Improve Your Photography With This DSLR Camera Guide

Published by Lerna on

improve your photography guide to manual photography Lerna

improve your photography guide to manual photography Lerna

It’s pretty much the norm these days to have professional photography on a blog. When we all started out, we could get away with some iPhone snaps and photos that were perfectly imperfect. Then more and more of us started investing in DSLR cameras and shooting auto mode. The next step to take to improve your photography is shooting manual on your DSLR.

A lot of bloggers opt to work with photographers and leave the control in their hands. Still, understanding how they’re shooting will also help you create a mood for your photos. Understanding the relationship between your aperture setting and shutter speed will make it easier to communicate with your photographer and let him/her know what you want from the photos.

The added benefit of understanding manual settings is the control over your own photography. If you do a lot of self-portraits like me, being able to manipulate the settings quickly saves a lot of time. Also, if you’re with someone who might not understand photography as well (i.e. significant other), you can make all the adjustments for him/her and just have them push the button. Easy, peasy.

Truth: Having a camera doesn't make you a photographer Click To Tweet

The important thing to understand is that just because someone has a really expensive DSLR, they’re not necessarily a photographer. Use this guide as your starting point in learning photography (which is ultimately light manipulation). This is your first stepping stone. Before long, you’ll be able to identify specific lenses and how well they fit your camera. This is a whole other topic: not all lenses are created equal, and most importantly, some lenses that are BRILLIANT on one camera body might not work as well on a different camera body. That topic is for another day, though.

If you have a lovely DSLR that you dropped several hundred (or several thousand) on, it’s best to treat it as a tool that gives you maximum flexibility. If you don’t want to use manual mode, it might be best to get a smaller and simpler point-and-shoot camera with a fixed zoom lens. They’re still amazing at what they do, and will ultimately save you a lot of money. They’re also a lot lighter! Nothing wrong with them if that’s your shooting style. Plenty of photographers use point-and-shoot cams (or even their phones!) for certain photos.

Improve Your Photography: Basic Photography Terms


What happens when you press the button to capture a photograph?

Basically, the shutter curtain opens (it’s located inside the body, behind the lens) and the sensor is exposed, with the light entering through the lens. The image is then “burned” onto the sensor based on how much light comes in. The shutter curtain closes, and your image is now available!

The right exposure is based on the balance of three elements. Let’s start with one of them today and fill in the other two in part II.

Multiple exposures photograph by Gjon Mili

Multiple exposures photograph by Gjon Mili


This is located within your lens. The aperture is the hole that the light travels through to reach your sensor. The smaller the hole, the less light enters and burns onto the sensor to create the image. The larger the hole, the more light will enter. The aperture also controls the depth-of-field. When the aperture is reduced (the f-stop is made bigger), the depth-of-field increases and more objects are in focus. When the aperture is increased (the f-stop is smaller), the depth-of-field is decreased, and you create situations like the bokeh effect where the subject is in focus. Meanwhile, the background is blurred.

When you’re in low-light situations (such as in the evening, when the sun starts going down), you can open up the aperture to let more light in. The aperture is also called the f-stop and is denoted by the letter f/. The smaller the f-stop number, the larger the aperture hole. So, a f/1.4 will be bigger and let more light in than f/8.

Improve Your Photography - Aperture Setting Example

Shutter Speed

In the exposure paragraph I told you that the shutter curtain opens and exposes the sensor, then it closes to shut the light out again. The length of time the shutter remains open is the shutter speed. A faster shutter speed means that the shutter opens and closes quickly.

A shutter speed of 1/8000 means that the shutter stays open for 1/8000th of a second. That’s an incredibly quick shutter speed, and it allows you to capture action shots. I.e. if you wanted to photograph a hummingbird, the fast shutter speed would capture an individual flap of the wings clearly instead of blurring the wings.

High shutter speed produces crisp, blur-free images, but requires a lot of light to get the exposure correctly.

improve your photography long exposure

Long Exposure Photo by Cory Gazaille on Unsplash

A shutter speed of 30 seconds, however, is extremely slow and requires a tripod. Any slight movement would blur the image you’re capturing with such a slow shutter speed. Slow shutter is typically used in night-time photography and can capture things like light trails on a highway or the night-time sky when paired with the correct ISO and aperture.

When you’re shooting handheld (without a tripod), the minimum shutter speed should be around 1/30 to still get a crisp image. Anything lower introduces a greater chance of blurring due to any slight movement.


ISO is your sensor sensitivity. It can range anywhere from 100 to 25,000 standard. In particular cameras, it can be extended. For example, the Nikon d810 ISO can be extended up to 51,200. The camera I’m currently using, Sony A7rII can go up to 102,400. Most people don’t need these types of capabilities. Cameras with large sensors tend to have better ISO performance.

So, what do these numbers mean? Traditionally, the ISO refers to film’s sensitivity to light. In this case, it’s the sensor’s sensitivity to light. So, at higher numbers, the sensor is more “sensitive” to light, meaning, more of the light penetrates and burns onto the sensor. A lower ISO is used in brighter light situations. A lower ISO also produces less noise in an image. A higher ISO allows more light in low light situations, but it also comes at the added cost of noise.

How the Three Aspects interact

There are perfect combos for every photographic situation, taking the three aspects of photography into account. For example, it’s a bright day on the beach. You’ll want to start by adjusting the ISO to something low, like 100. This reduces the intensity of the light entering the sensor. Now, you’ll want to set the aperture (F-stop). You can pump that up to f/16. Now, play with the shutter speed. If we are following the sunny f/16 (you can brush up on it here), well-known in photography to meter our the camera in bright conditions, the shutter speed should be set to 1/100.

Those are the basics! In the next article, I’ll go more in-depth into the different shooting modes on your camera and the different settings you might want to start with depending on the shooting situation.

Main Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

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