Getting To Know Your DSLR Camera

You just received your first DSLR Camera, opened the box and are in awe of its beauty. But now what? Where do you start? All the buttons and menu option can be a little intimidating at first, but with this simple guide on getting to know your DSLR camera, you’ll learn DSLR terms for beginners, and be confident in using and shooting beautiful photographs in no time making the most of your new camera.

dslr terms for beginners

Getting to Know Your Camera: DSLR Terms For Beginners

Note: I use a Nikon DSLR camera and many of the terms below may be Nikon specific, but don’t fret. Cannon offers many of the same camera options as Nikon, so this guide can be used for both brands. The wording and terms may be just a bit different with Cannon DSLR Cameras.

Purchasing Your First DSLR Camera

When shopping for your first DSLR camera, there are two main pieces of equipment you’ll be purchasing.

  • Camera Body – When shopping for a DSLR camera, you’ll want to take into consideration the camera body, what it can (or can’t) do, and what you need your camera to do. Pixel count and camera weight are just two of items to consider. Maybe you also need your camera to shoot video or HD video? You can get all these options and more in many DSLR camera’s today without breaking the bank.
  • Lenses – When you are shopping for a DSLR camera you’ll find you can purchase many models as a kit (with a ‘kit’ lens) or as a body only. Kit lenses generally have a higher minimum aperture, also known as the f-number. Personally, I prefer to purchase my DSLR camera as a body only and invest in a prime lens with lower minimum aperture, like a 50mm 1.4 or 1.8 or a 35mm 1.8 (two of my favorite lenses for blogging), so I can get a brighter image with a shallower depth of field without a flash. (More about aperture below.)

Using Your First DSLR Camera

If you choose to shoot in manual mode, below are some terms and definitions to help you get started.

1.) Aperture – You heard me mention aperture above, so what is aperture? Aperture is what controls your depth of field, the lower you can get your f-number, the shallower the depth of field and the blurrier your background will be (this is often associated with bokeh photography). The lower the f-number the lighter your images will be as the hole that lets the light in is larger.

2.) Shutter Speed – The shutter speed determines how long your shutter is open and how much light is let in. The faster the shutter speed, the sharper the image will be. As an example, I set my shutter speed for photographing children at no less than 1/125th of a second, and sports at no less than 1/500th of a second to stop body motion in basketball or up to 1/4000th of a second to stop a 90 mph fastball.

3.) ISO – ISO measures how sensitive your camera is to light and is often associated with the ‘grain’ you find in some images. You always want to shoot in the lowest ISO possible for the best shots. An ISO of 100 is perfect for shooting outside on a sunny day, but you’ll need an ISO of 400 or even 800 to shoot indoors. As long as your Aperture and Shutter Speed are set correctly, meaning your image will be properly exposed, you still get sharp images at a higher ISO.

4.) RAW – I always shoot in RAW, there is no exception to this rule. While shooting in RAW takes up more room on your memory disk than JPEG does, it is well worth it. When shooting in RAW, you can alter the original photograph from your camera, not a compressed JPEG version, giving you more flexibility to control white balance, exposure and more.

If you choose to shoot in Auto or a Program Mode (also known as flexible program mode), you’ll need to know what all those little letters on the dial mean.

  • Auto – Camera controls everything including aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. All you have to do is point and shoot.
  • ‘P’  Program Mode – Program mode lets the camera set the aperture and shutter speed, but you the photographer can choose from a different combination of these settings that will produce the same exposure.
  • ‘S’ Shutter Priority Mode – The photographer chooses the shutter speed and the camera automatically adjusts aperture for optimal exposure.
  • ‘A’ Aperture Priority Mode – The photographer chooses the aperture and the camera automatically adjusts shutter speed for optimal exposure.
  • ‘M’ Manual Mode – The photographer chooses both aperture and shutter speed, providing the greatest latitude for creative expression. (See above).

Now that you have a head start on the settings and options your DSLR offers, have fun taking pictures.

Keep Reading

Looking for more information to help you improve your photography? Here are a few posts that you’ll find helpful:

  1. 5 Must-Have Food Photography Tips
  2. 12 Tips To Improve Your Photography Skills
  3. Natural Light In Photography
Image Mapping Made Easy
Instagram Mistakes To Avoid As A Blogger (How to avoid them)


  1. says

    I wish I had a DSLR camera!! It’s on my dream wishlist. Right now I’m just using the camera on my phone. Seems to be OK for now until i can buy a real camera!

  2. says

    We’ve had a Nikon DSLR for awhile that just doesn’t get much use. We’ve found it’s a pain to always carry it and usually just use our iPhones. Is that bad, LOL!

  3. says

    Excellent information – I pinned this for future reference. Luckily my son’s girlfriend sells cameras so we’re going to play with both the Nikon and Canon to see which one feels good in my hands and has the functions I require. I can’t wait to have a Big Girl camera soon!

  4. says

    Thanks Stacy!

    Yeah, I think it’s about time I invest in a better camera than my iPhone (haha) for pictures.

    What do you think about a “bridge” camera? I thought that would be a little less intimating than a DSLR.

    `darlene :)