Last week got away from me before I blinked.  This month we have been diving into the world of DSLR photography.  We have talked about the importance of a good camera, and what is the best lens to start with…lets put them together and make gorgeous photos!

(Remember- I only have experience with Canon, but I've heard Nikon is very similar!)

So many settings- where do I begin?

Image borrowed from

Image borrowed from

Most DSLR cameras have the dial at the top with several different setting options.  The Canon Rebel dial has letters and pictures.  The pictures are “pre-sets”.  The man running obviously is going to be the pre-set for “action” shots, the flower is a micro setting for close up, and so on…forget about using any of those!  In fact, pretend they are not evening there!  They are generic settings and to get the most out of your camera you are going to want to learn how the camera operates.  

The letters on the dial stand for:
M- Manual
Av- Aperture Priority
Tv- Shutter Priority 
A- Automatic (forget this is there too!)

For the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on Aperture, and Shutter priorities.  Using these settings will help you learn how your camera works with your shutter speed and aperture, and how your ISO and white balance can be effected by all as well.

What is White Balance?

Like it sounds, this is the balance of the colors as your camera sees them.  Depending on the scene in which you are shooting, your camera could see the colors on a more blue/cool scale or a more yellow/warmer scale.  On the camera look for your white balance setting, this is easiest found by locating the “WB” button on the back of the Cannon Rebel.  If you do not have a “WB” button look at your camera’s manual to locate how to change white balance.  

What should you have it set on? Unlike the dial on top of the camera, most of the time you are fine selecting which white balance is applicable for your shooting conditions.  For example, if you are outside and it is sunny, you can select sunny.  This is one of the features you can play with to create artistic looks and if you don't hit it right in camera, can always be changed afterwards in editing.  For learning purposes, I recommend leaving your white balance set at “auto”, this will give you the ability to learn aperture and the importance of shutter speed before worrying about the white balance.

What is ISO?

ISO can be difficult to explain, the easiest way is that it is the level of sensitivity your camera is to light.  A lower ISO number usually results to better and more crisp images.  While the higher your ISO is, can result is grainy and less details in your images.  For learning purpose, until you get more experience shooting with DSLR, I recommend leaving your ISO on “auto” but keeping an eye on the level each picture is taken.  That will give you an idea of your cameras capability for handling low light photography without getting too much grain in your images.


Aperture, what does that mean? 

The aperture is driven by the lens.  Each lens has a limit of “f stop”.  The “f stop” is the number on the lens that is usually represented by “1.8”, “1:1.8” or “f/1.8”.  The lower your number, the more “wide open” you can shoot.  A basic lens, those that come with Canon Rebels, usually have a max of f/4.0, which can still produce beautiful pictures if you know how to use the lens.  

So, what does aperture do?  Depending on the f-stop you select will determine the amount of your frame (what you see when you look through the view finder) is in focus.  Beginning with a f/1.8 will keep your area of focus very small or shallow.  Gradually increasing your aperture will allow more of the screen to be in focus.  

**Lets Practice**

Image borrowed from

Image borrowed from

Turn the dial on the top of the camera to “Av”.  This setting will allow you to change the aperture while the camera will determine the other settings for you.  Focusing on one setting at a time is the best way to learn your camera and not over-whelm yourself!

Shutter speed, does it matter?

Shutter speed is so important, in fact recently I have learned that it is so important for more than action shots.  When I first started shooting DSLR I would only worry about my shutter speed when I was shooting the children moving and playing; however, I have recently learned that depending on the lens, my shutter speed is important for hand held photography.  

Shutter speeds are read like fractions, 1/200.  The shutter speed is important to allow enough light into the camera to keep your ISO down but also to keep your image as crisp as possible.  A rule I like to try to follow is nothing under 1/200 for children, while also keeping in mind that your shutter speed should never be any less than double the length of your lens.  For example, if the lens on your camera is an 85mm; I would recommend a minimum shutter speed of 1/160 or higher.  Keep in mind, the higher your “bottom number” in your fraction, the faster your shutter will open and close…if it opens and shuts too fast not enough light will come in, but can also be too slow and have too much light coming in.

**Lets Practice**

Image borrowed from

Image borrowed from

Turn the dial on the top of the camera to “Tv”.  This setting will allow you to change the shutter speed while the camera will determine the other settings for you.  Focusing on one setting at a time is the best way to learn your camera and not over-whelm yourself!

Putting it all together:

Does your brain feel like it is going to burst?  No worries, I’m going to put this all into perspective with one simple word…practice!  Just take it one section of this post at a time, one setting at a time, and practice.  When you begin in DSLR photography the best thing, and the only thing that will help you is to practice.  You should shoot everyday!  It doesn’t have to be a full portrait session, just shooting is the best way to learn.  

Are you waiting on dinner to finish baking?  Sit down in the floor with your little one and try to capture him crawling by using the “shutter priority” setting.  

Is everyone in bed? Is is nice and quiet at home, line up cups (at least three) and practice your aperture setting by starting as wide open as you can and slowly increase your f-stop to see more of the cups coming into focus.

Want more? I’m considering a coaching session for basic DSLR use, anyone interested?