A starter guide to Photography newbies; DSLR for beginners

Hi there! If you are a SLR camera newbie, have just bought or thinking to buy your first digital SLR camera then welcome to this post. You may want to completely understand how your camera does what it does with the buttons and switches all over its body and with uncountable options in it. This starter guide to Photography newbies will definitely help you to understand some or more controls of your DSLR. With the way Digital or film SLRs have changed over the years, there is a multitude of combinations of different settings that will allow your creative juices to flow for ever more! You may find photography just as a hobby but you may never know when and how it can become your passion, how it can change your lifestyle or how it can be your life. But the beauty of photography is that;

  • You are never quite an expert.
  • There is always something new to photograph.
  • There is always something new to learn.
  • You and your interests, lifestyle and situation will change.

All of this means that your camera will start to become more and more part of you and your daily doings. You will start capturing your life (and that of people and things around you) in more pleasing ways.

Do you know what the most amazing thing about photography is? Well for me is the fact that you can spend a whole day with your camera capturing moments, getting tired, wet, muddy and sometimes lost in places, and then returning home while processing those images you find that there is one, just one image that completely blows your mind.

The aim of this post is to put you at ease with your digital SLR or DSLR so that you feel in control of it. Holding a DSLR for the first time is really overwhelming (it was for me). You can check out my article HOLDING THE CAMERA for some tips about how to hold your camera properly.

Few questions I get asked all the time:

  • I have spent lot of my money on my DSLR still why don’t my photos look spectacular?
  • Your photographs are really nice, which camera and lens do you use? (I feel bad)

Since a DSLR costs so much, it will take great pictures right? Unfortunately, beginner DSLR photographers sometimes discover that photos they take with an SLR don’t turn out much better than ones taken with a cheap point and shoot camera.

There is whole lot of reasons for this and you’ll get to know about it by the end of this article. One important thing here is you have to keep patience. Having the control over your DSLR or doing good photography can never be achieved overnight. As we all know “practice makes a man perfect”.

Ok, let’s start with the basics.

What is a DSLR?

To answer this question I need to use lot of technical jargons. But I promise I’ll try to make it as simple as possible.

SLR is an abbreviation; it stands for Single Lens Reflex and DSLR is nothing but a Digital SLR. Now you know what DSLR stands for but it doesn’t help to answer the question, does it? Let’s define further:

A DSLR camera offers a host of advantages over other kinds of digital cameras, smartphone cameras, and even film cameras. You can take photos of everything from sleeping kittens to racing cars and you’ll never be limited by your camera. If you’ve ever wondered about a DSLR camera versus a point and shoot camera, some of the DSLR camera advantages include:

  • High Image Quality
  • Full Manual Control
  • Performance and Speed
  • Interchangeable Lenses
  • Viewfinder

Your Camera is Just a Tool

A common assumption is that modern digital SLRs are so advanced that they can’t take a bad picture. This just isn’t true.

Stunning photos are the result of a synthesis between the skills of the photographer behind the camera and the sophisticated circuits inside the camera.

Step-by-step guide to your DSLR (Body)

A typical DSLR camera will look like the following images. Please note that I’m using Nikon D7000 for these illustrations which have lot of switches and buttons on it. If you have or planning to buy any other DSLR body which doesn’t have all the switches or buttons, don’t worry. Not all the DSLR bodies are same but the most important buttons and switches will definitely be available in almost all the DSLR bodies.

DSLR Front

  1. Built-in AF-assist Illuminator : Most modern Digital SLR ‘s have this now. It illuminates the subject in poor light to assist the auto focus. It will sometimes be used as an indicator for the self-timer function (I.e. it will flash and beep during delay). The AF-assist illuminator has a range of about 0.5—3.0 m (1 ft. 8 in.—9 ft. 10 in.)
  2. Sub-Command Dial : The “sub command dial“ at the front is a secondary dial, for use only if the “main command dial“ at the back has already a function assigned and a second dial is needed.

While shooting there are only two cases where sub command dial can change settings on its own:

  • Choose exposure compensation – if you have enabled it in the custom setting menu b3 Easy exposure compensation.
  • Choose an aperture – if you are using the camera mode A or M and have not swapped the usage of the two command dials in the custom setting menu f6 Customize command dials.

While an image or menu is displayed on the monitor the sub command dial can be used like the multi selector, provided that you have activated this in the custom setting menu, “F6 Customize command dials”. Then you can use the sub-command dial.

  • To change the type of information that is displayed with an image
  • Scroll up and down through the display of several pictures
  • Move the yellow selector in menus sideward.

3. Fn Button : The Fn button (the upper one of the two black buttons next to the lens) is a programmable function key that can get one out of many possible functions in the custom setting menu f3 Assign Fn button.

It is designed for settings that you want to have available immediately, without moving your hands and without having to take the camera away from the eye.

In Nikon‘s default settings it will activate the FV lock, i.e. send a flash for metering exposure and lock the flash exposure.

4. Mirror : This mirror allows you to see, through the viewfinder, almost exactly what you will photograph by reflecting the image up, and into the eyepiece. It flips up the instant that you press the shutter release and returns once the picture is taken. Never touch the mirror with your fingers and use special cleaning equipment and solutions. Some mirrors can be replaced but it is costly. Any dust on the mirror will not appear in your photographs, so if in doubt, leave it alone.

5. Depth-of-field Preview Button : A depth-of-field preview button closes the aperture to the f-stop that is displayed in the viewfinder which will make the viewfinder picture darker but show the same depth of focus as your photo

At the D7000 the depth-of-field preview button (the lower of the two black buttons next to the lens) is more: A second function key that you can program with the same choice of functions as the Fn button in the custom setting menu f4 Assign preview button.

This gives you the option to reach one of your favorite functions instantly with a movement of the right middle finger (Fn button) and another one with a movement of the ring finger (depth-of-field preview button).

6. Built-in Flash : Most of the DSLRs have a built in flash which, when on full auto, will pop up and fire when required. On the manual settings, you will normally have to activate it via a button (see No. 7) for more creative photography.

7. Flash Pop-Up Button : Press this to activate the pop up flash. There will be similar buttons on all makes of camera. It is a kind of manual over-ride, useful for fill-in flash etc. If in full auto mode, the camera will decide whether or not to use the flash.

8. BKT (bracketing) Button : “Bracketing“ (BKT) means to take a series of pictures with varying settings, usually exposure.

To activate bracketing keep the BKT button pressed and

  • Choose the number of pictures with the main command dial at the back:

0F: no bracketing

+2F / -2F: bracketing with 2 pictures (one without and one with positive or negative compensation)

3F: bracketing with 3 pictures (one without, one with positive, one with negative compensation)

  • Choose the difference in exposure compensation between the shots with the sub command dial at the front.

9. Infrared Receiver (Front) : Infrared receiver receives the signal from the infrared transmitter (remote) when the DSLR is in remote control mode.

10. Mounting Mark : This mark helps to mount a lens to the DSLR body. Keeping the mounting mark on the lens aligned with the mounting mark on the camera body, position the lens in the camera’s bayonet mount. Being careful not to press the lens release button, rotate the lens counter-clockwise until it clicks into Place.

11. Lens Release Button : By pressing this in, you allow the lens to be twisted and released.

Note: Try to change lenses out of dusty areas and try to have the camera switched off. The static produced when the camera is on will attract dust to the sensor.

12. AF Mode Button : To choose an AF-area mode (AF-A, AF-S, AF-C), press the AF-mode button and rotate the sub-command dial until the desired mode is displayed in the monitor.

13. Focus Mode Selector : To set the focus mode to auto focus, rotate the focus mode selector to AF and for manual focus, rotate it to MF.

DSLR Back

1. Viewfinder Eyepiece : This is where it all happens. With most film or Digital SLRs, you see about 95-98% of what you shoot. In here you will see the focusing ring at the center of the image plus most of the other information such as shutter speeds, aperture settings etc.

2. Rubber Eyecup : This can be removed but is handy for 2 reasons. If you wear glasses, it will protect the lenses from scratching against the camera. Without glasses, it helps the viewfinder to mound around your eye and eliminate any surrounding glare.

3. Delete Button : Its position will vary according to your camera, but this will erase any selected images. You are normally asked first “are you sure” as a safeguard.

4. Playback Button : When the camera is switched on, this will display the last image taken on the small screen. Then you can scroll through all the others.

5. Monitor : Displays menus and images that have been exposed. It will not display the image (in real time) that you are looking at like most digital compact “point and shoots”.

6. Menu Button : This will bring up all the internal menu functions on the screen. You scroll through them using the dial and select buttons. See your camera manual for more details of what your camera can do from here.

7. White Balance/Help/Protect Button : White balance ensures that colors are unaffected by the color of the light source. Auto white balance is recommended for most light sources; in P, S, A, and M modes, other values can be selected if necessary according to the type of source.

White balance is set by pressing the WB button and rotating the main command dial until the desired setting is displayed in the control panel.

Also this button can prevent the image to get deleted unwillingly. By pressing the button the photograph will be marked with a ‘key’ icon. To remove protection from the photograph so that it can be deleted, display the photograph or highlight it in the thumbnail list and then press the button.

8. ISO/Thumbnail/Playback Zoom Out Button : ISO sensitivity can be adjusted by pressing the ISO button and rotating the main command dial until the desired setting is displayed in the control panel or viewfinder.

Also this button can be used to zoom out the image or decrease the thumbnail size when viewing the image in the monitor.

9. Playback Zoom In/Image Quality Button : This button is used to zoom in the image or increase the thumbnail size when viewing the image in the monitor.

Using this button image quality (JPEG, NEF etc.) can also be selected. To do this, press the button and rotate the main command dial until the desired option is displayed in the display.

10. Diopter adjustment Control : The camera is equipped with diopter adjustment to accommodate individual differences in vision. Check that the display in the viewfinder is in focus before framing pictures in the viewfinder.

Rotate the diopter adjustment control until the AF area brackets are in sharp focus. When operating the diopter adjustment control with your eye to the viewfinder, be careful not to put your fingers or fingernails in your eye.

11. AE-L/AF-L Button : Position the subject in the selected focus point and press the shutter-release button halfway. With the shutter-release button pressed halfway and the subject positioned in the focus point, press the A[-L/AF-L button to lock focus and exposure (if you are using autofocus, confirm that the in-focus indicator appears in the viewfinder). While exposure lock is in effect, an AE-1 indicator will appear in the viewfinder.

12. Speaker : This is the speaker of the camera for video playback.

13. Main Command Dial : The main command dial at the back of the D7000 is the one to be used for most of the settings by pushing another button and turning the wheel at the same time. The sub command dial at the front is relevant only if a second one is needed.

The rear dial has a dedicated function on its own only in the following cases:

When using the camera mode P, U1, U2 you can set a „program shift“ with the rear dial, i.e. so shift the combinations of aperture and exposure time.

In the modes S (shutter priority) and M (manual) you can set the exposure time.

In mode A (aperture priority) you can set an exposure compensation with the rear command dial provided that you have activated this option in the custom setting menu b3 Easy exposure compensation.

14. Live View Switch : By rotating this you can see the subject in the screen instead of the viewfinder.

15. Movie Record Button: This button is used to start recording video.

16. Multi Selector: This is used to navigate to different options of the camera using the four arrows on it.

17. OK Button : This is used to finally select the required setting of the camera once chosen using the multi selector.

The multi selector and ok buttons are used to select any desired option. Use the arrows in the multi selector button to go to any required settings option and confirm it by pressing the ok button.

18. Focus Selector Lock : Use the multi selector to select the focus point in the viewfinder while the exposure meters are on. Press ok to select the center focus point. The focus selector lock can be rotated to the locked (L) position following selection to prevent the selected focus point from changing when the multi selector is pressed.

19. Memory Card Access Lamp : The access lamp next to the memory card slot cover will light while the photograph is being recorded to the memory card. Do not eject the memory card or remove or disconnect the power source until the lamp has gone out and recording is complete.

20. Info Button : By pressing this, you will bring up all the information of any image that you select and view. It will tell you the exposure settings, white balance, date/time, image size, flash details in fact everything about the photo except the name of the subject!

DSLR Bottom

1. Power Connector Cover: Pull this cover to connect the camera to AC power.

2. Battery Chamber Cover: Open this cover to pull out or insert the battery.

3. Battery Chamber Cover Latch: Press this gently towards the arrow as shown in picture to open the battery chamber cover

4. Contact Cover For Optional Battery Pack : This is used to attach optional MB-D11 battery pack to the body.

5. Body Cap : Whenever you need to keep your lens unattached from the DSLR body, keep the body cap closed. It will prevent the mirror and sensor from the outside dust.

6. Tripod Socket : This is used to attach the DSLR to a tripod.

DSLR Top

1. Release Mode Dial : To choose a release mode, press the release mode dial release (#4) and rotate the release mode dial to the desired setting.

Some of the common release modes are Single Frame (S), Continuous Low Speed (CL), Continuous High Speed (CH) etc.

2. Mode Dial : The camera offers a choice of the following modes: Programmed auto (P), Shutter priority auto (S), Aperture priority auto (A), Manual (M).

3. Eyelet for camera strap

4. Release Mode Dial Lock Release : This button is used to change the release modes of the camera by pressing it and rotating the release mode dial lock together.

5. Accessory Shoe (For optional flash unit): This is the place where you can attach your external flash (optional).

6. Power Switch: This is the switch used to power on and off your camera.

7. Shutter Release Button : This is the button which finally releases the shutter to capture the photograph. Pressing this button halfway you can focus on your subject and pressing fully will release the shutter.

8. Metering Button : This button is used to choose how the camera sets exposure in P, S, A and M modes (in other modes, camera sets the metering method automatically.

To choose the metering options press the metering button and rotate the main command dial until the desired setting is displayed in the control panel.

9. Exposure Compensation Button : Exposure compensation is used to alter exposure from the value suggested by the camera, making pictures brighter or darker.

To choose a value for exposure compensation, press this button and rotate the main command dial until the desired setting is displayed in the control panel or in the view finder.

10. Focal Plane Mark : To determine the distance between your subject and the camera, measure from the focal plane mark on the camera body. The distance between the lens mounting flange and the focal plane is 46.5 mm (1.83 in.).

11. The Control Panel : This is a little screen on the top of the camera which displays all the settings chosen, and helps to change the settings very fast not even looking in the main display or viewfinder.

Please let me know if this article helped you to understand some basic controls / functions of your DSLR by commenting below. Also feel free to ask if I have missed anything or you have any other queries about your DSLR camera. I’ll try my best to answer your questions. 

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