A common misconception is that professional cameras aid in taking better with little to no input from the photographer. This is not the case – the real advantage of professional cameras lies in the freedom & input it gives you, the individual, in creating & taking pictures.

Most of us put our DSLRs on full auto, which is fine for standard photographs, but limits your creative input to just the composition. There are more features and variables that you can adjust in order to take the exact photo that you want to take.

We’ve provided a guide, with simple & helpful tricks and tips to ensure that you’re using your professional camera to the best of your (and its) ability.

How do DSLRs work?

The core of your camera is a tiny chip known as the sensor – when the sensor is hit by light (coming from the lens), it converts it into an image, similar to the way your eyes work.

The amount of light that comes in is controlled by the shutter, the ‘eyelid’ of the camera. The shutter opens for a split-second, lets in some light, which is then focused through the lens and recorded by the sensor.

You can play around with these options in the manual mode of your camera.


This is the ‘sensitivity’ of the camera sensor. Higher ISO means a brighter picture, but there is a drawback that a high ISO creates more ‘noise’ (similar to pixilation). In most modern DSLRs, you can crank up the ISO to the max (usually 1600) without it affecting the photo too much – unless you plan to enlarge the photo.


Shutter Speed:

This is the variable that will affect your pictures the most.

Changing the shutter speed (measured in seconds) controls how long the shutter stays open to let in in light. Obviously, a lower (slower) shutter speed will let in more light and therefore result in brighter pictures.

Another important effect of changing the shutter speed is that it affects how long the sensor will record what’s happening in front of the camera. For example, if you’re taking a photograph of a moving object you’ll want a higher shutter speed (to capture the movement) – a lower shutter speed will result in a blurry photo.

Another very important effect of changing the shutter speed is that it affects how long the sensor will ‘record’ what is happening in front of the camera. If you are taking a photograph of a moving object you will want a high shutter speed.

A low shutter speed is desirable for long exposure shots – to record the motion of your subject. Think of photographs with cars shown as lines of light. I took the photograph below with 30-second shutter speed in order to get the lines.



This is how wide the ‘eye’ of the camera opens to let in light. A low aperture means that the eye opens wider, which allows the camera to let in more light – resulting in brighter pictures.

Aperture also controls the ‘Depth of Field’, which determines how blurry or in focus the background of the photograph is. A higher aperture will yield a higher depth of field, meaning the background will be more in focus.

A general rule of thumb is aiming for low aperture for portraits, and high aperture for landscape shots.


White Balance:

The white balance controls how ‘blue’ or ‘yellow’ the picture looks. You can set the white balance to automatic in manual mode, but to ensure your photograph is its best colour, it is advisable to set it to the kind of lighting you are working with. It can also be used as a filter.


Getting the Exposure Right:

The exposure of the image controls the light and determines the brightness. This can be tricky to get right at first but the camera can help you out a little.

There is a tiny bar that will show on your screen (and usually in the viewfinder – the eye piece of the camera) that shows a scale from -2 to 2. This basically shows how over or underexposed (bright or dark) the photo is.

Remember, this is what the camera thinks, and a ‘zero’ reading is the same exposure the cameral will give you on full automatic. This is not always correct, but is a good reference and will be very helpful when you’re starting out.

You will be able to better use this function when you know how the camera ‘thinks’. The camera sets its exposure based on everything in the photo – not just the subject. This is why, for instance, when you take a photograph of someone with a bright light behind them, they appear dark or even as silhouettes. If this is the case, you should overexpose it to keep your subject well-lit.


General Tips

With your newfound photography knowledge, you now have a lot more control over how your photograph looks, but also have loads more factors to balance.

Taking good photos needs a lot of patience and practice – don’t get frustrated and rest assured that all great photographers started off with terrible snaps.

Don’t use automatic unless you want a quick snap of something that you’re afraid will leave – a bird or an animal. To sharpen your photography skills, you have to make manual your first option.

Play around with the manual focus to pick out exactly which aspect of your subject you want in focus – important with a lower depth of field – as the autofocus is often frustrating when it doesn’t capture your artistic vision.

Happy snapping!