A digital SLR (DSLR) camera is a fantastic tool for creative photography. When the full range of options are used correctly, it can capture everything from sport and action shots, landscapes, to close-ups of flowers and insects. The vast array of menus, buttons and dials on a DSLR camera can be daunting, so it’s important to understand the key features worth exploring.
Read Your Camera’s Manual
If you want to make the most of your DSLR, it’s important to take the time to read the manual. I cannot stress this enough. Modern cameras offer shortcuts, customizable menus and other advanced features you can only get to grips with if you know how to access them.
How do I read my camera’s manual?
One page at a time. Seriously. I’m a hands on learner, meaning that I have to read then do it myself before I can move on. If that advice works for you, awesome! If not, play around til you know how you’ll absorb the information best. Every camera can be customized to your needs, so the most important thing you can do is to find all your favorite settings to make the most of your images.
Once you are familiar with the basics, here are 10 things you should master on your DSLR camera:
If any of these terms are confusing, check out this article: Essential Photography Terms That All Beginners Should Learn
1. Aperture Priority Mode
The amount of a picture that’s sharp in front of and behind the focus point can be controlled by adjusting the aperture setting of a camera.
- Smaller apertures result in more of a scene being in focus and are ideal for landscape shots.
- Wide apertures can be used for portrait photographs where you want to isolate a person against a blurred background.
Selecting aperture priority mode on a DSLR allows you to control the aperture, and the camera will automatically set the correct shutter speed.
2. Shutter priority mode.
Taking control of the shutter setting on a camera allows you to freeze or blur motion. Sports photographers usually shoot at one five-hundredth of a second or faster to capture the action.
Shutter priority mode allows you to set the shutter speed for the subject, and the camera will adjust the aperture setting for the correct exposure.
3. Manual focus.
The autofocus systems on modern cameras are fast and accurate, but they don’t work every time. Fast moving subjects and low-light conditions are examples of situations where using autofocus can result in disappointing pictures. If you’re serious about photography, you need to know how to focus manually.
The lens I use manual focus on the most is my Tamron 10-24mm lens (for a crop APS-C sensor). I found this makes for much more control in taking a landscape photo.
4. ISO setting.
ISO is a measure of a digital camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. Increasing the ISO allows you to shoot in lower light and at higher shutter speeds.
Image quality reduces at higher ISO settings, so choosing the right setting can be a compromise between quality and the amount of light available.
5. White balance.
The color of the light from different sources varies, and a DSLR’s white balance setting allows you to compensate for this. For example, a photograph of a person taken under a fluorescent light may have a green or blue tone.
A camera’s auto white balance feature will correct most problems, but you should know how to take control of the setting, as mixed lighting can lead to unwanted color casts.
6. Exposure compensation.
The exposure compensation setting on a camera gives you the option to lighten or darken a photograph when using an auto exposure setting. It doesn’t require as much work as using manual exposure mode, but allows you to create different effects and compensate for difficult lighting conditions. For example, metering systems can be fooled by bright backgrounds, and exposure compensation allows a photographer to intervene and correct any problems.
7. The histogram display.
Learning how to read a camera’s histogram display can take your photography to the next level. Judging the exposure by looking at the screen can be difficult, and histograms allow you to see the distribution of tones within in an image.
Fine tuning exposure means you can get the maximum amount of detail in a photograph. With experience, you can learn to read a histogram in seconds and make the necessary exposure compensation to get the perfect shot.
8. Focus lock.
Most DSLRs assume the subject of a picture is at the center of the frame and focus accordingly. Positioning the main subject off-center often results in a more satisfying composition, but this can mean the camera focusses on the background. Focus lock is the solution.
After focusing on the subject and activating the focus lock function you can position the subject anywhere in the frame for the most effective composition.