DSLR Camera: Beginner Tutorial


When I first got my “big girl camera” I remember being overwhelmed. It was waaaay more complicated than my iPhone and I felt completely out of my depth. I was lucky enough to know a photographer at the time (hi Jess!), who was so kind and patiently answered the hundreds of questions I had about this new machine. She let me tag along on photoshoots, answered every question I had, and taught me everything I know about how to take pictures. I am forever grateful. 

That being said, I know not everyone starting out with a DSLR camera is lucky enough to have a Jess in their life to take them under their wing and teach them. I thought it might be nice to share a few things I learned about taking pictures and pass on what Jess taught me. 

This is the first post in what will be a series of posts about how to a) work your DSLR camera (on something besides manual) and b) a few tips on how to edit them easily after wards.

*Disclaimer: I am by NO MEANS an expert. AT ALL. I am just sharing what I’ve learned over the years in hopes that it will help you feel less overwhelmed with your new camera. There are so many sites and articles that can give you a deeper explanation for each of these terms. 

This post will deal specifically with verbiage and terminology. Learning a new skill can sometimes feel like learning a new language – I’m sharing a few of the terms I hear a lot that, in the beginning, were unclear to me….

Manual vs. Auto

Taking pictures (“shooting”) on manual is generally the goal of working with a DSLR camera. It allows you to change the settings to create the image you want. When you shoot on manual, you’ll be managing the settings for shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. When you shoot on “auto” you’re letting the camera do the work for you. This, however, allows almost no control with how your image turns out. You’ll get a photo very similar to what a late-model iPhone would give you. I can’t tell you what to do, but if you don’t have any interest in learning to shoot manually and just want to keep your settings on the little green square… maybe save yourself the money and keep taking pictures with your phone. The quality is so similar, it would be very difficult to tell the difference. 

The photo on the left was taken with my iphone. The photo on the right was taken with my DSLR (Manual settings, RAW, and unedited)


Picture files can be saved in one of two ways on your camera. They can be saved as a jpeg or saved as a RAW (.nef) file. A jpeg is the baseline setting for most cameras. Raw is the “raw” data that your camera collects when you take a picture. A jpeg is your final picture product that has a small amount of editing built into it. 

Take a minute to google “raw vs. jpeg image” to see the difference between the two! 

Why, then, would anyone choose to shoot raw vs. jpeg? Jpeg greatly limits the amount of editing that can be done with a picture after it’s been taken. Think of jpeg like a flat piece of paper. If you want to edit it in some way, you have to perform that action on the WHOLE image. Think of a raw file as a cube that can be pulled apart. You can edit bits and pieces of that image. For example, if only part of one person’s face is shadowed, you can lighten JUST that spot! RAW files generally need to be processed through a separate program. I use Adobe Bridge, which opens into Photoshop. 

Aperture & F Stop – “How do I make the background of my picture blurry?”

The F stop determines how open or closed your lens is which, in turn, regulates how much light is let into your lens. The higher your F Stop, the smaller the opening is in your lens, which means less light is allowed in (all dependent on shutter speed). The lower your f stop, the wider the opening in your lens, the more light is allowed in. 

This setting also controls your depth of field, which is how much of your image is in focus. If you have a LOW F stop, you’ll be letting MORE light into your camera and you’ll have a SHALLOW depth of field. This will bring what’s physically close to you into focus and what’s further away will be “blurred”. 

Low F Stop = Blurry Background 

Left: F-stop = 1.4, Middle: F-stop = 3.5, Right: F-stop = 10

(I’m pretty sure any professional photographers who are reading this are totally cringing at my very basic explanation right now….eeeeee.)

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how fast your shutter closes. This also plays a part in how much light is let into your lens. If you find that your subjects are blurry when they’re moving, chances are your shutter speed is too slow. If you speed it up, you’ll be able to capture motion with sharp images. This is especially important if you’re working with wiggly toddlers.


Think of ISO as your little worker ants that bring in more light. The higher your ISO, the more little worker ants you have bringing light into your lens. This is a great setting to use in low light situations. That being said, if your ISO is too high, there’s a chance your image will look “grainy”. 

When you’re shooting manual, you are adjusting the settings for ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture yourself. Think of it as a triangle. When you snap a picture, you work to find the perfect relationship between these three settings based on your environment (how much ambient light there is, what you’re photographing, etc)

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