Learn How to Use DSLR Camera

Learning To Use Your DSLR Camera 

Silhouette against sunsetDigital single lens reflex cameras are a lot more involved than a “point and shoot” camera and when I first got mine I was not expecting that many options and menus.

At first it can be overwhelming but it gets easier with practice.

This image was my first attempt at trying to get a silhouette by using what is called “spot metering” – I was pretty happy with the result.

Step 1 in Learning How to Use Your DSLR Camera

It may sound obvious but read your manual – several times.

If your camera comes with a disc be sure to upload that to your computer as there will be additional information that is not covered in the paper version of the manual, as was the case with my Nikon D5100.

Step 2 in Learning How to Use Your DSLR Camera

Chances are that after reading your manual a couple of times you have played with the settings, tried a few things, and had limited success. You may even feel a little more confused and frustrated – that’s OK.

Learn How to Use DSLR Camera

It is now that you need to decide what you want to do as there are essentially two options open to you:

  1. Use your DSLR’s automatic settings to take really good pictures or
  2. Learn how to use your DSLR camera for what it was designed for.

Learn The Automatic Settings Of Your DSLR

All DSLR cameras come with preprogrammed settings for a variety of the more common photos, such as:

  • Portraits
  • Landscapes
  • Children
  • Sports
  • Macro (for close up work)

In certain cameras there are more detailed scenes and effects. For example my Nikon D5100 has the following:

The Effects Settings

  • Night vision
  • Color sketch
  • Miniature effect
  • Selective color
  • Silhouette
  • High key
  • Low key

The Scene Settings

  • Night portrait
  • Night landscape
  • Party/indoor
  • Beach/snow
  • Sunset
  • Dusk/dawn
  • Pet portrait
  • Candlelight
  • Blossom
  • Autumn (Fall) colors
  • Food

As can be seen there are a lot of options to choose from.

In short a big difference to the traditional “point and shoot” type cameras. But having said this once an option is chosen you simply do point and shoot.

The bad news is if you choose to use any of the above options/settings you really are not making the most of your DSLR camera and have just got yourself a more expensive “point and shoot”. It’s similar to owning a Ferrari and staying in first gear.

Learn The Manual or Creative Settings of Your DSLR Camera

Effects of a slow shutter speed on running water.This is what DSLRs were made for; creative photography where superior images are produced.

These options are used to freeze high-speed shots, create focal points of interest, produce highlights, take photographs in bad lighting etc.

The photo left was taken using my Nikon D5100 set up on a tripod with a 1/4 second shutter speed under natural light.

Note the soft look of the water (click on the image for a bigger and better view).

DSLRs come with 4 manual options:

  1. Programmed auto
  2. Shutter priority auto
  3. Aperture priority auto
  4. Manual

I’ll cover these briefly to give you some idea when to use them.

Programmed Auto (PA) – this is recommended for snapshots and other situations when there isn’t much time to adjust camera settings. On PA the camera will select shutter speed and aperture for optimal exposure.  You can select from different combinations of aperture and shutter speeds to suit your requirements.

Long Shutter Speed used on active photo to emphasise motionShutter Priority Auto (SP) – You select the required shutter speed; the camera will select the best aperture. SP is used to freeze or blur motion.  The photo shown here was of a drummer in a band taken on SP with a 2 second shutter.  The blur has a dramatic effect and the photograph is action packed. Pretty cool I think – others may think it is a bad photo.

Unfortunately I cannot lay claim to this photo, it was taken by Rick Doble.

It was deliberately taken (as an experiment), handheld with a 2 second exposure (shutter speed) under existing lighting.  So no flash was used.

This is using a DSLR for what it was intended.

Aperture Priority Auto (AP) – Used by most photographers AP allows you to select the aperture while the camera will selects the optimum shutter speed. AP is used to blur the background or bring the background and the foreground into focus.

Manual (M) – You control the shutter speed and the aperture to suit your requirements. Options include holding the shutter open for longer periods than the standard options – such as in long exposures at night showing the lights of vehicles as red or white lines.

The Fastest Way to Learn How to Use Your DSLR Camera

As you have seen there is a lot to learn with a DSLR camera.

I have only covered some of the terms you will need to familiarize yourself with, what each means and how it will affect the performance of your DSLR camera.

These include; back lighting, active d-lighting, white balance, ISO, image quality, release mode, focus mode, area mode, flash mode, metering, bracketing, exposure compensation, flash compensation and many more.

All of this is a lot to take in and the more you familiarize yourself with each the faster you will learn.  Chances are you may have to go back and review everything a few times before it becomes ingrained and second nature.

It is easier and quicker if you know exactly what type of photography you want to master.  Portraiture and landscapes seem to be the most popular.

If you try and do too many different types needing to frequently change settings it may all seem too much.

Learn How to Use Your DSLR Camera  Quickly

There are several ways to fast track your learning and the one I used and recommend is an online video course from Jarrod Polin.

His Fro Knows Photos program is a series of videos in which Jarrod virtually holds your hand and shows you exactly how your camera works and the different effects of each setting.  It is a great set of tutorials – especially for a newbie with his/her first DSLR camera.

Highly recommended because you can keep referring back to it and Jarrod is also available through e-mail and other channels.

Visit the Official Fro Knows Photos Website – Click Here

Other ways to fast track your learning:

  • Read books – Amazon is a good source for this
  • Join a local photographic club and get involved with the assignments
  • Subscribe to a magazine such as Practical Photography
  • Join any photographic group and ask as many questions as you feel necessary
  • All of the above combined
  • See our home page for other ways to learn how to use your DSLR camera through online photography classes


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