Meet Your New DSLR

Ooooh, fancy new DSLR you got there!

(Or maybe you’re thinking of getting one, this guide is for you too).

There are a lot of knobs and buttons on that thing, and some day you’ll get to know them all.

But, for now, day one, we’re here to tell you our top tips for getting off of auto-mode (that’s what your phone was for!) and getting to know your new best friend.

A Bit About This Guide

Not all DSLRs are alike, but they do sure have a lot in common, so we’ll be explaining as generically as we can. If something we say doesn’t quite make sense, don’t hesitate to consult the almighty Google.

We’re going to really hit basics here, so you’ll definitely want to dive deeper … someday. These are just our tips to get you going right out of the box.

About Those Setting


Yup, there are lots, but we’re going to talk about our two favorites.

We looked at a lot of DSLR dials and straight-up auto is usually green, or it says “auto” or both. Your camera probably has all kinds of automatic settings – portrait, sports, landscape, no flash auto and more – but those modes do all the work for you, so where the fun in that?

M is for manual, with practice and patience you will become a manual master. You will take full control of all your settings, but maybe not today.

Here are our two faves for casual shooting: Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. These two setting do half the work for you! If you choose to set the aperture, your camera will pick a shutter speed to match and vice versa. You still have creative control, but you get a little help.

Aperture Priority is probably Av or just an A on your camera’s settings dial. In that mode you control how wide open (or barely open) the hole in your lens that lets in light is. You pick that, and the camera will set the rest of the settings to match (nice!).

So, how do you choose aperture?

Simply put, the aperture controls how fuzzy your background is (it does a lot of other things, but when you shoot in A, this is the main thing that you are affecting and we’re trying to keep this article short(ish)). This fuzz is called bokeh.

So, if you want a bokeh-riffic background, throw your camera into A and remember this: the bigger the Aperture number (which is the number after an f, so like f16 or f22) the more in focus and perfectly crisp everything is! If you choose a smaller number, you’ll get more blur on anything that isn’t in focus.

Favorite setting #2: Shutter Priority is most likely Tv or just an S on your dial. This setting lets you choose how fast you snap a photo, and automatically picks an aperture to get the expsosure just right (not too bright or dark).

Shutter speeds are listed as a fraction of a second (or whole seconds, if you’re getting really creative). So remember, 1/1000 is way faster than 1/2.

Why is the shutter speed important?

It’ll affect the motion blur. If you’re photographing a super speedy subject, but you want a really clear photo, choose a very fast snap. If you want to see a bit of blur (to make a spinning ballerina look even more dreamy, for example) take a slower photo.

Get into Focus


There is a switch on the side of your lens that says AF and MF. It’s not just trying to get hip with the kidz lingo these days. Those just mean Automatic Focus and Manual Focus.

Automatic Focus is very helpful, just push your shutter button down halfway to set the focus (you can move what you want in focus to the center of the frame, push halfway, then move slightly back to the composition you were going for before you finish the click, if your camera needs little help knowing what to focus on).

Manual focus is handy when you want to focus on something very specific and your camera isn’t reading your mind. Simply flip to the MF setting on the lens and twist the very front ring on the lens, to adjust the focus.

Swapping Out Your Lens


To take a lens off of your camera and install another, you’ll need to push the lens release button.

It’s probably just to the right of your lens if you’re staring at the front of your camera. Just push and hold it down while you lefty loosey off your lens.

This is a prime opportunity for your camera or lens’s guts to get dirty, so move quick and try not to be outside in a sandstorm when you do it. Put a new lens (or cap) on your camera quickly. And don’t forget to put a rear lens cap on your lens’s rear.

How to Choose a Lens


You may not buy additional lenses right away, but when you want to, you’ll want to know what all those numbers on the front mean.

The two main numbers you’ll want to focus on are the focal length (that’s the number in mm) and the aperture range (sometimes shown as 1:number or range of numbers, sometimes f/number or range).

The smaller the focal length goes, the more of a wide angle shot you can take. The larger the focal length goes the further you can zoom in for close-ups.

The smaller the aperture number goes the bigger the opening in your lens can get and the more light (and consequential blur) it will let in.

Once you get to know the lens or lenses that came with your camera you’ll start to get an idea for what you need next, do you like to shoot with a lot of zoom and wish you could zoom even more? Or, are you a bokeh-fiend on the market for more blur.

Trick out Your New Cam


You don’t need anything more than a camera to get out and shoot, but we do run a photo gear store, so we should probably let you know what gear you might want, to help you have even more fun with your new clicky buddy.

Keep your cam extra safe with a strap to help you hold on tight. Go classic, rainbow-y or try out a hand strap to give your neck a break (the good kind of break).

While you’re snazzing up the look of your cam, why not go with an extra tasty lens cap. Grab a burger or donut Snack Cap.

Tripods are like that extra arm you’ve always dreamed up. It’ll hold your camera while you get into the shot. Or, hold your camera extra still for a long exposure or time lapse. Our favorite is the totally portable Roadtrip Tripod.

Step up our lighting game with an Oh. Wow! Ring Light. It spreads bright even light on everything in front of your lens.

Tote your camera in style with the Vinta Camera Backpack. Add some extra padding and POWER while you’re at it. The Super Charged Bag Divider velcros into any camera bag for extra organization, plus is contains a hidden backup battery.

Just for fun
The Bokeh Masters Kit takes your bokspertise to a whole new level. Transform blurry points of light into all sorts of shapes and symbols.

So, Get Out There!


  • Take these tips with you and have fun out there. If you have any friends who are new to the DSLR game, pass this guide along to them.
  • Show us your best shots with #Photojojo, we love to see what you’ve learned.
  • Sign up for the Photojojo Newsletter (just scroll down to that form below) and get more photo tips in your inbox, on the reg.

Thanks for the example photos Lucky Lynda and Bark!