Learn Dslr photography basics


Learn dslr photography basics

Learn dslr photography basics
Introduction – learn Dslr basics

To learn dslr photography basics it is essential to understand the following concepts:Focusing, Aperture, shutter speed, exposure, exposure compensation, iso. These article more of an overview. There are separate articles about the themes listed here for deeper understanding. You can find all these tutorials in the main menu under the Photography tips for beginners tab.

Selecting modes

At the left top side on the top of the dsrl camera there is a round controller called Mode dial. See the picture below. Here we can select the different modes: Aperture priority (A), Shutter speed(S, or Tv), P(program), M (manual) and different scene mode usually like snow, portrait, landscape, etc usually presented with on icon. There is a full auto mode as well. In Program mode the camera also works automatically, but let us adjust some parameters like iso, exposure compensation, white balance, etc. In aperture priority mode(A or Av) we adjust aperture, the camera calculate shutter speed. See the explanation about these parameters below. In shutter speed mode(S or Tv) we choose shutter speeds the camera calculates aperture. In manual mode we adjust anything.
dslr photography basics


Traditionally we use Dslr cameras with a viewfinder. The viewfinder is a small hole on the top of the back of the camera. Before make the picture we look through the viewfinder to see how the picture will be look like. There is usually a diopter correction next to the viewfinder if we have diopter problems. First we need to make sure that our eye is calibrated to the viewfinder. If we use glasses for example we don’t need diopter correction. If we don’t see what we want in the viewfinder we don’t make the picture until we see exactly what we want. If we press the round button on the right side of the top of the camera(shutter release button) halfway the camera focuses, after we push the button totally the camera makes the picture. Ususally not everything in focus, we need to decide where we focusing. We focus the place, we want sharp and emphasized. Easy example we make a portrait, we focus on the men or women’s eye. If we make a photograph of the building we focus on the building’s elevation. If we make a landscape the camera focuses in the far distance. If we focuses for example 5m, the things we see closer to 5m we call foreground, the scenery behind we call background. Today’s cameras has lots of focus points. I suggest first to use the center point or all for the landscapes. Usually the focus points can be seen in the viewfinder with red, or some other ways. If we use not the center point we can realise if we focus for close distances which part of the picture is the sharpest. To select change focus points is different from camera to camera.
dslr photography basics2
The background is not so sharp because of the focus is on the sculpture


Aperture is the whole on the lens, where the light enters the dslr camera. If we don’t make a picture, this whole is usually not the same size, when we actually make the picture. Try to look through the lens, and try it again when you release the shutter(push the buttom which makes the photo). How the picture look usually depends on the whole size. If the whole is smaller, more item is sharp in the picture in the foreground and background(preferred for landscapes), if the whole is bigger the background and foreground are more blurred.(preferred for portraits). If the whole is bigger more light enters the camera, if the whole is smaller less light enters the camera. If more light enters the camera, the camera makes the picture faster, if less light enters the camera, the camera makes the picture slower. So in simply if dark is outside we open the whole as much as we can to make the picture faster, in order not to be blurred the picture, if bright outside we make the whole smaller, in order not to burn out the picture (parts of the picture going to be white with no details or colors).
dslr photography basics

Biggest Aperture

The lens has a biggest aperture, usually written on the lens barell. Zoom lenses sometimes has two numbers: the first number shows the aperture in wide setting, the other number in tele setting. The tele settings usually has smaller aperture. Fixed or prime lenses, or some zoom lenses has only one biggest aperture. In zoom lenses it means that both ends has the same biggest aperture.

Aperture values

The standard aperture values are the following:
f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22. There are other values between them also existing like f/2.2 or f/3.5. If you check this you can realise there is approximately 1.4 proportion between the neighboring numbers. Sometimes we neglect the divide sign, and just say f4, but always mean the same f/4. We can easily understand that f/1 aperture is the biggest, and let’s the most light in. Difference between the neighboring values from the top row we call 1 f-stop. What does it mean? If we set the aperture for example to f/4 and change to the bigger f/2.8 it exactly doubles shutter speed. If f/4 we have a shutter speed of 1/50 sec, at f/2.8 we will have 1/100s. Same way from f/16 to f/11 doubles shutter speed.

Sharpest aperture values(Sweet spot)

Usually the lenses are not the sharpest wide open. Usually most lenses are sharpest at f/5.6-f/8 range. Very good lenses sometimes sharp at f4. Small apertures f/11-f/16 are usually not so sharp because of diffraction.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is the time, while the camera makes the picture. It usually ranges between 1/8000s-30s. If we want to shoot action we use higher shutter speed, if we want artistic blur on the picture we use lower shutter speed. For longer telephoto lenses higher shutter speed is needed for wide angle lenses lower shutter speed is enough. Picture sharpness are greatly depend on shutter speed. For wide angle lenses usually 1/50- 1/100s is enough to the picture not being blurred, for long telephotos 1/500-1/1000s. For shutter speed not blur the picture there is a rule of thumb of 1/focal length in mm is the shutter speed required for a full frame camera in order the picture not being blurred. This means 1/18s for 18mm 1/50s for 50mm, 1/100s for 100mm. For Aps-C camera is 1.6 higher this number means: 1/1.18*1.6 for 18mm, 1/50*1.6=1/80s for 50mm, 1/100*1.6=1/160s for 100mm and so on.


A shutter speed and the aperture together creates an exposure. What does it mean? The light level is always changes, sometimes very bright sometimes dark. The camera calculates the light levels and apertures and shutter speeds to fit the light levels. For example at f/4 the camera calculates 1/200s. We press the shutter release and see we made a nice picture. What happen if the shutter speed would be 1/500s ? The camera would let much less light in this way the picture would be too dark. What if the shutter speed would be 1/20s? This way the camera let much more light in and the whole picture would be too bright or burned out.

Correct Exposure

What we discussed before is the “correct” aperture, not too bright, not too dark. But the camera not always makes the picture what we want. Why ? Because cameras usually use 18% grey as a reference for a picture. What does it mean? If we substitute the colours presented on the picture, we just use one colour, it would be 18% grey. This is usually correct for most scenes, but not for all. There are some situations where the picture is not looks 18% grey. For example snow. Everything is white in the picture. The reality is much brighter than the picture the camera makes with it’s 18% grey. What we can do to make a picture of the reality ?

Exposure compensation

The thing we used called exposure compensation. It is usually represented with a +- icon in a black box and we see a +- scale on the camera, or called exposure compensation in the menu. With exposure compensation we modify the camera settings. With + exposure compensation we make the picture brighter with – we make the picture darker. In case of snow we want the picture brighter we set a compensation value of +1 for example.
Typical scenes we need exposure compensations
Snow, beach:+1 depends on your camera, need to experiment with it
Forest, lot of shadows on the picture:-1 depends on your camera, need to experiment with it
Some cases we don’t compensate, because we like the camera make a “correct” picture from a dark environment.
In order to not ruin your next shot, always switch back after setting exposure compensation. Typical mistake to let exposure compensation on some value after the next shot with different circumstances going to be too dark or too light, not really correctable afterwards.

Set the aperture value on the dsrl camera – we set the camera in A or Av (Aperture priority) mode on the mode dial (see above)

We usually set the aperture value with a dial in front of the camera below the shutter release. If we turn the dial we see on the back LCD or on the top LCD if the camera has one, that the value is changing. Sometimes it changes automatically if we zoom with the lens, the reason that the lens has different maximum aperture at the two ends of the zoom range.

Set the shutter speed on the dsrl camera – we set the camera to S (shutter speed) or Tv(time value) in Canon

With the same dial we can change shutter speeds and the camera calculates the aperture for that shutter speeds.

Dynamic range

The cameras has limitations, it means in bright sunlight we need to decide to burn out the highlights or blacken the shadows. Couldn’t make the picture as it is, because the camera cannot cover the whole range of light levels. From the black to white there is a value of 20 for example, but our camera only can handle 10. We need to decide which is more important in our picture: the sky blue colour(instead of burned out white) or details in the shadow instead of black colour. There is a way to do this if we make several pictures: one more bright here we see more detail in the shadow, some darker here we see the blue sky and put it together with a software or in camera, this we called HDR (High dynamic range) picture. To make multiple exposures(brighter and darker images) we call bracketing.


ISO is used if we want higher shutter speeds in dark situations or if we want higher shutter speeds with smaller apertures to freeze action. Doubling ISO values doubles the camera’s shutter speed. What does it mean? With iso 100 we have a shutter speed of 1/100s. With iso 200 1/200s – iso 400 1/400s iso 800 -1/800s and so on. ISO usually has a dedicated button or can adjust from a menu.
See more about iso here
Understanding ISO

White balance

The different light sources has different parameters. The electric lights has different light temperature than the sunlight. Some light is more red some are more blue, some lights are more cold, some are more warm. The goal with white balance to eliminate non-realistic color casts from the photo, and what is white on the scene, would be white on the picture. White balance can be adjusted in the camera usually with a button with WB on it, or from the menu. The different options are auto, fluorescent, tungsten, cloudy, shade, flash, etc.


1.Make a picture with aperture of f/4, f/5.6, f/11, f/16 study the pictures you made
2.Set an exposure compensation of +1 and -1 experiment with this, make picture of bright scenes and dark scenes, try to make pictures you want to do. Make a very bring picture (high key) and dark pictures. What is it good for?
3. Make pictures of different shutter speeds: 1/10s, 1/100s, 1/1000s, 1/2500s. Experiment with this and study the picture you made.
4. Make a picture with iso 100,400,800,1600, 3200, and 6400 if you have this settings.

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