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Posted on: Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Great tips for using your DSLR – PART ONE

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Learn how to use a DSLR

Learn how to use a DSLR

I’ve had a DSLR, or digital SLR, for over a year now. And I confess, I still use it on good old auto.

Translated: I border on pathetic when it comes to skilled photography, obviously. Luckily for me, the gorgeous Canon I have literally does most of it for me. So I just line up what I think is creative and the camera seems to do the rest.

And I manage to walk off with better shots than those I used to capture on my point-and-click. But I know I’m not doing the camera justice.

I wonder how many of us there are out there. Those of us with gorgeous cameras  whose younger, tech-savvy sisters-in-law easily make look gormless in less than five minutes, without the use of the manual, when they simply pick up the equipment and get the hang of it.

I ABHOR manuals. The thought of actually sifting my way through the pages so that they make sense to me is way beyond my cluttered brain. I have tried, really. I got as far as finding out how to take pictures so that I can be in them too – the timer works really well – but I can never remember how to use it the next time I need a group pic.

For my use, and hopefully yours, here are pointers and tips that will have us shooting like pros in no time:

Practise makes perfect

Practise makes perfect


That lovely screen display on your camera – it’s called the LCD screen and it’s great to use. Or at least, I think it is. It prevents me having to stick my eye right up against a tiny aperture (great, as I wear glasses). But there are pros and cons:


  • easy to use
  • it’s big (the viewfinder is a weeny little aperture)
  • you get to view the shot you just took almost immediately on the screen
  • camera doesn’t have to be at eye level


  • chews the battery (it uses up battery time faster than any other feature on the camera!)
  • it needs to be held at arms’ length, which risks camera shake (although I don’t hold it that far away and my shots are fine)
  • in bright light it’s difficult to see the screen
Don't forget to focus

Don’t forget to focus


To get the most out of your DSLR you want to start using manual (M), aperture priority (AV) and shutter priority (Tv) modes, but only when you want to start playing – no pressure. Nothing wrong with auto mode (I should know).


The exposure triangle – shutter speed+aperture+ISO

  • these are the 3 ingredients for playing around with exposure
  • they each relate to to how light enters and interfaces with the camera
  • shutter speed is like shutters to a window, the wider it is open, the more light allowed in
  • aperture is like increasing or decreasing the size of the window; the smaller your aperture, the faster your shutter speed
  • ISO is sensitivity to light – the lower it is, the finer the grain; if it’s dark, you’ll go for higher ISO settings with faster shutter speeds, but it will cost you in ‘noise’ (i.e. more grainy)
Get to know the features

Get to know the features


Whilst it pays to understand what shutter speed and aperture are about, they’re not as important, say the photo fundis, as ISO.

I went on a hike with a professional photographer, who showed me (really briefly) how to work with my camera, and he simply showed me to use manual, and play with ISO.

Most DSLR’s go up to 1600 ISO (International Organisation for Standardization), which is all about film speed (or was in the days of film). ISO is really great for when you take photos at night or in a poorly lit room. Increase your ISO and you improve your photos.

Up until now, I’ve just avoided evening photos. I decided my camera just couldn’t manage, because in auto mode it can’t.

But start experimenting with ISO speeds at night or in low light – increase the setting, which means that the time your lens is open is shortened and you thus get a less blurry photo.

Get that shot!

Get that shot!

And if you still get blurry shots, then you need a tripod stand, or need to brace the camera on a chair, table, wall or whatever is to hand. It needs more stability.


RAW is the alternative to JPEG. It’s supposed to be fantastic for art shots. The downside is that the file is huge and cumbersome and they take up lots of space on your drive.

But you get to play with exposure, contrast and temperature (white balance, contrast, exposure etc.) The file format is compressed and holds a whole lot more information as a result. Which means you can play around with it a lot in your software package post processing.

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Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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