Home Photo Tips How to Use Your DSLR Camera

How to Use Your DSLR Camera

Using Your DSLR Camera

Most of today’s DSLR’s (Digital Single Reflex Camera) are similar but the buttons and controls can be found in different places, depending on brand and style. There are a lot of settings available for you to use to capture unique photos but while there are many settings to choose from, not all are completely understood before being used. It is important to know about what your camera’s settings so that you can choose the best one for what you are seeking to accomplish.  Now when there is an issue with our pictures not turning out the way we want, we need to go back and understand the basic modes, buttons, and settings in order to know your camera inside and out.

Basic Settings to Start Using Your Camera:

Make sure the batteries are charged.

Memory Card In

Make sure you have a memory card:

Purchase extra memory cards so you have plenty of memory for shooting pictures. The quality of pictures you are taking determines the memory space you will need. See the article about the quality setting to learn more about JPEG and RAW pictures. See choosing a memory card to learn more about memory cards and which might be best for you.

Turn your camera on.

Camera Modes

Choose a “Mode” on Top

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Automatic Mode

When you set your camera to automatic you let the camera figure out the exposure for you, and if it requires a flash the flash will go off unless you set it to the no-flash auto mode. This most often used for simple point and shoot photography.

Program Mode

Your shutter speed and aperture are set by camera.  This mode is good for snapshots and when you don’t have time to adjust settings.

Shutter Priority Mode

You set the shutter speed, and the camera selects the best aperture.  This setting is good if you are trying to freeze or blur motion. Also the shutter priority mode is good when you are first getting used to your settings.

For more info see: How to Adjust Your Shutter Speed

Aperture Mode

Here you get to choose the aperture, and the camera sets the shutter speed. If you want the background blurry or everything in focus (Depth of Field) this would be your best option. Also for any beginner photographers this mode will help you learn how to control the depth of field and put you at a good start above others.

For more info see: Aperture Setting

Manual Mode

With the manual mode you choose shutter speed and aperture yourself.  You can do this by holding down the +/- button and moving the dial until you are satisfied with your setting.

Effects or Scene Modes

These modes are for special effects and optimizing the settings for the scene being photographed.

Information Display Options

Just about any digital camera has this Information Display or “info” button or some variation of it. Shooting information is displayed on the monitor when this button is pushed. It’s all there!

It’s typically used when reviewing photographs to see histogramsshutter speed, aperture and other camera settings.

Image Quality

File Format and Compression Ratio(Quality): Set to NORM

For more info see: Quality

Image Size

Measured in Pixels: Set to Large

For more info see: Megapixels, Resolution

White Balance

Helps adjust the lighting and colors depending on the lighting: Set to Auto

For more info see: White Balance

ISO Sensitivity

This adjusts the amount of light let into the camera and for the picture: Set to 400

For more info see: ISO Sensitivity

Release Mode

How the camera will take the picture: Set to Single frame

For more info see: Shutter Release Modes

Focus Mode

Changes how the camera will focus on subject: Set to AF-A

AF-area Mode

What type of focus will be used for autofocus: Set to Auto-area AF

For more info see: Af-Area Mode


Sets exposure depending on the setting you choose: Set to Matrix Metering

For more info see: Metering Modes

Active D-Lighting (Nikon)

Changes the difference of shadows and highlights: Set to OFF

Auto Bracketing

Takes pictures at different exposures: Set to OFF

For more info see: Bracketing Feature

Set Picture Control

Changes the color pallet: Set to Standard

Exposure Compensation

Compensates for lighting: Set to 0.0

For more info see: Exposure Compensation

Flash Compensation

Helps compensate for flash: Set to 0.0

Flash Mode

When the flash will be fired: Set to Normal

Photo Editing Software Included with Camera

If you are planning on taking pictures using the RAW file format, you need software to process your RAW files into the jpeg file format. Most new digital cameras include software to help you manage, edit, and store your images. Some software programs even allow you to control your camera using a tether your wirelessly.

Canon offers their EOS UtilityNikon ViewNX-i software lets you browse still image and video files, edit still images via Capture NX-D or video files via ViewNX-Movie Editor. Sony has their Image Data Converter which displays RAW data and can adjust the brightness or color as well as output development to a JPEG or TIFF file format. 

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Top 5 Mistakes Beginner Photographers Make (free video)

ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture Explained | Exposure Basics for Beginners (free video)

Also, check out our articles on How to Get Started in Photography and What is a DSLR Camera.

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  1. Good information! I think a lot of people don’t take the time to learn how to use their cameras even though everything you ever wanted to know is online via articles and YouTube.

    A DSLR is a beast of a camera when the photographer knows how to use it, even an older DSLR will blow you away once you know how to use it.



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