How to use a DSLR Camera? A Beginners Guide

Woman Taking a Photo

With the advent of relatively advanced cameras in our phones, practically everyone has become an amateur photographer, but if you’re planning on picking up your first DSLR camera, you may be in for a bit of a shock. These are advanced gadgets with a fairly steep learning curve. That doesn’t mean you need to be intimidated. The complexity of DSLRs allows users to be far more flexible with their photography. Our DSLR camera guide for beginners can demystify the process and help you learn the fundamentals of how to use a DSLR camera.

What is a DSLR Camera?

Whether you’ve inherited a DSLR from a family member or you’re trying to figure out if one is worth purchasing for you, the first thing to know when you want to learn DSLR photography is exactly what distinguishes a DSLR from other camera types. You may know how to use a camera, but there are some distinct differences between these models and more traditional point and click cameras that you need to understand if you want to learn to use DSLR cameras.

If you picture in your head what a digital camera looks like, a DSLR is probably the first thing to come to mind. Short for “digital single-lens reflex cameras”, they were the unrivaled standard for serious photographers for decades. And while mirrorless cameras have been giving them some serious competition for the past few years, they still hold a special place in the hearts of many photographers.

When you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR, you aren’t looking directly out the lens into the environment in front of you. Instead, a mirror in the camera’s body reflects light through either a prism or additional mirrors and translates that image in the viewfinder. The shutter (which we’ll talk about in more detail later) serves as a door for the mirror. When it flips open, the mirror shifts out of the way, allowing the light to hit an image sensor which creates a physical imprint of the image.

So what does that mean in practice? Unlike with a mirrorless camera, which creates a mere simulation of the image you’re looking at, a DSLR shows you exactly what’s on the other side of your lens. That means there’s zero latency between what you see and what you shoot, which is a big difference between many mirrorless and point and shoot cameras. Additionally, this analog rather than digital format for the viewfinder ensures that DSLR photography allows you to get more shots without having to worry about the battery dying.

On the flip side of the equation, the mirror is a pretty bulky piece of equipment, and that means that one of the important DSLR basics means understanding that you can expect to carry a larger bag for your DSLR, and once you start to move beyond the DSLR camera basics, you’ll want space for a larger selection of lenses so that you can transition out from DSLR camera 101 and into more professional work. Preparing in advance for expansion is one of the fundamental DSLR tips

Looking for more options on carrying your DSLR around, Check out our review on Best Camera Backpacks.

That also means that learning how to use DSLR will cost you a little more money. But once you move beyond the stage of relying on DSLR photography tutorials, you’ll find that these types of cameras train you to be a better photographer and provide you with a diverse array of options for how you shoot.

DSLR Camera Functions

Exposure

Exposure levels

Arguably the most important component of DSLR camera learning is understanding what exposure is and what it does. We talked about the exposure briefly in the first part of this DSLR tutorial for beginners, but it’s time to dig into this in deeper detail. As we mentioned before, when you snap a photo, the mirror mechanism moves out of the way of the lens and lets light pour in to hit the sensor. This allows for a picture to be captured, but the amount of light that comes through has an effect on the brightness and quality of the photo.

One of the hardest things to grasp when learning DSLR photography for beginners is how light or dark a given photo should be, but getting a grasp on how exposure works can help you create more nuanced photos than someone who relies on a simple point and shoot model. Three camera settings – the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed – determine the exposure of a shot.

In the next part of our DSLR training guide, we’ll discuss them individually and outline how they work together in what’s known as the “exposure triangle”. The next sections are going to be technical, but don’t let them scare you off. While you should understand the fundamentals of the exposure triangle, we’ll discuss camera settings that can ease you into the process later on in this photography 101 DSLR guide.

Aperture

Aperture SettingsUnderstanding what an aperture is and how it works is one of the most important basic photography lessons. The aperture determines how wide the opening is in the camera lens, and that in turn determines how much light actually comes through the lens and hits the sensor. The picture above shows some of the most common aperture sizes in terms of the largest to smallest amount of light.

The f/# indicators beside each are what’s referred to as the f-stop value. One of the most confusing notions that trip up new users in DSLR for beginner guides is the counterintuitive notion that the larger the f-stop value is, the smaller the amount of light that filters through the lens. An f/1 stop value essentially exposes the entirety of the lens, and the area of light exposed quadruples each time an f-stop value is halved. In other words, an f-stop of f/11 will let in four times the light of an aperture with an f-stop of f/22.

Aperture examples

Experienced photographers develop a pretty nuanced understanding of these technical numbers and the effect they’ll have on their photography, but what does it mean in terms of DSLR 101? It’s all about focus. A smaller aperture number will have a much shallower depth of field.

If you’re looking to capture closer subjects in greater focus and place them against a hazier background, you’ll want to work with a smaller aperture. If you want to have a crisper photograph across the entire field of view, aim for a larger aperture. The flowers on the left are shot with a smaller aperture, while those on the right are shot with a much larger aperture.

ISO Speed

ISO Speed Settings
The next DSLR tutorial fundamental when discussing the triangle is ISO speed. ISO speed is a measurement of how sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light, and it’s measured in a given range rather than as a specific number. The higher the ISO range that your camera shoots, the more control you have over your ISO settings. 100, 200, 400, and 800 are the most common ISO ranges used, and they should be enough for those still learning how to use DSLR camera for beginners, but as the picture above indicates, they can reach dramatically higher levels.

You’ll want to adjust your ISO settings to take into account the amount of light available in the setting in which you’re shooting. The lower the light, the more light you’ll want to expose to the sensor, and the higher the ISO setting you’ll want to use. An ISO of 100 will be appropriate for a perfectly sunny day, while an ISO of 800 might be more appropriate for shooting in a dark room or at night.

ISO settings can vary from camera to camera, so coming up with concrete rules for the appropriate ISO settings is outside the purview of DSLR tutorials. The specifics are something you’ll have to learn through trial and error.

Shooting at a higher ISO setting comes with its own cost. As the above picture demonstrates, higher ISO levels produce grainier photography. That’s why it’s important to find the lowest ISO setting that can produce the results you want. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of noise present in your photos. Also keep in mind that the closer the ISO level is to the camera’s maximum range, the higher the risk of graininess. The relatively high ISO range supported by DSLRs is another advantage they offer over other types of cameras.

Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed SettingsThe shutter speed is exactly what it sounds like: the period of time that the shutter is open when taking a shot with your camera. Naturally, a longer shutter speed allows more light to filter through the lens and hit the sensor. Any shutter speed you use is going to be measured in fractions of a second. While that’s going to be imperceptible to you, it’s going to make a big difference in the quality of your picture. You may occasionally hear someone referencing “exposure time”. This is the same thing as shutter speed.

The major factor in determining what shutter speed to use is how much action is in frame and how fast it’s moving. The lower the shutter speed is, the tighter the moment captured, and that means if you want to avoid blur in high moving shots, you’ll want to opt for faster shutter speeds. More blur tends to appear in slower shutter speeds, but you need to consider the speed of movement of your subject when determining shutter speed.

Fortunately, the right shutter speed is generally much easier to determine than the right ISO level or aperture. It’s measured in absolute and easy to understand terms that don’t vary depending on the nature of the camera sensor. Traditional action movement works well with a shutter speed of 1/250 to 1/500, while shooting a fast moving subject up close will generally necessitate something in the range of 1/1000 to 1/4000. If you’re looking to add stylistic blur to a moving object, you’ll want to opt for something in the range of 1/2 to 1/30, while low light shots of still objects will require something approaching 1 second or higher.

It’s important to note that once you reach a certain shutter speed, the precision of the camera means that a photographer can’t usually prevent shaking by hand. If you’re going to shoot in an exposure of 1/50 or higher, you’re going to want to want to use a tripod to avoid blur. This number will vary depending on the stability of the camera and the photographer, so be sure to experiment with what’s comfortable for you to ensure clearer and crisper results.

The Exposure Triangle

he Exposure Triangle Image

Further complicating things is the fact that these three traits don’t exist in a vacuum. If all three components of the exposure triangle aren’t working in tandem with one another, you’re not going to produce quality results. All three aspects here determine how much light is let into the camera, but they each have variations on the impact they can have on your photos. Let’s run them down quickly so you can be more confident in how to make them work together.

  • Slower shutter speed increases the photo’s brightness while producing motion blur. You can maintain the light level you want while moving to higher shutter speeds by decreasing the ISO or increasing the f-stop.
  • Faster shutter speed decreases the photo’s brightness and helps you crisply capture objects in motion. You can maintain the light level you want while moving to lower shutter speeds by increasing the ISO or decreasing the f-stop.
  • Higher ISO speed increases the photo’s brightness but amplifies signal noise. You can balance this brightness by decreasing the shutter speed or increasing the f-stop.
  • Lower ISO speed decreases the photo’s brightness and offers lower signal noise. You can balance this brightness by increasing the shutter speed or decreasing the f-stop.
  • Higher f-stop (aperture) provides a richer depth of field and focus range while lowering the brightness of the photo. That can be counteracted by increasing the shutter speed or ISO.
  • Lower f-stop (aperture) provides a lower depth of field and focus range while increasing the brightness of the photo. That can be counteracted by decreasing the shutter speed or ISO.

If that seems like a lot to process, don’t get too worried. Having a rough understanding of how these three factors work with one another is an important aspect of basic DSLR photography, but it takes a ton of experience to really understand intuitively how to balance the three against each other. The best thing you can do is get out in the field and experiment with the exposure triangle yourself, but the below video can provide you with a more hands-on analysis of the core principles at play.

Understanding the Exposure Modes

Understanding the Exposure Modes

If the section of this intro to DSLR was a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. We’re past the more high-minded technical aspects and into the more practical terms. One of the primary advantages of DSLR cameras is that they come with a breathtaking number of different modes. Some of these can assist photographers with some of the higher minded functions of DSLR cameras, while others are designed to be used for far more specialized purposes.

Remember that complicated relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture that we talked about above? The varying exposure modes automate the process to varying degrees and give you some easy presets that allow you to get quality shots without having to adjust the settings by hand. But just glancing at the letters inscribed on your camera’s mode dial won’t tell you a whole lot. We’re going to break down the specifics so you can feel comfortable shifting between different modes out in the field.

Specialized Modes

DSLR cameras come with a variety of different modes that make use of tailored exposures to capture the needs of specialized situations. They’re a great set of training wheels for new camera owners, but even more experienced photographers use them to reduce their amount of work. We’ll note where these modes fall on the exposure triangle so you can better learn DSLR fundamentals in an illustrative environment.

Portrait Mode

Portrait Mode Image

Portrait mode is great if you’re looking to shoot a still subject in a controlled setting. Portrait mode will assume that there’s a subject in the foreground and that they’re still.

It will automatically create a shallow depth of field while maintaining a blurred background. You’ll ideally want to use portrait mode in brighter conditions like direct sunlight, but the flash will be automatically utilized as necessary. Portrait mode relies on:

  • A high f-stop to produce sharp focus on the subject while blurring the background significantly
  • A slow shutter speed since the subject isn’t in motion
  • A variable ISO to reduce noise, ideally a low ISO since portrait mode is best used in controlled, quality lighting

Landscape Mode

Landscape Mode Image

Landscape mode is functionally the opposite of portrait mode. If you’re looking to capture a scene with a clean depth of field from one end to the other, landscape mode is what you want to use. It’s a popular choice if you don’t have a specific subject and are instead looking to convey a vivid scene in crystal clarity.

As such, it’s a popular choice with nature photographers. But as with portrait mode, you want to shoot in strong lighting whenever possible. In situations where that’s not possible the flash mode is automated, but that can be manually turned off if you wish. Landscape mode generally employs:

  • A low f-stop to produce a broad and consistent depth of field
  • A slow shutter speed to accommodate the lack of moving objects
  • A variable ISO, ideally low to account for the bright lighting in landscape photos

Action Mode

Action Mode Image

Where landscape and portrait modes are two sides of the same coin that prioritize the aperture (to opposite effects), action photography is all about capturing objects in movement, so it naturally places the highest importance on shutter speed. At the bare minimum, action mode will utilize a shutter speed of 1/500 to 1/1000, but it can get significantly higher depending on the speed and distance of the subject you’re shooting.

As with the previous two modes, it’s best used in bright environments, but the flash is generally not needed for action mode due to the extraordinarily high shutter speed used. It works great in conjunction with continuous shooting mode (which we’ll talk about more later). Action mode typically focuses on:

  • A very high shutter speed to catch objects in motion
  • A variable but relatively balanced aperture to focus on the subject of the shot without unnecessary blur
  • A variable ISO, but preferably a low ISO for situations shot in ideal light

Macro Mode

Macro Mode Image

Contrary to what you might expect given the name “macro”, this mode makes it easy to produce detailed shots of small objects. In general, if you’re looking to shoot a subject that’s smaller than your hand, macro mode is going to be the right exposure setting for you.

And while it does automate the process of shooting by focusing in on the subject, it’s a mode best reserved for slightly more experienced photographers. Even with the right settings in place, capturing a smaller picture and keeping it focused requires a great hand and a steady eye. You may want to try using a tripod while shooting in macro mode, especially if you’re in a low light setting. Macro mode makes use of:

  • A high f-stop for a narrow field that focuses on your smaller subject
  • A slow shutter speed due to the lack of movement in the subject
  • A variable ISO, ideally low but contingent on the natural lighting

Night Portrait Mode

Night Portrait Mode Image

Portrait mode is great for capturing a subject in the foreground, but it’s best utilized in well lit settings. Night portrait mode offers the same narrow depth of field to focus on the subject while blurring the background, but it adjusts the other settings to compensate for the low light setting. It’s illustrative of how trying to capture the perfect photo sometimes means making sacrifices regarding the different values on the exposure triangle.

To help compensate without reducing the quality of the picture, night portrait mode makes use of flash prodigiously. This helps illuminate the subject against the darkness well reducing blur. Sometimes it may produce a unique double exposure effect through the use of double flash. Night portrait settings typically resemble:

  • A relatively high aperture to put the subject in focus, generally comparable to a traditional portrait
  • A slow shutter speed due to the presence of a still, in focus subject
  • A high ISO level to take into account the low lighting of the scene

Other Camera Modes

There are also a number of general purpose modes that aren’t built with the needs of specific shoots in mind. These all purpose modes can be incredibly useful once you get a grip on what exactly they do.

Manual Mode

If you know exactly what type of shot you want to use and you have a firm grip on the fundamentals of the exposure triangle, manual mode can be a good choice. It allows you to control every setting individually. While novice photographers can play around with it to experiment with the various aspects of the exposure triangle, it’s generally best reserved for experienced photographers. Manual mode is identified by an “M” on the mode dial.

Auto Mode

If you’re just looking to take a quick and dirty shot without having to worry about the right settings for the situation, auto mode is a great tool. It essentially turns your camera into a point and shoot model and automatically picks the right settings based on the light of the setting. But it produces less precise results than more specialized settings and sometimes struggles in environments with inconsistent lighting. It’s also prone to activating flash when it’s not always necessary. Auto mode is usually identified by the word “AUTO”.

Auto Mode Settings

Autofocus mode also gives you access to autofocus points. The amount of autofocus points a camera has will depend on the model, but more is definitely better. The DSLR will automatically focus on what it thinks are the most relevant AF points, but you can identify points manually if there’s a specific subject you want to focus on. AF points can be an especially great choice in action photography where you may have a number of different moving subjects in your field of view.

Aperture Priority

Aperture priority mode is usually marked by an “A”, and it splits the difference between manual and auto mode. It allows you to determine the depth of field by adjusting the aperture but automates the rest of the settings.

Time Value/Shutter

Similar to aperture priority, TV mode allows you to change the shutter speed manually while leaving the rest of the settings automated. If you’re shooting an action photo with subjects of varying speeds, it can be a solid choice. It’s identified by an “S” or a “TV” on the dial.

Programmed Auto

Programmed auto is the inverse of the last two options. Both aperture and shutter speed are automatically set based on the lighting and the environment, but the other settings can be adjusted by the user. It’s a nice way to transition to more complex photography once you’re comfortable with the auto settings. It’s marked by a “P” on the dial.

Bulb

If you’re shooting long exposures, typically longer than 30 seconds, bulb mode is the right choice. You determine both the aperture and the ISO, and the shutter speed is determined by a remote switch. It can be identified by the “B” on the dial.

Final Thoughts on Shooting Modes

Understanding the various shooting modes can simplify the process of shooting different types of shots, and the variations on traditional automatic mode can be an ideal way to get a grip on the various aspects of the exposure triangle individually. Just keep in mind that all of these settings won’t necessarily be available on every camera. If you want to see how these modes work in action, the exhaustive video below can help.

Understanding Lenses

Understanding Lenses Image

Potentially the biggest advantage that mirrorless and DSLR cameras have over more traditional point and click models are their exchangeable lenses. And due to their age, DSLR cameras win out over their mirrorless contemporaries in terms of the sheer number of options available. While novice photographers will probably want to start with just one or two lenses. But even if you’re just getting started as a photographer, you should understand the different types of lenses and the advantages of each. This next part of our DSLR guide for beginners will fill you in on the details.

The Basic Characteristics of a Lens

Lenses from different manufacturers often use different terminology to describe their models, but there are four key characteristics that go into choosing a lens. Here’s what you need to understand before mounting one on your DSLR camera.

Maximum Aperture

If you’ve been reading this DSLR guide straight through, you already understand the importance of aperture. What we haven’t talked about is the fact that the aperture range is determined not by the DSLR itself but by the lens mounted on it. A good aperture range gives you more versatility in your depth of field. If you’re going to be primarily working as a landscape or nature photographer, a lens that works exclusively within a higher aperture range is going to be fine.

But if you want to do portraits or other focused photography methods, investing in a lens with a lower aperture range is a necessity. Just recognize that it will be more costly. Larger apertures are a lot easier to get right, so a cheaper lens will suit you just fine if that’s what you’re looking for. But a cheaper lens intended to keep a single foregrounded subject in frame is going to show its defects far more readily, and it will show in the final product.

Focal Length

We’ve talked a lot about how to control the lighting when you already have your shot framed, but we haven’t discussed the framing in the first place. The focal length will determine the zoom of the shot, and it will determine whether your lens is better suited to catching a subject up close or catching a shot well on the horizon.

One focal length isn’t inherently better than the other. One of the main reasons that collecting lenses is such a popular (and expensive) hobby for photographers is that they’re like individual tools that allow you to capture unique shots. Focal length is measured in millimeters. A shorter focal length offers a wider field of view for your shot, making it a great option for panoramas, but it suffers in terms of magnification.

A longer focal length can allow you to telescope in on far away objects, but you’ll experience a much narrower field of view. The focal length of a lens falls into one of two categories: prime and zoom. Each has their own distinct advantages and weaknesses.

Prime Lenses

A prime lens has a singular focal length. In other words, what you see is what you get. That naturally decreases their versatility, but if you know the subject you want to shoot and are able to work in a more controlled environment, they can be incredibly useful. This lack of range allows manufacturers to produce prime lenses more cheaply and to focus on the quality of the lens. They’re also more lightweight, but that’s somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that you may need to carry multiple prime lenses to get the results you need.

Further complicating things is the fact that there are a number of different specializations that fall under the category of prime lenses. Each serves its own specialized purpose, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll need one of each as a new photographer. Instead, consider what you’re looking to shoot and make your purchases accordingly.

  • Regular lenses shoot a scene essentially as you see it. They’re an all-purpose option in the range of 35 to 80 mm.
  • Telephoto lenses fall in the spectrum of 75 to 300 mm and are great for shooting subjects far away.
  • Super telephoto lenses offer an even greater distance of 200 to 400 mm and are commonly used by bird photographers.
  • Wide-angle lenses are built for capturing panorama shots. They typically fall in the range of 14 to 35 mm.
  • Fish eye lenses are a unique subset of a wide-angle lens that offer a more spherical view of the surroundings. They have more limited use but can generate some truly imaginative results.

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses, by contrast, offer a range of different focal lengths. If you’re going to be out in the field and aren’t quite sure what to expect, zoom lenses can ensure that you don’t walk away empty-handed or with unsatisfying pictures. Their dynamic range makes them a sensible choice for action and wildlife photography. You can find both long distance and panorama zoom lenses.

Image Stabilization

We mentioned earlier in our DSLR photo tips about how you’ll need to use a tripod when working with specific shutter speeds. Even the best photographers are going to find themselves occasionally in a situation where a steady hand isn’t enough to produce the results they want. Many camera bodies come with image stabilization built in, but you can further enhance the steadiness of your shots by looking for a lens that comes with its own image stabilization.

There is a very tiny window of opportunity, usually a fraction of a second, when image stabilization is relevant, but that time when the shutter is clicking is incredibly important. A lens’ image stabilization components kicks into effect at the moment when the shutter button is pushed halfway down, so that’s a great way to test the quality of the stabilization in a lens. When image stabilization goes into effect, tiny sensors inside the lens recognize any movement and realigns the lens to compensate for this movement.

Good image stabilization can be useful to any photographer, but they’re of special value when shooting action scenes or operating your camera in low light settings. They can also be an incredibly useful tool for novice photographers still getting their bearings.

There are a number of different variants to image stabilization. Lenses that adjust the camera perpendicular to your physical movement are great for burst shots, panning, and action photography. Others don’t activate image stabilization until the shutter button is fully depressed, and they’re ideal for sports photographers capturing unpredictable subjects. Most image stabilization offers less specialized but more versatile tech that responds to any movement whatsoever.

Lens Quality

Not all lenses are built equally, and looking at the aperture range and type of lens alone won’t tell you the whole story. If you’re planning on doing most of your work indoors, build quality isn’t going to be that big of a deal, but nature and street photographers will want to look for sturdier lenses. After all, these things don’t come cheap, and the last thing you want is to see one ruined by a little dust or rain.

If you’re working outdoors at all, you’re probably going to want to invest in a fully water sealed lens and a water sealed camera to match. Many lenses are water resistant without being fully water sealed, and different companies use different language to specialize what lenses are built with water sealing. Be sure to check the specifications of the model carefully before making an investment in a lens to use outdoors.

Specialized Lenses

One of the main advantages of investing in a serious camera is the huge range of cool, specialized lenses that can serve your needs. Options like tilt-shift, macro, close focusing, and selective focusing lenses can provide a lot more value to your kit. But they’re difficult to use and outside the purview of a DSLR photography 101 guide. Avoid them for now, but recognize that they’ll be there for you as you develop your skills.

Picking the Right Lenses as a Novice

If you continue along the photography track with the intention of becoming a hobbyist or a professional, chances are that you’ll eventually accumulate a decent library of lenses, but you don’t need to get started right away. We recommend that you start with two or three lens. This will allow you to develop the experience and confidence and provide you with a decent bit of versatility without getting overwhelmed by a variety of shooting options.

The lens you start with should be tailored to the style of photography that interests you. The video below highlights cheap and relatively uncomplicated lenses that are appropriate for the needs of beginner photographers.

Understanding Burst Mode

Burst mode, also known as continuous shooting, is one of the most useful features of a DSLR camera. It won’t be of much use when shooting static photos like portraits or wedding shots, but it’s practically a necessity if you’re looking to work with action photography.

Burst mode captures a large number of shots in a quick period of time. If that sounds like shooting in video, you’re close but not quite on the mark. Since the camera clicks the shutter each time it fires a shot, it allows for photos with a higher amount of clarity and less blur than you’d get by just creating stills from video footage.

Burst mode is measured in frames per second, and the higher the fps, the more shots you can get in a shorter amount of time. For burst mode to work properly, it has to employ a very high shutter speed and wide aperture, so you may need to adjust your ISO accordingly to get the results you want. Doing your best to shoot in spaces with as much lighting as possible is critical to making the most of your camera’s burst mode.

Zooming can also complicate the quality of burst mode pictures, and you may want to invest in a tripod or other stabilization system. The rapid rate at which burst mode fires can result in very jittery results otherwise. The video below can provide you with more DSLR photography tips for making the most of burst mode.

Understanding File Types

Woman editing a photo

Digital cameras save all of your photos in a digital format. It’s a much more simplified process than printing pictures on paper and then having to develop it, but there are still a couple of things you should understand when working with digital photography. The first is file size. The megapixels in your camera sensor determine the maximum resolution that you can produce with your DSLR, but more detailed pictures take up more space.

If you want to make the most of the megapixels (and if you’re going to invest in a DSLR, why wouldn’t you?), set your max file size as high as possible. If you’re worried about running out of space in the internal memory, consider investing in a camera that lets you upload your pictures via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Most cameras allow you to save your photos in one of two formats: JPEG or RAW. JPEG is easily the simpler of the two. As soon as the picture is taken, you can share it with anyone or upload it to your personal portfolio or social media accounts. RAW files are larger in size and uncompressed. That means that you can do a lot more with them in post-processing, but they require a lot more work to properly unpack and make visible.

Beginning photographers are advised to start with JPEGs until they’re comfortable with their camera. Once you have some quality photo editing software and the time to learn how to use it, you can start looking at shooting in RAW.

Understanding How to Hold Your Camera

Holding a camera in different Positions

If you’ve kept up with us so far, you should understand the fundamentals of how to use DSLR, but we need to talk about the practicalities of actually shooting a photograph. DSLR cameras are serious pieces of equipment, and that means treating them with the utmost care is important. If you’re picking up a DSLR for the first time, it’s probably going to have more weight to it than any other camera you’ve ever handled, and learning how to properly hold it may be basic, but it’s also fundamental.

DSLR cameras are intended to be held in both hands, and getting in the habit will allow you to keep it steady while also having access to all the important functions. Grip the body in your right hand with your palm firmly holding the right side of the camera. Your index finger should be settled over the shutter so you can easily take a shot without adjusting your grip. Your left hand should be positioned over the lens to hold it steady and shift the focus and zoom. In this position, your right thumb should easily be able to access the back panel controls so you can easily change the camera settings.

Your posture is also important, as a good stance will allow you to better steady yourself and shoot less blurry photos. If you’re standing, tuck your elbows against your body to give the camera a better center of gravity. The camera should be settled against your eyebrow to create more stability for the camera. If you need to shift the camera vertically to capture a portrait, do so with the shutter release pointing upward. Your legs should be slightly apart to create a greater sense of balance, and you should practice controlled breathing to minimize any involuntary movement.

If the situation allows it, there are some steps you can take to improve your camera stability even more. Resting your elbows on a steady surface or leaning against a wall can provide you with significantly greater balance, especially when you don’t have a tripod handy. If you’re trying to capture a low shot, put one knee down and lift the other up with your foot flat on the ground. By resting your elbow on this knee, you’re creating a natural tripod. You may want to bring a mat with you to prevent from getting your pants dirty while crouching.

Novice photographers are often surprised about what a difference good posture can make when shooting photographs. While DSLR cameras are expensive pieces of equipment, they work best when you treat them as natural extensions of your own body.

Understanding How to Care For Your Camera

Man cleaning a camera lens

As befits such a specialized piece of equipment, making sure that your DSLR camera is properly maintained is incredibly important. A good artist takes care of their tools, and that’s as true for photographers as it is for anyone. The following DSLR tips for beginners can ensure that your camera has a long and healthy life.

  • Invest in a quality lens cleaner. The surface of a camera lens is sensitive, and a simple hand towel or t-shirt simply won’t cut it.
  • Keep it charged up. There are few things more infuriating to a photographer than seeing the low battery indicator halfway through their shoot. Make it a habit to plug your camera in as soon as you get back to your home or studio.
  • Be gentle with your memory card. Taking it out while you camera is running can cause data corruption. And get in the habit of always backing up your files to a hard drive or the cloud as soon as possible.
  • Invest in a strap. Most cameras come with dedicated straps, but it’s worth it to find one that fits you comfortably, and it can greatly reduce the risk of having your camera stolen.
  • Always use a cap. Even if your lens and camera are protected against dirt and water, it costs nothing to lock the cap into place. And it can greatly extend the life of your lens.
  • Always keep a lens mounted. If you’re using a cap, the lens will be safe, and having a lens will secure the camera’s internal sensor against debris.

Final Thoughts

Man Holding a Camera

While it’s important to understand the fundamentals of how a DSLR camera works, the most important DSLR lessons you can learn happen out in the world. Pick up your camera, venture out, and use the DSLR camera photography advice we’ve given you to start taking great photos. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this camera tutorial as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it.