Photography Tutorial – Get to Know Your DSLR Camera

October 1, 2007

in Camera Tips, Photography Tutorials, Rachel Durik

Learn About Your DSLR Camera

You see lots of amazing pictures on the web. You love taking photos of your kids, but somehow they just don’t turn out as great as the ones on your favorite blog.

You decide to take the plunge and buy a fancy new DSLR camera because then, surely, you could take great photos. It arrives, you take it out of the box and excitedly snap away only to find that you can barely notice a difference from your old camera. What’s going on?

Sound familiar?

That’s my story in a nutshell. I wanted good photos, I bought the camera, but I didn’t have the knowledge to back it up yet. I was determined to get the results I wanted so I seriously hit the books. That was just over a year ago. Be encouraged that you CAN take amazing pictures if you’re willing to put a little bit of effort into learning how.

One of the first and most important steps towards becoming a better photographer is to learn how to use your camera.

No matter what you shoot with, learn your camera inside and out and push it to its limits.

I’m going to break this tutorial about your camera into small bits. Because really, you could simply read your camera’s instructional manual if you wanted information. But when I tried that, I gave up quickly because I didn’t understand and it was all a bit much.

Baby steps.

Today, let me introduce you to your camera.

A lot of people who are beginners in photography have an entry-level DSLR, like something in the Canon Rebel series or a Nikon D40 or D60. Since I started with a Canon XTi, I’m going to go with that.

Camera, meet reader. Also known as I Heart Faces participant.

I Heart Faces participant, meet Canon Rebel XTi.

I realize a lot of you have different cameras. I’m pretty confident that a lot of DSLRs are similar. And point and shoots have a manual mode that you can adjust the settings too, so no matter what you’re working with, hopefully you can apply something. Today we’re just going over the basics. More in-depth stuff will come later.

When you look at the LCD screen, there’s a lot of information displayed there. It can be intimidating. Let me walk you through it. We’ll start at the top left.

Learn About Your DSLR Camera - Photography Tutorial1/4000: This is your shutter speed. The higher the number on the bottom (ie 4000), the faster the picture is taken. If this number is lower (ie 1/5), the picture is taken slower. This can lead to blurry pictures, sometimes desirable, sometimes not.

F4.0: This is the aperture setting. The lower this number is, the wider the aperture is, and the more light gets in the picture. If it says F1.4, a lot of light is getting in. Your picture will be taken faster and the background will be blurry. A higher number (is F22) means less light is getting in and there will be a greater depth of field.

ISO100: This is the ISO (sensitivity to light) setting. The lower you can make this number, the less grainy (known as noise) your picture will be. You can easily shoot at ISO100 in good light conditions. When you’re in a darker place, you’ll have to set the number to be higher.

P: This is the setting of your camera. P means program mode and can be changed on the top of your camera. We’ll go over that later.

-2…0…+2: This is the exposure when in Av and Tv modes. The closer you are to -2, the darker your picture will be and vice verse. You can choose to set the picture to have more or less light depending on the setting. You won’t be able to control this in manual mode because you’ll adjust the exposure in the viewfinder.

AWB: This is the white balance setting. AWB means auto white balance. Choosing the right white balance is important, but if you shoot in RAW, it can be changed later.

Eye-type symbol: This is the metering mode. You can choose how you want your camera to read the available light. Your options are evaluative (the camera gives all parts of the photo equal importance when working out the exposure), partial/spot (the camera makes sure your picture is properly exposed at your focal point), and center-weighted (your camera makes sure the center of the frame is properly exposed.

One shot: This has to do with the focusing. There are three settings: One shot, AI Focus and AI Servo (known as continuous focus in Nikons). Most simply, use one shot for stills or portraits, AI Focus for something that might move, and AI Servo for things that are constantly moving.

L: This tells you how your files are being saved. This particular person is shooting in large JPEG mode. I usually keep it in L+RAW. L means large files (lots of pixels).

Diamond shaped dots: These dots represent places to focus. You can choose one of these places to focus on, let the camera auto focus, or manually focus.

The other symbols are battery life and shot number.


Now, on to the top of your camera.

See that dial? The green square is completely auto mode. If you put your camera on this setting, you will never have to play with your camera’s settings. You will also have no control of your picture. That green square and all the other little pictures (also auto modes) won’t be discussed here. Let’s push ourselves and learn about the camera. Everything above the square is a manual mode. I typically keep my camera set on the M (fully manual) mode. This setting lets you choose both your aperture and your shutter speed.

Av: Aperture priority mode. On this setting, you choose your aperture and the camera works out your shutter speed for you. When I first started shooting, I used to always shoot in Av mode. It’s a baby step away from fully automatic. You have some control, but you don’t have to worry about knowing all the settings.

Tv: Shutter speed priority mode. You choose your shutter speed, and the camera works out the rest for you.

A-Dep: Auto depth of field. A more automatic form of Av.
Learn About Your DSLR Camera - Photography Tutorial
Whew. Are you still with me?

The next step is go and shoot! Experiment and play. Find out first hand what the different settings will make your pictures look like.

Keep Learning with more great tutorials about your camera:

Rachel Durik is a photographer located in Southwest Florida. You can learn more by visiting her photography site, Savor Photography, Naples Wedding Photographer, the Savor Facebook page, or by attending her London photography workshop or online Photoshop and Lightroom classes.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

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lindsay wynne December 26, 2012

Did you just get a new camera? Check out our tutorials where Rachel walks you through the buttons and settings on…


Jenna September 11, 2012

Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing! I just got a new camera and was trying my best to use the manual to learn more about all of the features. Your short tutorial helped much more! Simple and easy to follow.
Thank u!


Darlenewoodruff September 2, 2012



Faisal Khan August 6, 2012

Get to Know Your DSLR Camera (Tutorial). Complex explained in Simple terms. – #dslr #camera #photography #tutorial


Kelli June 2, 2012

I am a beginner, and just learning to use my new Nikon digital camera which is not a DSLR, but this was very helpful just the same. Thank you for taking the time to share the knowledge.


Jan May 21, 2012

Oh my gosh! What a great tutorial. Have had my new DSLR camera for two months and have been trying to learn and have taken a lot of not so good pics. This tutorial has helped a lot. Looking forward to the next ones! Thanks


Lei April 12, 2012

Perfect tutorial for me! Newbie here, so glad to have found your website! Tank you for sharing and keep up the good work!


Marilyn March 25, 2012

I accidentally stumbled on to this tutorial and so glad I did. I got a new Canon Rebel XS for Christmas. I tried to read the manual, but it was a waste of time. I watched the instructional CD’s that came with the camera….no help either. The instructions was for someone who knows the terminology and the camera already. Your tutorial website should be included with every new camera. So thankful I found this “Get to Know Your DSLR Camera” …so very helpful! MANY THANKS!


Sblagrave October 8, 2011

Wow….thanks! This info was so helpful.


Vera August 25, 2011

Thank you for this great tutorial! It,s really helpful and easy to understand! 🙂


cel June 24, 2011

hi, i have a Nikon d3000. I would love if you can give me a tutorial session on this camera..please help 🙂


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Sarah April 28, 2011

Hi Rachel,

On this here:
” F4.0: This is the aperture setting. The lower this number is, the wider the aperture is, and the more light gets in the picture. If it says F1.4, a lot of light is getting in. Your picture will be taken faster and the background will be blurry. A higher number (is F22) means less light is getting in and there will be a greater depth of field.”

When you said ‘A higer number means less light and greater depth of field.’ I was confused. I always understood that the higher the number the more in focus the entire image you see in your viewfield would come out equally clear-no or less blur making the image ‘flat’ so wouldn’t that mean it would be less depth of field? And the lower the aperature would mean greater the depth of field? Oh my, have I had this confused in my brain this entire time….wow, that would explain so much!!! lol 😀


Angelia April 11, 2011

Thank you!thank you!thank you! easy language to understand(even a blonde pointing at myself can understand) now off to practice..snap,snap..


BackCountryBelle April 7, 2011

Thank you for the great tutorial, it helps to see everything so nicely laid out. I need to make a small 3X5 card with the info and carry it with me when I shoot. I’m still learning on my Canon EOS 7D. Getting some really great shots.

Thanks again!


Maritza March 9, 2011

I just got a T2i today! First dslr. This article was a great find. Thank you!


Becky February 28, 2011

Thanks for the information as this makes more sense then the manual… I’m in Alaska and trying to take pictures of the Aurora and this information will help.


Shelly Doyle-Shuey February 27, 2011

RT @iheartfaces: Tutorial – Meet Your New DSLR Camera


Angie January 26, 2011

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! Extremely helpful!


kate January 22, 2011

I have a question does it matter how many pixel like Im trying to buy my camera and i want it to be my soul mate as in i have so many and right now none are my soul mate. everyone is telling me the more pixel the better..


Joanna December 28, 2010

Wow, what amazing advice. I bought a Canon Rebel in April and it is a big step-up from my Canon-Power Shot, well maybe not really. I do notice a difference in my pictures. A lot of them. I do know I have a lot to learn and I’m so happy my friend sent me this link. Everything is right here. I, too, fell asleep reading the manual!! This makes a lot of sense. And now I can’t wait to try more! THANK YOU!


Amanda December 26, 2010

Great info for beginners. Easy to understand. Now to explain importance of off camera flash and reflectors 🙂


Robyn December 26, 2010

RT @livinglocurto: Did you get a new camera? Check out this great tutorial by @iheartfaces: Meet Your New DSLR Camera


Rosie Alyea December 26, 2010

RT @livinglocurto: Did you get a new camera? Check out this great tutorial by @iheartfaces: Meet Your New DSLR Camera


msholin December 26, 2010

RT @iHeartFaces: Did you get a new Camera? Then you'll like this tutorial: Meet Your New DSLR Camera


Amy Locurto December 26, 2010

Did you get a new camera? Check out this great tutorial by @iheartfaces: Meet Your New DSLR Camera


Crafterminds Heather December 14, 2010

RT @nicole_rainey: Another good tutorial to introduce you to your DSLR camera "Meet Your Camera" – Tutorial by Rachel


becca boo photography November 19, 2010

Thank you SO MUCH for this tutorial!!! I keep falling asleep trying to read my manual and this was SO WELL WRITTEN!!! You are awesome!


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