bokeh effect.  

Leverage Light 

Using light to improve shots is a skill that goes a long way in photography. For beginners, remember that overhead light creates flatter images. Meanwhile, low light allows for more depth. You might also notice photographers prefer shooting early or late in the day. This is because the light is generally warmer at these hours.  

Final Words 

When it comes to DSLR cameras, practicing entails fiddling with the features they offer. So, while mastering them will undoubtedly take time, getting used to what each feature does will help ease the learning curve.  

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