Sunday, 25 May 2014

How you use your DSLR camera - The Basics

I've had my DSLR camera for a while now but I am guilty of never really looking into how to use it. I've messed around with a few settings and learned how to get the effects I wanted without really understanding what they are, knowing that I could default to auto if getting stuck while I'm out.

However that is all changing this month and I've been doing some research into what it all means so I thought I would share what I've learnt with you guys, hopefully helping a few of you out.

These instructions are based on the Panasonic Lumix GX1 but most DSLR's have similar settings so if your camera is slightly different then Google how to get the same setting on your camera make, as most instruction manuals are shown online.

But what does DSLR stand for?

DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex. It takes the mechanisms of an SLR camera and merges it with a digital imaging sensor, instead of using film, giving you the flexibility of more advanced settings and the potential for a higher quality image.

I could attempt to go into the science of it all but I'm not going to pretend to understand it all and I'm pretty sure that's not what you are here to read.

The Settings

For a long time I never changed this dial on the top of my camera, not understanding what all the settings meant. Here's a quick run through of what they all stand for:
  • P = Program Mode allows for all settings to be manually selected
  • A = Aperture-Priority Mode sets the shutter speed automatically, determined by the aperture value you set
  • S = Shutter-Priority Mode determines the aperture value is automatically by the shutter speed you set
  • M = Manual Exposure Mode adjusts the exposure based on the aperture value and the shutter speed selected
  • C1/C2 = Custom Mode take pictures with previously registered settings
  • SCN = Scene Mode allows you to take pictures that match the scene being recorded
  •  = Creative Control Mode automatically applies effects to the picture as your are taking it

So did you get all Don't worry I'm not surprised! The first time I read these descriptions I wasn't much clearer about what they all meant so lets pick out some of the key words and go into them in a bit more detail.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how long you you expose your camera sensor to light while taking the picture, just like your eye blinking. 

To change the shutter speed, all you need to do is put your camera on mode "S" and rotate the dial on the back of your camera

If like me, you'll start rotating the dial and wonder what the hell these numbers mean. Fear not, I'll try and explain it...

The lower the shutter speed, the longer you are letting light into the camera and the more blurry the image can end up being. The higher the shutter speed the sharper the image will be but it can also give you a really dark image because you are letting far less light through.

Low Shutter Speeds: The lowest shutter speed is the most left number, these are the ones which have the " after them. The number is how manage seconds the shutter will stay open for.

High Shutter Speeds: The highest shutter speed is the most right number and is a fraction of a second. so where is says 4000 on your camera, this actually means 1/4000 of a second

As you can see by the 3 images below - the lowest shutter speed is most blurry and the highest is the sharpest image

I use a lower shutter speed if I want to capture the movement of something, eg. car headlamps or water, otherwise I tend to keep it close to the centre, edging towards to right hand side of the scale.


Aperture not only defines how much light you are letting into your camera but also the depth of field in your image. Depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in your image that appears acceptably sharp.

Again, all you need to do is rotate the dial on the back of your camera, but this time make sure you have it on "A" mode.

You know when you see an image that is sharply focused on something in the foreground but blurry in the background, this is due to the aperture setting.

On your camera you will notice an "F" at the beginning on row that controls aperture, this is known as the f/number or F-Stop. The largest aperture on the Panasonic Lumix GX1 is f/4.4, which lets the most light through and at the left hand side of the scale. The largest is f/22 and is at the right hand side.

This also sets the depth of field, with the smallest depth of field being f/4.4. The image below on the left is using f/4.4 and as you can see the flower at the front of the image is sharp but the background is blurry. Then moving the aperture further along the scale starts to bring the background into focus.

You also need to select what part of the image you want to have the most focus. I did this by touching the part of the image I wanted in focus on the screen before taking the photo and a little box appeared on the screen to show where the focus is currently sitting. If you want the background to be sharp but the foreground to be blurry then just select something in the background instead.


Exposure is the light collected by the sensor in your camera within a single picture. It is a mixture of shutter speed and aperture but it's also handy to know about ISOs


ISOs control the camera's sensitivity to light, so if you are in a really dark venue then you need a much higher ISO then if you are out in the sunshine. 

However you may notice if you have your ISO turned up full in a dark venue, the images become very noisy. This means that they are a bit more pixelated and when you zoom in on them, they look very grainy and not great quality.

The lowest ISO on this camera is 160 and the highest is 12800. I have been out at all day events such as weddings where you have to change the ISOs every time the light changes around you otherwise your images become too light or dark, especially when you are doing a lot of moving in and out of a venue. If I am staying put in one spot then I play around with my ISOs and try and get it perfect but if I am at an important event, I tend to cheat and set my ISO to the "Intelligent ISO" setting which is the one next to auto in the image above. This setting moves your ISO to the best option for your lighting and I haven't had it steer me wrong yet but if you want to do it all by yourself then you can set store some custom settings that you can easily switch between.

Custom Modes

To set your custom mode, choose all the settings you want and then select menu >> custom settings >> CUST.SET.MEM and then pick which customer setting name you want to save it under

Scene Modes

Moving over a scene mode will let you know which scene is is for, e.g. portrait, landscape, pets etc 

They are all pretty self explanatory so I'll not go into any detail for this section but it is worth having a look through them before you head out to take your pictures and decide which is best for your picture subject.

Creative Control

This mode allows you to add an overall effect over the top of the image. I don't really use these settings apart from Sepia for the occasional image
  • Expressive - This setting emphasizes the colour
  • Retro - This is a softer style that gives your photo that slightly vintage feel to it
  • High Key - This effect brightens the image
  • Low Key - This effect creates a darker image, whilst making bright areas stand out.
  • Sepia - A sepia colour image effect, which gives your photos a wild west feel
  • High Dynamic -  From dark areas to light areas, this effect creates a well-balanced light across the entire image.
  • Toy Effect -  Making the image look like it was taken with a toy camera.
  • Miniature Effect - This is an imaging effect which defocuses the surroundings making it look like it's a photograph of a model

Hopefully this will have inspired you to get out snapping soon and playing around with your camera rather than just using it as a point and shoot but if you are ever in doubt and need to capture your image quickly then just press the auto button on the top of your camera and let your camera figure it out for you! 

I'll be back,

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A blog for fun and unusual Craft tutorials This year I will be learning a new craft every month - if there is a craft you would like to learn, let me know

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