Home Photo Tips A Basic Refresher On Your Camera

A Basic Refresher On Your Camera

Refresher On Your Camera

Most adjustable cameras are quite similar. You should be able to use these pictures to find the controls on your camera. However, we will also use a typical “Point and Shoot” camera in a few of the illustrations. Their controls are quite similar to digital camera controls.

If you are ONLY concerned with digital cameras then visit Know Your Camera, I strongly recommend you follow my lead if you really want to learn photography, by focusing on your photography skills.

Check for Film

Make sure there is film in the camera. There is only ONE way to be sure, wind the rewind lever (see pic, turn in the direction of the black curved arrow) about 6-8 times. If it tightens up you have film inside. If it winds easily, no film.


Before you put film in be sure to set the film speed on the dial. On this camera it is the shutter speed dial. It’s just set by lifting the dial and turning. If you have a totally automatic “point and shoot camera you should have a window on the back. A slit that allows you to see what film you have inside. If there is no film the slit will simply look black.

Camera Battery

Check the Camera’s Batteries

Check the battery. If it is dead your camera will usually operate at one speed (usually 1/90th). If the camera won’t work, try cleaning the battery before buying a new one. A pencil eraser does a real good job. These batteries tend to oxidize and you need to clean that coating off so it makes a good connection. (The battery is usually found on the bottom of the camera, underneath a round, slotted screw). On Point and Shoot, and digital, cameras the battery compartment is on the right hand side.

If the camera still doesn’t work, get new batteries. If it STILL is kaput, take it to a good camera shop. For a quick primer on Film and Batteries visit Film Types.

Loading Film

To load the camera you need to open the back. A lot of cameras require you simply lift the rewind knob to open the back. Some cameras have a latch on the left (see red dot in the pic, the latch is just below it) that you must press to lift the rewind knob. Other models have a sliding latch on the left hand side of the body.

Once open, place the film cartridge in the chamber, as shown, and push the rewind knob down to lock the cartridge in place. Then, pull the film to the right and insert into the slot. Close the back and advance the film three frames.

Using a Flash

If you want to use a flash you mount it above the prism on the “hot shoe” mount. (See the mount at left edge of picture) You must set the shutter speed at the correct speed or below. The orange number “60” on the shutter speed dial (May be slightly different on your camera) indicates the fastest shutter speed you can use with a flash. You may use any shutter speed at, or below, the speed indicated in red. More on flash below.

Initial Settings

Notice that the wind lever is “open”. Doing this turns the internal light meter on. Pushing the lever inward shuts off the battery, saving battery power. You can read the light meter by looking inside the viewfinder. You will usually see pointers, that need to be lined up, OR you’ll see blinking LED lights. Green indicates proper exposure and Red means you must change the aperture or shutter speed. We usually set the shutter speed first, and then adjust the aperture. You can see the aperture ring in the photo, it has 5.6 inline with the yellow line. To learn more about exposure control click Exposure Control.

The round button to the right of the lens is used to unlock the lens for removal. At the front of the lens you will see a clear filter. It is a Haze filter, which helps reduce haziness AND is kept on the lens at all times since we don’t use lens caps (except when we pack for traveling).

camera timer

The Self Timer is located (in the photo) to the left of the lens. It has a white stripe on the lever. Crank it downward, push the shutter button and dash in front of the camera to make a self-portrait. It usually takes 10 seconds for the timer to wind down and trigger the shutter.

The Depth of Field lever is located above and to the right of the Self Timer. It is either a round button or a lever like this. Depressing it will close the aperture (to wherever you have set it) so you can determine the approximate depth of field (sharpness).

We try to avoid aiming the flash directly at the subject. Instead, aiming the flash upwards – bouncing the light off the ceiling – will spread the light and give a softer, more even lit picture without harsh shadows.

For more info on Flash Photography visit Flash Photography.

Point and Shoot and Digital Cameras have flashes that cannot be bounced. I usually put a piece of Mystic tape over the flash head to soften the light. You can also put a piece of very thin napkin or toilet paper over the flash head. It really makes a difference.

Camera Protection and Maintenance

We hardly ever keep our camera in the leather case that usually comes with it. These cases are too cumbersome and they discourage camera use. If you put a Haze filter on the lens you’ll protect it just as well.

And, we are reluctant to squirt lens cleaning fluid on the lens elements. Better to simply breath moisture SOFTLY onto the glass and gently wipe it with a lint-free napkin.

Please write down the Hints and try to follow them for a few rolls of film. These hints will improve your photography quite a bit.

PLEASE REMEMBER… when you push the shutter button DO NOT jab or punch that button. SQUEEEEEEEZE it. By doing so you eliminate any camera movement and improve you chances of making a sharp photo, you may want to even pay attention to your breathing and gently breath out as you squeeze the shutter. In other words, punching the shutter release is the biggest cause of fuzzy photos.

Camera Hints

  1. Read the directions!!!!!
  2. Stick with one film (and film) speed until you thoroughly understand how it works …. at least for the first 5 or 6 rolls.
  3. Stick with one good processor… forever.
  4. Take notes on the first 5 or 6 rolls. when you make mistakes you’ll immediately be able to troubleshoot your mistakes.

You should have a solid knowledge of photography, optics, light, composition, etc. before you start going into the advanced courses.

I cannot stress too much how important it is to have the information provided in the basic lessons. They provide a solid foundation and will definitely help you make really fine photographs. MAKE fine pics, not just take ’em.

Here is a diagram of controls for a typical SLR. See how many match your camera.

camera diagram

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  2. Thank you for this site… you are of great help to me in seeking basic information in photography…. and more… hope you continue maintaining your site because this is absolutely educational!!!!

  3. This is all well and nice but film is NOT used as much and this article should include Digital cameras that have memory cards instead of film…LOL

  4. Is there a lesson on the best way to take images off your camera? Or on techniques to organize your images? How do you keep track of all your photos and make sure you don’t lose them?

  5. Thanx for the useful and informative updated work. I want buy a digital camera for business, please advise me on the best quality and pocket friendly.

  6. A new Canon 35mm SLR camera with Canon 28-90 EF III f/4-5.6 lens for $75.00. I am planning on taking a photography course. Do you think it is a good idea to buy this camera or buy a DSLR? Thank you.

  7. Thanks so much for this AWESOME online class! I just bought a Nikon D3000 and I’m just learning to use it. I truly appreciate it!

  8. Depth of field is determined by a variety of elements including lens focal length and aperture. Older cameras, such as the one in this article, have a feature where you could preview the depth of field in the viewfinder buy depressing a lever or button. The focal length changes with zoom and the aperture is changed in different ways on different cameras. I think what you are talking about is when you depress the shutter halfway on a lot of cameras it will focus in on your subject and make what ever you are targeting the sharpest part of your photograph. What depth of field does is make either the whole image sharp or just the part that you are focusing on sharp. Steve Guymon wrote a Digital Photography Tip on Depth of Field.

  9. hey, thank u very much for giving such precious information to your website. but i just cant understand a thing,

    “The Depth of Field lever is located above and to the right of the SelfTimer. It is either a round button or a lever like this. Depressing it will close the aperture (to whereever you have set it) so you can determine the approximate depth of field (sharpness)”

    can u just make it clear to me?

  10. There are many cleaning kits out there. One advantage of your Sony A300 is that you have a sensor cleaner. The DSLR-A300 uses both static-free anti-dust coating on the CCD filter and anti-dust vibration that automatically shakes the CCD to dislodge dust each time the camera is shut off. If you want an easy fix you can use a slight amount of rubbing alcohol on a very fine cloth to clean the lens. If you are really cautious we would recommend taking it into a local shop that would be willing to show you the steps that they take to clean the camera so that you can see exactly how it’s done and they can sell you exactly what you need.

  11. I’ve bought a Sony A300, im looking for tips on how to clean the body as well as the lens.

    Ive been reading the course, and its fab… helps me get better pics out of the Camera.


  12. We have a few resources on the site to help you choose a dslr on a budget. One of them is our lesson on buying a camera. The other is our lesson on digital cameras. It is specifically about digital cameras and how to buy them. You may also want to look at the comment above. The one about canon, nikon and olympus would be helpful for you.

  13. Your not the first to have the problem of choosing of Canon or Nikon. They’ve both been around forever in the camera business and offer what many would argue to be the best products. As far as beginner products the Nikons seem to have less problems reported than Canons do. Most complaints are about dust that can settle on the image sensor and create blemishes on your photos. Camera companies are hard at work creating technologies to fix this problem.

    To further answer your question I would recommend a third choice, the Olympus E-volt series. For beginners they offer a good camera with many options and expandability as in time you may want more powerful lenses. They sell package deals where you can get two lenses with the camera for around the same price of a Nikon or Canon without lenses. They also offer a good technology of keeping dust off your sensor.

  14. I like taking lot’t of randome photos and I have 2 digital camaras and am thinking on buying either a digital nikon or a digital canon with extended lenses what would be a good inexpensive one to invest in as I am an amature photographer

  15. Oscar. Nikon. Have you read the lesson on Buying a camera?. Where to buy? eBay for used or new. A reputable camera shop in your area. We’re the process of arranging a deal with Nikon to sell their cameras. Right now we only have digital cameras from Canon, Olympus and Pentax in stock.

  16. I am very mpressed with the way you teach this photography course. After reading the first themes it seems to me that I can learn how to be a better photographer. I do not know if I am doing right, but I am asking some questions. Which mechanic or adjustable cameras will be fine for a beginner in photography,among the best camera makers? Which models if possible, can you recommend and where can I buy them, new or used? Thank very much.

  17. Thank you so much for posting all this information on your website! I have been looking for this kind of help for a long time and stumbled across your site. It is extremely helpful and educational, and I pray that your website never goes down because I will be lost without it!


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