Introduction: A Beginners Guide to a DSLR

About: I am a die hard Anaheim Ducks hockey fan. I love to take things apart and design/build innovative things and I am always thinking of something to build. In my spare time I love surfing, even though the word lo…

Welcome all ye newbs, well maybe not, but anyway, here is my complete guide to a DSLR, whether your shooting in manual mode, or auto, you can probably learn something from this. This is my guide what I've learned about DSLRs from experience, and from being taught.

Anyway, I like to experiment a lot with cameras, and I've been learning more, and getting better over the years. Practice and experience really does help a lot with this, at least in my case.

A little bit about me... in photography...

So, I have learned, over the years, I'm not to fond of many types of photography. I'm beyond terrible with taking pictures of people directly, for portraits, and telling them what to do, and how to act, I'm TERRIBLE at that (please note though: you might still be able to learn something still if your that kind of photographer), then, I find photographing just people as they are doing things in their everyday life (like a wedding photographer or something), kinda boring. I've delved into photography of rural and architectural places a little bit, and I've gone to Los Angeles to take pics, but it isn't my favorite. What I really like is things like sports photography, and nature photography, I like specifically taking pictures of surfing (being my favorite sport), but I love taking pictures of just the ocean, or other natural things. Something I really have wanted to get into is shorebreak photography, and in the water surf/ocean photography, unfortunately though, I haven't been able to get into that for the lack of a waterproof camera, I'm currently trying to get my hands on a Gopro, but haven't yet succeeded. Another thing to note, I love to experiment with different kinds of unique photographs, like low light, and I love to find cool new things to do with them.

So, there's a little about my photography preferences, now for the camera stuff

Step 1: Camera Basics

Please Note: all cameras will be different, I am using a Cannon 20d and its layout might be different from yours, don't panic, it is all basically the same.

PIcture 1:

Camera (aka DSLR): stands for digital single-lens reflex, and is the main body of the setup, and what you take pictures with

lens: This is the second part of the main body, it is what focuses and allows for zoom in the photo

Picture 4:

screen: This is the thing that displays the image for your reviewing/viewing pleasure, it is also how you navigate through the settings etc.

Menu button: This is for getting to your main menu and this is also where you will go to access some of your settings

Info button: You can press this button and it toggles what information you see on the screen from your pictures

Jump/Skip button: This is the button you will use to navigate through your photos faster, you can skip 10 photos instead of going through every one

Media/View pics button: This is the button you press to see all of your photos that you've shot

Delete button: This is the button that you use to delete pictures that you don't want

On/Off switch: This is the switch you use to toggle on or off, I'm not sure why, but my camera has three spots for you to slide to, there's off, on, and a line, from what I've figured out, you can only control your aperature while in the line mode, all others won't let you, again, don't know why it's there

Ok button: for selecting ok when prompted/selection tool

Scroll Wheel: This basically the main thing you use to get around the UI, it's how you navigate

Joystick Thingy: This is for navigating around in a zoomed in pic, and selecting your point of focus

Zoom in (on pics): This is for, when you are reviewing a picture that you've already taken, to zoom in closer on that picture

Zoom out (on pics)/Focus point: This is for doing the opposite of Zoom in (on pics) (seen above) and also for selecting where you want your focus point to be when using auto focus (more on this later)

View Finder: THIS IS WHERE YOU LOOK THROUGH WHEN TAKING A PICTURE. DSLRs are not like your smartphone camera or 'point and shoot' you aren't supposed to look at the screen while taking a pic (though there is a setting that allows for that) It is much, much, much more accurate to look through the viewfinder, and plus, it displays a lot more information on the bottom... Like the shutter speed and stuff

Picture 5:

Light setting: This is the setting that you select what kind of lighting conditions you are in, and the camera adjusts accordingly (AWB is auto mode)

Battery: This displays how much juice you have left in your battery

Scale: This is how the camera thinks your pictures should be, 0 is ideal, most of the time

Shooting mode: Shows what shooting mode you are in (for example, single shot, repetition shots, or timer)

(Approximated) images left: This is where the camera tells you about how many pictures you can still take before your sd card is full

Aperture: This displays what your aperture is currently (more later)

Shutter Speed: This displays your shutter speed (usually in X/100 of a second) (More on this later)

By the way, I hope I didn't miss anything in the pictures, if I did, let me know in the comments and I'll fix it.

Step 2: Assembly of the Camera

So, you are going to want to be able to switch out camera lenses and camera cards so here's how to get them out and back in.

Removing the lens:
Looking at the front of the camera (into the lens) you might have noticed a little button on the right. Press this down and twist the lens counterclockwise simultaneously. It should twist pretty easily. And once the red dot on the lens is at the 12 o'clock position, you can pull the lens straight out.
To put the lens back in, align the red dots on the camera and the lens, push the lens in (note, if it's not going in, it's not aligned right, DO NOT TRY TO FORCE THE LENS IN, you WILL, pretty much guaranteed break your beloved camera) then just twist it clockwise, until you see/feel/hear it click.

Camera card:
Now the camera card is much easier. To take it out, there should be a little latch in your camera, slide that open, and then press the button next to the card. Then to put back in, make sure you are putting it in the right orientation, and push it in.

Step 3: UI

Now for the user interface (UI)
Pretty much all cameras have a very basic and easy to get around UI, often they consist or a scroll wheel and a couple of buttons (or at least mine does, but mines kinda old).
Basically, from the camera, you can choose how the pictures taken are organized in the camera card (folders), format the camera card, make different layouts on the screen, like the lines or no lines on it, and much more. I'm just going to tell you a little about the UI on 20d, and I'll leave it up to you to explore yours.
Basically you press the menu button to get to the menu/settings page, info button to change the information that is displayed, jump button to "jump" 10 photos in the photo viewer, and the square with a triangle in it button to get to the photo viewer

Step 4: Operation/settings

There are tons of settings on your camera, and I'm not talking ISO, shutter speed, and exposure settings, but more system settings. You can format your camera card, sensor clean, change the quality of the picture, change red eye settings and much, much more. I'll leave it up to you to explore further (just hit your menu button and scroll!).

Step 5: Controls

This gives you all sorts of different options for when your shooting. Depending on what/where your shooting. I honestly don't use them much at all. I use manual mode (M) and auto mode when I'm shooting for my Instructables (green square)
There are tons of modes you can capitalize on though if you want. I started out using aperture mode (AV) which I believe is manual mode just with auto aperture. There's also portrait mode, sports mode, night mode, landscape mode, and much much more.

Step 6: Aperture/Exposure

First of all, I feel like aperture and exposure are mixed up a ton, so lets clear things up a little:

First thing first, The Iris is a part of the camera that adjusts how much the camera opens to let light in to the sensor
Aperture: is the size of the opening in the iris
Exposure: is how much light falls on the sensor

The aperture is a fun thing to play around with on the camera. It can really change how your image turns out. It can change how bright your picture is, the depth of field, and a lot more. The number that you see that is your "aperture", is refered to as the F-number, or F stop. The F number is the ratio of lens focal length to diameter of the aperture. If you have a 50 mm lens, and it is set to the aperture F-2, then the opening through which light is captured is 25 mm.

To see more in detail stuff about aperture you can see bpark1000's comment bellow

Anyway, there are a ton of cool things that you can do with aperture. Like change how much of the picture is in focus. The F stop is related to the "depth of field". There will be a shallow depth of field with a low F stop number, so the object in focus will be sharp, but anything farther back or farther forward will be more out of focus. And vice versa. So with an aperture of F-22, there will be a deep depth of field and a lot of the picture will be in focus, but with an aperture of F-2, you will have a shallow depth of field and only the subject being focused on is in focus. See the picture above for an example.

Step 7: ISO

ISO apparently stands for International standards organization. And is the equivalent of ASA on film.

I have had an interesting past with ISO, I had a problem with it, and it ruined most of the pictures that I took from probably the best conditions that I ever got to shoot, to this day. It was Wednesday, august 27, 2013 (I believe), when the Hurricane Marie swell hit southern California. I went straight from school to the beach, and started shooting. I had, once apon a time, taken a digital arts class, and in it we watched a documentary of a man explaining how he was shooting a cheetah, he was saying how he turned up his ISO, in order to be able to turn up his shutter speed, so he could get fast shutter speed. So, I thought, why not try it, so I cranked up my ISO to 800, and started shooting.

First I went and shot Newport point, Newport Beach, saw amazing barrels, on a legendary day, then went and shot solid 13th Street, Newport Beach, and then, headed over to the wedge to see the most insane surfing I've seen in person, in my life. The first wave I saw, was Jamie O'Brian (JOB), pulling into the most insane, perfect barrel that I've seen (pictured above). It was probably the most perfect the wedge has ever been in recent history. And I was there, shooting it.

So then I got home, and checked out the pictures that I took, only to realize they were all super pixelated, I wasn't happy, and since then, I've pretty much hated ISO, and keeping my ISO below 200 is a must for me.

Anyway, I'm not exactly sure what ISO is/how it works in the camera, buy that's besides the point. ISO, makes your pictures brighter basically, and more pixelated. It is mainly for low light usage when you can't lower your shutter speed due to blur, and your aperture is already low. It brightens up the picture. A 200 ISO, is pretty normal, 800 is on the higher side, and 1600 is pretty high, but others have said that they can shoot with an ISO of 3200 without much grain, so know your camera. I tend to resort, since my misfortune, to stay below an ISO of 200, and just make the shutter speed longer and the aperture lower.
But, it's up to you.

Up in the pictures, you see some of the misfortunes that took place during my time shooting the swell. Please note, those are all edited to the best of my ability, and they are still that bad... The pictures are all of the wedge by the way.

Step 8: Shutter Speed

Now for probably my favorite setting, the shutter speed. I find shutter speed so fun to play around with, and the results that come out of it are so cool. You can get extremely sharp pics, blurred pics, and so much more. I feel like shutter speed is where you really dictate you picture.
So, what shutter speed is, is how fast the "shutter" opens to let in light to the sensor. So the slower it is, the brighter the picture, and also the more blurry. If your just messing around and shooting, a 60 (or 1/60 of a second), is probably the slowest you want to go, but if your intentionally going slower, AND HAVE A TRIPOD (you shouldn't be going for a low shutter speed for the most part if you don't have a tripod) the results can be stunning. I intend to post another Instructable on this type of photography so look forward to it.

Step 9: White Balance

White balance is one of the more obscure and not-so-known about settings on a DSLR. I didn't know about it for a long time, then I decided to do some research about it.

White balance, removes different color casts from your photo, So that something that you see that looks white, is white in your photograph. It balances out all of the colors on a photo. It will balance out the yellow and blue colors, If it is off, your image might appear more blue or yellow than it was in reality. It has a lot to do with the temperature of the colors. The temperatures of different light sources are measured in Kelvins. For example, florescent light is 4000-5000K while candle light is 1000-2000K, Here's a quick list of the measurement of different kinds of light:

1000-2000K -Candle Light
2500-3500K -Tungsten Bulb
3000-4000K -Sunrise/Sunset
5000-5500K -Electronic flash
5000-6500K -Daylight (clear sky)
6500-8000K -semi overcast sky
9000-10000K -Shade/overcast sky

And so the camera adjusts accordingly, whether manually or automatically.

Auto White Balance (AWB) is sufficient in most cases, I keep my camera on auto at pretty much all times. But there are times when auto white balance can fail, for example, if your image has a lit of warmth in the image, such as a sunset or something of the like, it might cool down the picture, so Sometimes manual white balance is better.

The different types of white balance presets are as follows:

Name (description of symbol on camera)

Auto White balance (AWB)
Custom (two triangles facing a circle-ish thing)
Tungsten (light bulb giving off light)
Florescent (rectangle giving off light)
Daylight (sun)
Flash (charging/flash symbol/lightning bolt w/ arrow)
Cloudy (cloud)
Shade (house giving off shade)

Step 10: Lenses

Lenses, lenses, lenses, I believe these are the most expensive part. My lens isn't the greatest to be honest, it has a ton of zoom (28-200 mm), but no auto focus (the af is broken), which sucks. Anyway, I deal with what I've got, and hey! It gets the job done for me. Often times it can be hard when you only have one hand to click the shutter and the other one is occupied and can't control the focus, but I deal with it.

It would also be nice to get my hands on a lens with smaller zoom. And auto focus. And OIS (optical image stabilization) would be cool to get too.

Lenses control a lot of things, or improve them. Lenses usually determine what F-stop that your camera can reach, and how much zoom that you get. The more features (like OIS), the lower the reach of the aperture, and the more zoom tend to get lenses more expensive. For example, a 50mm lens with f-1.8 aperture can be around $125, while the same lens, except with a f-1.4 maximum aperture is $350.

Step 11: Camera Cards

Camera Cards are not my favorite thing in the world. They can get lost, stolen, become corrupt, who knows? But they are one of the most essential parts of photography. My camera, and most DSLRs I believe use compact flash (CF) cards. After Doing a little research, I found that CF cards can be faster than a lot of regular sd or micro sd cards, making them more advantageous in some cases, but for most people, I have seen that they don't notice a difference and it is the same experience. With Micro sd cards being a lot cheaper, you could easily go with that, and you probably wouldn't have many problems. I haven't really had any problems with speed on my CF card, I've only had problems of storage, I have not had much storage at all ever, I've always used 2 gb cards, so I am going to eventually pic up a micro sd to CF adapter, and just use my sd card as my card. There are also SDHC cards that have a faster write speed than a regular sd, and there are a ton more options that you can explore.

There are adapters out there such as this one here.

Step 12: Taking Care of Your DSLR

Couple things on this, always have a lens cap on when not using the camera, most important thing right there. I also recommend having a camera bag, it's a much better and safer way of transporting your camera. And... Keep a couple of fully charged batteries with you, it's the worst when your camera run some out of batteries in the middle of a shoot, I also keep my charger with me at all times, just in case.

Step 13: Thank You!

For me, this has turned out to be a learning experience in itself. And I'm glad. I am no pro photographer, and I still have things to learn about photography. I hope that you learned just as much or even more than I did from this and I hope it benefits you.


I can't thank you guys enough.

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