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How to Use a DSLR Camera (2020)

Edited By Piyush Kashyap, Reviewed By Gulshan

Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras or DSLR have become quite popular for capturing real-life moments with immaculate technology.

Many brands are offering this hi-tech product in the markets with several configurations and combinations depending on its use.

DSLR strategically uses the combination of optics and mechanism of Single-lens reflex camera along with a digital imaging sensor.

These cameras are full of dynamic features, configurations,  and settings that one needs to practice to master the use of this sophisticated machine.

Here are the basic things that you should know as a beginner for using the DSLR camera effectively:

  • Modes
  • ISO
  • White Balance
How to Use a DSLR Camera

Mode Dial

Usually, a DSLR offers several modes starting with automatic mode and a manual mode that are common in all, then it may vary from camera to camera with aperture priority and shutter priority preferably. Some cameras also provide portrait, landscape, macro, night, silhouette, and action, etc too.

Aperture Priority Mode

With Aperture Priority mode set for the camera, you are in control of the correct aperture value or position of the camera while the camera will control the shutter speed. These are represented in numbers with f-stop numbers with f/2, f/5, f/8, f/10 to f/20 or more.

Changing the aperture of the lens will either widen the lens to let more light in or make it narrow to less light reach the sensor.

Narrowing the aperture (values f/8 or higher) will make objects deeper in your image with clear focus as well as a foreground for targeting. Widening the aperture (lower f/2 to f/8 values) will make background subjects blurred and foreground objects stand out with more clarity on them.

You can set the lenses manually to put focus mainly on these objects or also opt for auto-focus camera technology.

Shutter Priority Mode

With Shutter priority mode, you get to be in controlling the length of time shutter remains open.

The shutter speed is measured in different parts of the second with 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/1000, 1/4000 as the lowest to as high as 1, 3, 10, 20, 30, etc. The image sensor of the camera captures the light data from the shutter as long as it remains open.

Underexposed and Overexposed Images

With faster shutter speed with the 50th part of a second and less, then shutter remains open for a shorter duration to record light and images that often result in a darker exposure. This condition is known as underexposed as the image has not been exposed to the light for the right duration.

With slower shutter speed with greater than 1 second, 3, 5 seconds and more, then shutter stays open for longer duration then the image sensor records more of the light that results in a lighter image. Sometimes images get too exposed to light that condition is known as overexposed.

Balance of Light

One of the fundamentals for beginners to master is balance and combination of lighting into lens and camera sensor for using DSLR.

For instance, if the scene is too dark then add more light to it by allowing the shutter to remain open for more duration while keeping flash open and further complementing it by widening the aperture.

Similarly, when it is too bright you have to restrict the shutter and narrow the aperture so less light enters the sensor for an effective balance.

How to Use a DSLR Camera - A Beginner's Guide

Automatic Mode

This is one of the easiest ways to begin capturing images with your DSLR. This automatic mode means you are allowing the camera to adjust the settings based on the environment surrounding it. All the configurations will be set by the camera itself by capturing the moments in the picture.

But if you want to learn to use the DSLR then you have to get out of this mode to understand the various aspects of photography.

Portrait Mode

With portrait mode, DSLR assumes there is a subject in the frame and creates a shallow depth of field, keeping the human subject in focus, simultaneously makes the background blurred. This mode works well in good light conditions both naturally and artificially.

If there are any darker conditions than the camera will add flash to complement the lighting.

Macro Mode

This mode allows taking images smaller than your hand. Adding a macro lens can give you super close up images.

It works best in natural bright conditions while flash lighting has to be used with precision if required as the object might be very hard to focus or you can use a tripod as well. This mode chooses a shallow depth of field and one has to use more precision as the margin of errors are too small.

Landscape Mode

The Landscape mode is configured with a small aperture for a well-focussed image from the foreground into the long distance. It uses a wide lens and works better with natural light. Otherwise, flash gets turned on if the background is too dark that can also be turned off manually.

Night Portrait Mode

In this mode, Cameras are programmed specifically built to manage night darkness by keeping the subject in focus. The aperture should be wide to allow the light for capturing the image while at the same time flash adds the illumination to the object and avoids blurring the image.

In Sports mode, high shutter speed at the range with 1/500th to 1/1000th of a second freezes the fast-paced activities to take high-quality images.


ISO settings define the sensitivity of the Camera sensor to its surrounding lights.

It also comes with auto mode as the Camera itself makes the changes based on the present conditions. ISO values come with the range from 100 to 1600 with gapes that one can change as per their preferences. Higher the values of ISO more the images will be lighter.

More you push the ISO values, the more the images will have a grainy effect in their presentation. This graininess is professionally termed as the 'Noise' and you need to keep these noises to a minimum to make the images of the highest quality.

The newer range of DSLR often has higher ISO values to further make images bring more proficiency in their output. Although most of the time auto setting brings out the perfect images still in the early days one must try to experiment with these different ISO values to see the difference it brings on the photos.

You must know the capabilities of the DSLR for changing ISO values manually and avoid the noises from different perspectives as well as a combination of the objects.

There are circumstances when external flash makes more sense for illuminating images. This quick flash introduces lights from the camera on the object to capture the object leaving all other settings to rest.

White Balance

Color of the images often has certain effects such as bluish or reddish tinge from the lighting like under the sunlight or incandescent lights.

Now the While Balance feature allows the images to have a natural presentation the way it looks with your naked eye diminishing the effect of lighting may have on the images.

Modern DSLR often comes with pre-configured settings for white balance in the menu with AWB (Auto White Balance).

You can also make the settings manual based on the environment you are in like Sun for days in the outdoors, cloud icon for cloudy days, light bulb icon for capturing the images under the incandescent lights respectively.

How to Use a DSLR Camera

Some of the cameras offer Kelvin color temperature values where a higher value indicates warmer things and lower Kelvin values may indicate cooler temperatures. Lowest values in 2500K increase the blue amount in the image while the peak values are set at 10,000K which enhances orange color in the exposure.

You can select a manual and choose the right white balance based on the surroundings. Whether you want less warmth or more warmth in the images. One must try all the options to have thorough information for your camera ability to work in different surroundings.

Check them all to find the best one that suits your surroundings perfectly.

Interchangeable Lenses

One of the main things that led to their huge popularity in this modern age is the ability of DSLR cameras to change lenses.

Many DSLR brands promote higher resolution lenses as added accessories for their main products to enhance their features. So DSLR cameras come with the ability to match future lens compatibility allowing them to upgrade with the latest technological changes.

Here are some more important tips that one should remember while using DSLR cameras.

  • The white balance has a significant impact on the color tone of your images. This bluish or orange tinge comes with the use of specific light sources. One must practice with a different source of lights such as Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and even with flash to see its precise benefits.
  • For Autofocus there are two general modes with Auto-focus Single (AF-S) and Auto-focus Continuous (AF-C). AF-S mode is applied when the objects are stationary such as portraits, buildings, and people portraits, etc. AF-C is well suited for capturing an image of moving images such as running animals in Forest and players running in a sports field.
  • When choosing for the file type between raw, JPEG or any other make sure it meets your requirements. Raw files are uncompressed and may contain a lot of data after post-processing. And further requires a lot of editing and software customization for further use. Whereas JPEG is the popular compressed file type that is print and is automatically processed by the camera, takes less size and preferred more than others.
  • Tripods have proven a lot of success in bringing perfect images with DSLR. They come highly useful in the case of night time photography, capturing fireworks, etc. They are configured with motion detection and built-in timer to take images at the appropriate moment.
  • It's not that easy to get that perfect image with combinations of colors, lights, and objects. Multiple shots of the same objects are recommended to find the best shot.
  • DSLR's are built to bring that creativity and special effects into your images. So try to use additional software such as Photoshop to further optimize their exceptional effect and make them eye-catching.

DSLR Cameras are a modern-day scientific marvel that can capture images with immaculate perfection, accuracy & clarity of people, nature, and objects. DSLR has redefined the industry with its application in several fields with films, photography and more.


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About the Author

Piyush Kashyap is a Ph.D student at Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology, Sangrur. He is a budding editor/ writer and has been working as a part-time reviewer for online content. He loves to read tech-based articles and has a knack for reviewing such articles He likes to stay updated about the latest trends in technology. He has also been working as a reviewer for many scientific journals. He also writes articles based on science. Know More About Piyush

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