Top 7 DSLR Camera Tips For Beginners

Robin Jones

If you’ve just moved from a point and click camera to a DSLR camera, you are seeing a lot more options, menus and buttons than on your old camera. While all of the different settings and options now available to you are super important to learn to be able to fully utilize you new camera, these 7 tips for DSLR beginners are things you need to master and know first before you start diving into the rest of them. These photography tips will take you from beginner to very comfortable with your own camera in no time.

  1. Know ISO, shutter speed and f-stop

Before you even pick up your camera and start shooting, you need to know what ISO, shutter speed and f-stop is. The ability to change these settings is one of the main differentiating factors between the point and shoot and DSLR and probably why you bought it, so get to know it’s features.


The picture below illustrates the different settings and how they affect your pictures.

If these graphics leave you wanting to never leave Auto mode, don’t worry. No one picks up their camera and is a pro at combining these settings to achieve award worthy pictures right off the bat. (we even made a few funny t-shirts about this you might like.  Check them out here >> Custom photographer apparel )Take lots of pictures, play with the settings and take heart in knowing that you can take and delete as many pictures as you want - before digital cameras, you had to think for a long time if your setting were right before depressing that shutter button.

  1. Camera settings

Now that you’ve picked up some knowledge about the ISO, shutter speed and f-stop, a good way to practice is to set your camera to semi-automatic mode and shoot in one of the modes available - Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Program mode.

Aperture Priority (A or Av on the mode dial) is the one to choose if you want to control the depth of field – how sharp your photos are from front to back. As a result most people use Aperture Priority Mode when they are attempting to have some control in this area.

Keep in mind that the camera will choose faster or longer shutter speeds and that around 1/60  shutter speeds get too long to continue to hand hold your camera and you will need a tripod.

Shutter Priority (S or Tv) works the same way, although you control the shutter speed instead, with the camera setting an appropriate aperture. This makes it a good shooting mode for shooting sports and action.

Program mode (P) is like an advanced fully automatic mode, where the camera sets both the aperture and shutter speed.

However, you can rotate the camera dial to ‘shift’ the aperture and shutter speed combination in order to get a different effect while still maintaining the same overall exposure. This makes Program mode a good choice for on-the-fly shooting where you just want to be sure you’re going to get the shot.

A good reason to use these modes is that while choosing one of the settings, you are allowing the camera to set the rest - while allows you to see what the proper settings are in certain scenarios and remember these combinations when moving to the full Manual mode.

While I wouldn’t say this about many other practices, photography is one of those where you need to know the rules first before you can break them properly.

And while playing with the different setting like those above is fun and can help us understand good photography, don’t forget that many of the automatic camera settings give perfectly good results.

Take white balance, for instance. The Auto White Balance (AWB) setting does a decent job in many situations. It may go a bit iffy in mixed lighting, and it can leave sunsets looking a bit insipid, but overall it’s pretty good at neutralizing unwanted colour casts.

The camera’s autofocus system is generally a much faster option than manual focus – although you’ll get more accurate results if you tell the camera where you want it to focus by manually selecting one of the AF points in the viewfinder.

Auto ISO can be another life-saver. Here, the camera will raise and lower the ISO sensitivity as you move from dark to bright conditions, improving your chances of taking a sharp photo.

So these are great if you’re out for a stroll and there are many lighting conditions - there is no shame in setting it to Auto and letting the camera do the work. When you go pro you can start carrying multiple camera bodies and lenses around your neck for two different lighting conditions, but in the mean time just have fun.

  1. Shoot in RAW mode

Most digital cameras offers a choice of two file formats to record photos in - RAW and JPEG. If you save your photos as JPEGs, then all the choices you make in the camera will be locked into the final image. If you find that your pictures are too dark or too bright, or the colours looks wrong, then you’ll have no option to try and fix them in Photoshop or similar image-editing software.

The problem is that JPEGs are a compromise - compared to other file formats, they’re heavily compressed, and the quality gets progressively worse as you make further edits and continue saving the file. However, if you save a photo as a RAW file, then you’re just saving all the raw data from the camera.

Really, all digital photos are shot in the RAW file format. It’s just that if you select the JPEG option on the camera, then it processes the raw data and saves the resulting JPEG to the memory card. If you choose to save images as RAW files rather than JPEGs, then you have to process the images yourself, either in-camera with a compatible model or in software such as Lightroom.

Saving the RAW file is like going back in time - you can change some of the picture settings after you’ve taken the shot. Want to try a different white balance or Picture Style, or tweak the exposure and sharpness? You can with RAW.

However, you won’t be able to change the aperture, shutter speed, ISO or focus point though, so get these photography fundamentals right at the time of shooting.

  1. Pick the right lenses to start shooting with

When choosing lenses for your new camera, asking what lenses you should buy will more than likely get you the “It depends” answer. And while it’s not what you want to hear, it really does depend on what you want these lenses to do for you. If you are doing macro, portrait, if you are bird watching or if you are shooting landscape, they almost all require a different lens.

Below I’ll list some of the lenses that we have used the most and have the best reputation.

The Kit lens - Most cameras come with or you able to buy an 18-55mm f/3.5:5.6 kit lens at a much cheaper price if you buy the camera body and lens at the same time. Most will agree that an 18-55mm is actually the perfect lens for most immediate photographic needs, with both a decent wide angle plus the ability to zoom in on semi-far away objects (don’t get excited the range isn’t enough to spy on the hot neighbour)

100mm f/2.8 - If you’re looking for a good portrait lens at the same time as a solid Macro offering, this lens is it. It also takes awesome bokeh shots and some of the most razor-sharp images you can imagine.

70-300mm f/4:5.6 - This lens is relatively light telephoto zoom lens offering a broad range of focal lengths and can do portraiture and of course magnify distant subjects. I love taking this camera into the mountains, I get beautiful shots of the mountain ranges.

35mm f/1.8 - What makes the f/1.8 so good? It’s what’s known as a prime lens, one that doesn’t zoom at all. The magnification it captures is close to what the human eye naturally sees, so as big as something is in your normal vision, that’s about the size it’ll be in the photo. Also one of the best lenses on the market for the bokeh effect and the fact that it goes to 1.8 aperture which means that this lens is perfect for low light situations.

10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 - If you’re a sucker for architectural photography or landscapes this lens is the one for you. Wide angle lenses are definitely something that takes a bit of getting used to, as the distortion at the wide side can be pretty significant. However, this is a really sharp and flexible lens. The 10mm side of things is very wide, allowing you to grab a rather impressive amount of a scene in a single shot.

There are so many lenses on the market from each camera manufacturer, some of them interchangeable, some of them for the novice camera and some for the pro version of the camera, some that can go on the novice but not the pro, and so many different opinions on which ones are the best for what, that you really could spend thousands of dollars right off the bat on lenses and many have.

The best thing to do is do your research online first for your application, then go to a reputable dealer with a wide selection for the brand you bought, and ask them to see what you narrowed your choices down to and ask for their opinion. If they are a camera store, and not the camera section of Walmart, they are all photographers and know their stuff. If they don’t go somewhere else. They should be able to help you make a decision and offer a money back period if you totally don’t like the lens after all.

  1. Lighting

Waiting for the right light - this is what photography is all about. Think about light in terms of its quality, quantity and direction, and how it suits the subject. To reveal detail and reduce the contrast of a scene, shoot when the light is soft and diffused. Outdoor portraits and macro photos look great when shot under bright but overcast skies. Less so at midday on a bright, clear day – the light is just too harsh.

And landscape photographers set their alarms for the early hours for a reason; the rich light at dusk and dawn adds warmth and texture to rural and coastal shots. It’s also been called faerie light for the other worldly glow it casts on scenery.

Experiment with backlighting and try taking photos with the subject lit from the side for more dramatic results. Shoot with the sun behind you by all means, but make sure your shadow doesn’t creep into the photo - unless you want it to, which is a trend you see sometimes.

  1. Use a tripod

Tripods are like lenses - you get what you pay for, so don’t cheap out when buying one. As a beginner a tripod is a life saver and if you’re a bit shaky (cause you’re still not used to how heavy the body and lens is still - it happens to everyone) you will be thankful you bought one.

The tripod (you can find one of our most popular tri-pods right here) is also help when you start shooting from different angles. Either looking up at the mountain ranges, or down in the valley, instead of standing really close to the edge of the cliff let the tripod do the work. Most come with an arm that you can move around to get the angle you want. Pair this with a remote so you don’t actually have to depress the shutter yourself and you’re set.

The tripod will also come in handy when you get a bit more proficient and you want to start shooting night skies or the Aurora Borealis.

  1. Shoot from different angles

Once you start shooting regularly and get used to the different settings, you will want to start shooting from different angles. Most people start shooting from eye level when they’re getting warmed up to photography especially if they’re new to the hobby altogether. While there is nothing wrong with eye level photographs and you can get some stunning shots, changing angles can create entirely different looks and sometimes you can dramatically alter your photo composition just by changing your perspective.

Showing everyone how we see the world around us from our own perspective is often the driving force for photographers.

Try shooting straight up, get down on your belly on the ground and shoot upwards or straight out (worm’s eye view), tilt the camera to the left or the right to shift the horizon, shoot from up top downwards (birds eye view) or kneel down - these are just some of the different perspectives you can shoot from. Shooting from different angles is just one of the many ways you can experiment and improve your composition skills.

These tips for DLSR beginners are the foundation of a good photographer in the making, whether this is a hobby or you want to make this into your career. Education and keeping yourself up to date with new equipment and always shooting and improving your pictures is the only way to grow as a photographer, so read everything you can and always hang out with people that have more experience in the field than you, you never know what adventures you’ll be taken on and what opportunities may arise.

We hope you learned a ton from this article! Before you go you may want to check out our large selection of DSLR camera gear... We have everything from lenses, tri-pods, cases, even t-shirts and custom apparel >>