A Beginner's Guide on How to Use Your DSLR Camera

As a beginner who may have just gotten your first DSLR, you’re probably wondering how to use your camera. The beauty of the DSLR is that you can capture a beautiful moment in all its intensity and sharpness. For someone starting out, all those dials and buttons might be confusing for you. Whether you have read the user manual or not, it’s best to know the absolute basics of your camera.

With this in mind, we are here to teach you the five essentials on how to use your DSLR Camera:

1. Understand your Camera Controls

When you first unbox your camera, knobs and knick-knacks might seem intimidating. Although it comes with a manual for you to peruse, the technical terms may only add to the muddle. No two cameras are the same for each brand has its own terms and design. However, it is advisable to read your manual or simply search on the web for a simple and specific guide for your camera make and model.

Regardless, below are the most common camera controls found on DSLRs:

Mode Dial: This determines the amount of control (in terms of lighting or focus) you want in the photo you want to take. On the dial, there are many settings to choose from. Depending on the camera brand and model that you have, there are many modes to choose from and experiment with.

Focus Ring: This lets you control which part of the view you want to emphasize and capture. When set to “auto-focus,” this will let the camera control the focus on where it thinks you want it to. Your camera has a button or dial which sets the focus to either manual or auto-focus. Manual mode is usually chosen when you have more time to take a picture of your subject, while auto-focus saves you time since its style is more “point and shoot.” However, your camera may not be very intuitive at times so it may take a while to master.

Shutter button: If your camera is set on auto-focus, pressing this button allows your camera to pre-focus on your subject and captures the photo. As mentioned above in the Focus Ring segment, auto-focus draws focus on where the camera thinks it wants you to. However, if set on manual focus, it immediately captures the photo when pressed. 

Shutter Speed: Not to be confused with the shutter button, the Shutter Speed (usually a wheel or accessed through the settings button) lets you control the length your camera shutter is open to let light in. The slower the shutter speed, the more light enters your camera. Therefore it’s better to use a slower shutter speed during night shoots or low-light conditions. Choosing a faster shutter speed is more optimal for daytime shoots because your camera also allows you to freeze and capture the exact same image you see in your viewfinder.

Aperture Wheel: This feature lets you adjust how much light your camera is exposed to. It is a hole that lets light pass through to reach the camera sensor. The wider the hole, the more light enters the camera. Aperture also controls the depth of field, which determines if your photo will focus more on the subject of the foreground or even it out with the background.

ISO Button: This button lets you control how sensitive your camera is to the light. The higher your ISO settings are, the brighter your photo appears. Like the shutter speed control, it’s best to choose a higher ISO setting in areas with low lighting.

2. Master your Camera Modes

There are a lot of camera modes that you can toy around with. Experimenting around with these camera modes will help you familiarize yourself with how the photos will look and turn out. There are several modes out there, but let’s focus on the two main modes:

Automatic Mode

This is the mode in which the camera automatically sets the best settings for your images. It adjusts the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and even the flash. There are many different auto modes depending on your camera. 

For example, Portrait mode is best for taking solo pictures of people, Macro is typically used for subjects that are up close and smaller than your hand, Landscape mode is chosen for sceneries far away, Sports Mode is used for objects that are in motion, and Night Mode balances the subject with the background in an attempt to bring brightness to the subject.

Manual Mode

Choosing Manual Mode allows you to pick the best settings for your camera in the environment or subject you want to shoot. This is because manual mode lets you control the depth of field, how much light you want to use, and even the amount of focus you want in the camera. There are four camera modes which include Manual Mode (M), Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av), Shutter Priority Mode (S or Tv), and Program Mode (P).

3. Invest in Photography Tools

The camera can already stand alone as it is for picture-taking, but it’s always a good idea to have some tools under your belt so you can really maximize photography. After all, a painter doesn’t only rely on a single set of paints and paintbrushes. Here are some must-haves you ought to get:


While the DSLR is good enough to catch good photos on the go, it’s a must that you invest in a tripod. This opens a lot more opportunities for quality and well-stabilized photos. There is a bunch of tripods on the market, but you will want to look for a tripod that can double as a monopod so you can take stable videos as well! That way, you can take advantage of all the features of your camera (which includes recording videos).

Cleaning Kit

Maintaining your DSLR helps you take better pictures and lengthens the life of your camera. A simple microfiber cloth (like the ones used for sunglasses) and an air blower removes dust and fingerprints. However, for a full maintenance kit, there are some that you can buy online that includes other tools like a cleaning pen, cleaning tissue, and lens tissue paper. 

White-balancing tools

While most cameras already have the Auto White Balance function, you might want to get yourself a White Balance filter to help you adjust it on the spot. This particular tool enables your photos to look more natural because light sources (like the sun or lightbulbs) tend to appear more yellowish.


Reflectors are used to diffuse light equally. These are perfect for still shots. If you’re into taking portraits or food photography, this will be your best friend! Keep in mind that there are packages that you can buy off the internet that include both white-balancing filters and reflectors as well. These are totally optional but can surely give you an edge as a beginner.

4. Learn Basic Post-Processing

This is the part of photography where you get to manage and edit the photos you shot. There are many editing applications that are free to download or just use on a web browser. GIMP, Pixlr, and Fotor are among the most famous ones to use. But if you want to gravitate towards more advanced editing, you can try Adobe Photoshop and Adobe LightRoom which most professional photographers use.

Post-processing is a huge part of making quality photos so here are two tips to remember when post-processing: 

Shoot in RAW: Set your image file format to. RAW before taking photos. This will allow you to edit your photos better as you will be able to control more factors in the picture such as highlights and shadows. It takes up more space than when you shoot in .JPEG, but the yield is a lot superior in the opinions of many long-time photographers. However, if you think you won’t need to do much post-processing, then shooting in .JPEG is acceptable too. It’s ultimately your personal preference, so give both a try!

Backup your photos: Most photographers have experienced the horrors of losing their digital stash by storing all their photos in a single hard drive. To avoid that, you should back up your photos on at least two different platforms (e.g., the cloud or another hard drive). Some photographers even go as far as backing up their photos on up to three hard drives!

5. Reach out, Practice, and Explore!

Wherever you are, there’s probably a local photography club in your area. Getting in touch with other photographers (both amateur and professional) will let you have fun and learn at the same time. You can share tips and tricks, and even go on photography walks together. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to make friends outside your usual circle.

Don’t be afraid to take shots that you don’t normally take. Go for a different perspective, subject, or landscape. You can even go on a light jog while taking photos to practice! The most important thing about this is that you’re enjoying it.

Your interest in the DSLR camera is the perfect jumpstart to start gaining photo-taking skills. However, there are still a lot of things you need to learn in order to establish your personal photography style and build expertise! Taking this photography course can be your next step to move on from being a newbie to a pro. Regardless, the only real teacher is determination, experience, and practice. You’ll be a natural photographer in no time.

Care tips for your first DSLR

Your DSLR requires you to take good care of it. The DSLR camera is vulnerable to a lot of physical factors. As much as you can, you’d want to avoid these for your camera to have a longer life.

  • Get a camera bag.

DSLR cameras have their own designated bags because they need them. You can’t store it in any regular bag because it might incur scratches. Using a camera bag while your camera is not in use keeps it safe from scratches, residue, dust, liquid, and unnecessary force. 

Also, camera bags are waterproof, which come in handy when you are shooting outdoors and sudden rains outpours. Liquids, dust, and residue are the biggest culprit of a broken camera. 

  • Attach the neck or wrist straps.

When you buy a DSLR camera, it always comes with a neck strap. This strap is an essential accessory to safeguard your equipment from slipping from your hands. You can also tie this around your wrist when you are shooting if you are not comfortable having it around your neck.

  • Remove batteries off the camera during storage.

When you are not using the camera, practice removing its batteries to avoid destroying the circuits. Batteries may leak acid, which can be corrosive as the batteries are inside a moist area.

  • Keep the camera lens cap on when not in use.

To protect the camera lens, you must always keep the cap on when not in use. The primary purpose of this cap is to protect the lens from scratches, which could impact your photo’s quality. This cap also absorbs all unnecessary force that may hit the lens when it is in storage. 

  • Don’t touch the lens.

When shooting, avoid touching the lens directly. You can smudge the lens with your dirty fingers, which could ruin it permanently. Instead, if you are to clean your lens, use a microfiber cloth to avoid smudging the lens.

  • Turn off the camera before swapping lenses, removing memory cards, and attaching cables.

Keep it a habit to always turn your camera off before changing the lenses, removing memory cards, swapping batteries, connecting disconnecting cables. Doing so will prematurely shut down the system of the camera, which impacts its functionality over time.

  • Change lenses in a secure spot.

When swapping lenses, you expose the mirror, which is the most sensitive part of the camera. When this collects dust, you are damaging the internal properties of the camera. To ensure the mirror’s safety, change lenses in a dry place where no dirt can pop into the camera. 

Tilt the camera body downward when disconnecting and attaching a new lens. This way, the camera won’t catch any flying dust. 

  • Keep it dry.

Water and moisture are your camera’s worst enemy. Don’t allow it to get wet or be stored in a very humid place. Have a dehumidifier in place to keep storage dry. This will strip off any moisture in the storage, which causes the lens to develop harmful molds.

  • Get a screen protector.

You must also take good care of your camera’s LCD screen to avoid getting permanent scratches, scrapes, and more. If your smartphone needs it, why not get one for your camera too? Screen protectors for different camera models are widely available everywhere.

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How to get better at photography

So how do you get better at taking photos? Here are some practical ways on how you can get better at your photography skills:

1. Shoot every day.

Practice makes perfect. It sounds cliché, but it is the most effective way to improve your photography skills. Take every chance you get to shoot at any subject that grabs your attention. As you progress, you’ll notice the little improvements you make in every shot. So, keep shooting. 

2. Perfect your camera controls.

To maximize your camera features, you must memorize the controls, buttons, and modes of your camera model. Getting acquainted with your camera allows you to know exactly how to use it. You can do this by studying the user manual and reading more about the camera parts and functions.

3. Use a tripod.

A tripod gives the camera stability when taking photos. It could dramatically change the perspective and quality of your shots. The use of it prevents you from capturing shaky images which have blurred quality. Just remember, in using a tripod, always mount it on a flat and steady surface. 

4. Use edges of elements in framing your photo.

Framing your subjects can be a little intimidating as a beginner. To overcome this, you may use the edges of the elements in your photo as a guide to frame the subject. Doing so makes your image appear balanced and appealing. 

5. Browse on good photos from various photographers you know.

To keep that right perspective in you, make it a habit to expose yourself to good portfolios all the time. You can do this by following photographers online and checking out their photo portfolios. This enables you to study their techniques and methods in making their photos visually appealing.

6. Ask for feedback.

Feedback is essential in your learning journey. As much as you can, ask for feedback and suggestions from the experienced photographers you know. For sure, people are willing to help you on this journey. You can join online forums and groups in photography to get the necessary help.

7. Take online classes.

Online classes are your best friend in improving your photography skills from zero to hero. You can just never get enough reliable resources to help you enhance your shooting skills. You can also ensure that you get lessons from the experts in photography. Here are some of our top recommendations you should check out:

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