DSLR Photography: A complete step-by-step beginner’s guide

This guide covers almost every aspect of DSLR photography. However, for photographers who are already familiar with the basics of DSLR camera. They should jump to “DSLR photography in different conditions“. As for the beginners, this guide will surely help you get started with your DSLR camera.

DSLR Photography: An Introduction

DSLR Photography has been in trend for several years. Before this general trend, DSLR was meant for professional photographers but as of now, it is not the case. People other than professionals are investing in DSLR cameras. However, most of them have no knowledge about using it.

DSLR Photography is a skill, unlike the mirrorless cameras that work on auto-pilot. You need to understand some intricate terms and learn the skill to perfectly match them with the external situations so to get the photo you want. And it requires a lot of practice! In short, you are the driver. So next time, when you get that blur shot, don’t blame you DSLR.

We will discuss the “Exposure Triangle” that is the three important terms that play a vital role in DSLR photography. The key to being a good photographer is to learn to balance the exposure triangle.

The Exposure Triangle: Key to DSLR Photography

dslr photography
Source: Photography Life

The Exposure Triangle plays a vital role in photography. It basically represents the three key factors that determine the exposure of your photo. In simpler terms, the overall appearance of your photo. The skill of balancing these factors is required to make the best out of your DSLR and thus get the required result.

These three factors inter-relates. Therefore, adjusting one of them requires adjusting the other two. First, we will briefly discuss these three factors and then we will see how can we adjust them according to different situations.

1- Aperture

Source: NikonUSA

In simple words – Aperture can be thought of as the window of the lens.

It opens and closes, in order to allow or restrict the amount of light reaching the sensor. It is calibrated in (f/stops) like f/1.4, f/2,/f/8. The higher the number then narrower the opening becomes and vice versa. Now as we know photography is all about light exposure, therefore the aperture is what decides the depth of field.

dslr photography

Narrower aperture means more area, whether near or far will be in focus. This is what we call greater depth of field. The blur effect in the background can be avoided by the narrow aperture.
Most landscapes are shot with narrow apertures, like f/22.

Read more: The Best Canon Cameras in 2020

dslr photography

Wider apertures allow less area to be focused. In other words, you isolate the subject from the background. Thus, leaving the background blurry and the subject focused. This is called a narrow depth of field. Portrait images are shot with a wide aperture like f/1.4 or f/2.
Bokeh– The trendy style of photography is also shot at wider apertures.

2- Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the measure of how long the sensor is exposed to light. The Shutter is a kind of a curtain that can close within a fraction of second and thus, control the duration of light exposure upon the sensor. It is, therefore, measured in fractions of a second For example 1/2 (Half of a second), 1/30, 4/1 (4 seconds).

dslr photography

Shutter speed is of greater importance in photos especially when the subject is in motion. With faster shutter speed you can freeze the moving objects. While in slow shutter speed you will get a blurry effect, as shown in the image.
Had this photo been shot with slow shutter speed, you could have seen the moving vehicles more clearly without blur.

Read more: The Best Cameras For Beginners in 2020 for Photography

3- ISO

dslr photography

ISO– Here is a catch! We want to work with the lowest possible ISO to get less noise then why do we have ISO that ranges up to 3500? Let’s discover.

ISO stands for International Standards Organization. This organization standardizes the sensitivity ratings of the sensors. DSLR has the power to adjust the sensitivity of its sensor on the go. Its ISO ranges in value from 25 to 3500 (or beyond). Most high-end cameras come with ISO as low as 25,50.

Why do we want only the low ISO?

With low ISO, the sensor is less sensitive to light thus it produces a smoother image with less noise. As ISO gets higher, as a result, the sensitivity increases to the extent that it introduces noise in the image. Digital noise is a more technical term, it is basically the unnecessary light from the surroundings, it produces kind of a grainy effect in a photo.

dslr photography
Source: www.exposureguide.com

This gives rise to another question– Why do we have high ISO then?
It is because we have to do a trade-off. In low light conditions, we need our camera sensor to be more sensitive to light so that our image doesn’t appear dark. This trade-off comes with a price to pay and that is noise in the background.

Cameras that perform best at the lowest ISO values possible, particularly in low-light conditions are in-demand and are often expensive.

Balancing the exposure triangle

This is where actual DSLR photography starts. The goal is to balance the three sides of the triangle.

  1. The first thing to note is that we want to work with the lowest ISO possible. Except if, you have low light conditions. In a well-lit environment, keep the ISO in its lowest value.
  2. If the aperture is kept wide, with values like f/1.4, f/2, you are basically allowing more light to pass through, then you should keep the shutter speed fast. Otherwise, you will only see a white bright light in your photo.
  3. If the aperture is kept narrow, with values like f/16,f/11, then you are restricting the amount of light entering. In this case, you should keep the shutter slow. Otherwise, you will have a dark image.
  4. If you are in extreme low-light conditions, then before you increase ISO, consider the following two cases:
    1. If the subject is static– Try to let more light in by keeping the aperture wide and shutter slow.
    2. If the subject is moving– Try to keep the aperture wide, but shutter fast enough to avoid blur only.
  5. If the above two cases don’t seem effective, then the only option is to increase ISO.

We will see how a DSLR photographer applies these techniques.

DSLR photography in different conditions

1. Well-lit environment

Photo by Rob Martinez 
  1. In a well-lit environment, then keep the ISO in the lowest possible value.
  2. If the aperture is kept wide, like f/1.4, f/2.8 then keep the shutter speed fast, in the range of 1/30-1/60.
  3. If the aperture is kept narrow, like f/16, f/11 then keep the shutter slow, in the range of 1/20-1/30.

2- Low light environment

Photo by Jonathan Weiss 

NOTE– Low light photography can be challenging. Especially with low-end cameras, the result is not usually what the photographers expect. Low-light photography asks for high-end cameras. However, a few mid-range cameras can work well in low-light photography. However, there are certain DSLR photography tips and tricks that may lessen the issue.

  1. Try to avoid increasing ISO a first, if you have a static subject then you should try to keep the aperture wider and shutter slower. If you don’t get your required result only then increase ISO.
  2. If you have a moving subject, then you are bound to keep shutter fast may be up to 1/60. In such a case keep the aperture as wide as possible.
  3. If you are left with the only option of increasing ISO, then don’t jump directly to the highest value but try to select value somewhere in the middle. For example, ISO-500 or 600. Above this, you will notice the magnitude of the noise increases drastically.

3- The Bokeh Photo

Photo by Christian Widell 

Bokeh comes from a Japanese word which means “blur”. Bokeh is a trendy style of photography. Bokeh photo requires a lens with an aperture of at least f/2.8. However, apertures of f/2, f/1.8 or f/1.4  are ideal for Bokeh. Such a lens is called a fast lens. There is a trick to capture Bokeh, particularly for those people who don’t own a fast lens.

  1. Keep the aperture as low as possible and the shutter speed as fast up to 1/60 in the very bright surroundings. However, In a moderately lit environment, keep the shutter speed up to 1/30.
  2. For people who don’t own a fast lens. You can still create a visible Bokeh effect by increasing the distance between your subject and the background or decrease distance between your camera and subject. The idea is to focus on the background.

4- Landscape

Photo by Bailey Zindel 

In a landscape photo, a photographer wants to capture every detail of the scenery in front of himself. Therefore, a landscape should have no blur and everything appears clear and detailed. Here’s how it is done.

  1. Create depth by keeping the aperture narrow in the range of f/16-f/22. Keep the shutter speed in range 1/80-1/100.
  2. Use a tripod if available. It eliminates the blurring effect that rises from camera shake.
  3. In bright light, you can use a lens hood to prevent flaring.

Watch the video about the “Exposure Triangle”


In conclusion, DSLR Photography is all about balancing the three factors of the exposure triangle. Therefore, mastering the skill of working with the exposure triangle will let you take awesome photos that you have always dreamt of.

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