Beginner Photography Tips – Photography Tips HQ

Beginner photography tips

Lesson #1 The Camera

You have an expensive DSLR and when you look at all the buttons and dials,  it intimidates you.  I can remember holding my Nikon D80 for the first time being worried that if I touched one of those buttons on my camera, I wouldn’t know how to get it back to functioning.  I would change a setting and the pictures would not turn out, so I would fall back to “auto” just to get an “ok” photo.  Fear and frustration kept me shooting auto and my expensive DSLR was nothing more than an expensive point and shoot.  Don’t  let fear and frustration dictate the kind of photos you take any longer!  You can take control of the camera and start taking the photos you have dreamt of taking!

Let’s get started by identifying the parts of the camera.

This post will focus on the parts of the camera that are crucial to shooting photos.  This is meant to be a quick guide for you, but I still recommend reading and understanding your camera’s manual.

A Canon 7D and a Nikon D7000 were the manuals I used for reference.

1.  Shutter: The shutter is a thin cover over the sensor, on a DSLR that keeps light out.  When you press your shutter release button it moves the shutter away from your sensor allowing light on to the sensor, to capture an image.

2.  Shutter Release Button:  The button on the right side of the camera that when pressed,  moves the shutter and allows light to enter the sensor and capture an image.  On most DSLR’s, the shutter release button can be pressed half way to auto focus the lens and when fully pressed will move the shutter from the sensor.  How much light is let in is determined by the amount of time the shutter is left open.

3. Mode dial: This dial selects the mode of the DSLR.  The four modes we will look at are:

  • Auto:  This setting is green on the mode dial, and really all you have to do is “point and shoot.”  The camera will select all the settings needed to get the correct exposure, but it will limit you in your creativity.
  • Tv /S:  Time value for Canon.  Shutter priority for Nikon.  This mode gives you control of the shutter speed.  The camera will set the aperture to give you the correct exposure.  This mode is great for sporting events, or any situation where you would like to freeze the action.  Faster shutter speeds allow you to freeze the action, with slower shutter speeds, motion will be blurred.
  • Av/A:  Aperture value for Canon.  Aperture priority for Nikon.  This mode gives you control of the aperture.  Aperture determines how much light is let in through the lens & the depth of field.  An 85mm 1.8, set to 1.8, will let in a lot of light, but have a shallow depth of field.  This is great for portraits when you want the subject to be nice a clear, and the background blurred.
  • M:  Manual mode.  This mode give you control of the shutter & aperture in order to get the correct exposure. Correct exposure can be determined by the Exposure Level Indicator which is located on the LCD Panel and in the View Finder.  Click here for a quick guide on shooting manual. 

4. Control Buttons:  Metering, White Balance, ISO, Flash Exposure Compensation, AF-Drive, Focus Type

  •  Metering:  This button has a dot in the center with a half circle above and below, on Canon.  On Nikon, its a dot in the center with four little rectangles around it.  Each setting determines what part of the scene the camera is exposing for.
  • White Balance:  The button with WB on or near it.  White balance determines how warm or cool a photo will look.  Warm will have a more a reddish color, where cool, will have more of a blue color.
  • ISO:  The button with ISO on or near it, will control how sensitive the sensor is to light.  If you are in a low light situation a higher ISO will allow you to capture an image, but photos can come out noisy or grainy.
  • Flash Exposure Compensation:  This button is represented by a little lightning bolt and a +/- It controls the amount of light the flash puts out.
  • Drive:  This button selects the function of your shutter.  Single shot, burst mode, remote and timers.  Nikon has moved the drive control under the mode dial for the D7000.
  • AF-Mode:  Auto focus mode on Canon, selects between One Shot (for stationary object), AF-Focus (for moving objects), or AF-Servo (switches automatically between the two).  Nikon:  AF-S (single shot for stationary objects), AF-C (for moving objects), AF-A (switches automatically between the two).
  • Bracketing  Mode: The button on the Nikon is labelled BKT.  On the Canon you have to set this up in the menu.  This function allows the camera to take multiple images with different exposures.

5. Main Dial, Quick Control Dial (Sub Command Dial on Nikon)

  • Main Dial Canon: The main dial is located near the shutter on a Canon camera and can be controlled with the index finger on your right hand.
  • Quick Control Dial:  The quick control dial is located to the right of the screen, the set button is in the center.
    • Canon Main Dial/Quick Control Dial:
      •  Time Value mode (Tv): Main dial controls the shutter speed.  If the maximum aperture  is blinking the shutter speed is set too fast and will underexpose your photo. i.e. 1/2500 to 1/60
      • Aperture Value mode (Av):  Main dial it controls the  the aperture.  If the shutter speed is blinking you need to allow more light in by stopping the aperture down to a lower number. i.e. f/5.6 to f/2.8
      •  Manual mode (M):   The shutter speed is controlled by the main dial.  Aperture is controlled by the quick control dial.
      • Metering/White balance:  The main dial controls the metering mode.  The quick control dial controls the white balance.
      • AF/Drive:   AF is controlled by the main dial.  Drive is controlled by the quick control dial.
      • ISO/Flash Exposure Compensation:  ISO is controlled by the main dial.  Flash exposure compensation is controlled by the quick control dial.
  • Main Dial Nikon:  The main dial on Nikon is on the back of the camera, and is controlled with the thumb of your right hand.
  • Sub Command Dial:  The sub command dial is located on the on the right side of the camera, on the front right under the shutter release button.
    • Nikon Main Dial/Sub Command Dial:
      • Shutter Priority Mode (S):  The main command dial controls the shutter speed.  If “Lo”  is blinking the shutter speed is set too fast and will underexpose your photo. i.e. 1/2500 to 1/60
      • Aperture Priority Mode (A):  The sub command dial controls the aperture.  If “Lo” is blinking you need to allow more light in by stopping the aperture down to a lower number. i.e. f/5.6 to f/2.8
      • Manual Mode (M):  The main command dial controls the shutter.  The sub command dial controls the aperture.
      • Metering:  The main command dial controls the metering
      • White Balance:  The main command dial controls the white balance.  The sub command dial controls the fine tuning of the white balance.
      • AF/Area:  The main command dial controls auto focus mode.  The sub command dial controls the AF-area mode.
      • ISO:  The main command dial controls the ISO.
      • Exposure Compensation:  The main command dial controls exposure compensation (this feature allows you to make the photo lighter or darker).
      • Image Quality:  The main command dial controls the image quality.

6.  Multi-controler (Canon) Multi-selector (Nikon) an eight way directional pad, on rear of the camera, used for selecting focal points.

  • Selecting Focal Point:  The focal point is the place in the image you want to be in focus.  When looking though the view finder you will see multiple points that can be selected as the focal point.
    • Canon, has a AF-point selection button, located on upper right on the rear of the camera.  To select focal point press AF- Point selection button, look through the view finder and select focal point with the multi-controler.
    • Nikon, press the shutter half way down and then select focal point with multi-selector.

Now what?

Now you need to take action and learn the buttons and dials of your camera.  This quick guide doesn’t cover everything or every camera, so I recommend reading the manual for your camera.

  1. Download the manual to your smart phone or tablet, so you can regularly reference it.
  2. Get behind the camera daily.
  3. Practice indoors and out, so you can get used to different lighting situations.
  4. Pick a random subject to practice to practice with.  A child, spouse, pet, stuffed animal, or a coffee cup, it doesn’t matter just practice taking pictures.
  5. Practice changing the settings talked about in this post, so you will know how they function and what they control.

I don’t want fear and frustration hindering you any longer.  You will unlock many creative possibilities by knowing your camera better.  If you have any questions or would like to tell me what you think of these  beginner photography tips, please do so in the comments below.

Click here for lesson #2

“Make the world your canvas”