Thursday Tips {Sudbury Portrait Photographer} – How Your DSLR Camera Works + Tips

On Thursdays, anything goes. I will try to commit to post once a week on this day, and if I don’t, please hold me to it!

What is Thursday Tips? It’s really anything. From tips on how to use your digital camera, to posing, business, furniture, sewing, or any life hacks that are worth sharing.

With that, let’s start the first TT post: How Your DSLR Camera Works!

You were one of the lucky ones that received a DSLR Camera for Christmas! Yay for you, and for the person that gave it to you. But now what? You know how to turn it on, and use it on P (program) but nothing else. Well, let me teach you some basic fundamentals:

How your camera works:

1. The light hits the camera lens, whose opening size, the aperture, can be controlled, to let more or less light in.

  • aperture setting is known as “f/stop”
  • low f/stop = wide aperture or large hole – more light gets in
  • high f/stop = narrow aperture or small hole – less light gets in

2. After light has passed through lens, it enters the camera body, where a shutter is located, between the lens and the sensor.

  • shutter closed = sensor entirely blocked from any light (resting position)
  • shutter open = sensor entirely open to light passing through lens
  • shutter speed determines amount of time that the shutter is open, and how long the camera sensor is exposed to the incoming light

3. The camera sensor generates an image, based on what light entered the camera, as manipulated by 1) the aperture, 2) the shutter speed, and 3) the ISO setting, which adjusts the sensitivity of the film to the incoming light.

This is what we call Exposure. It relates specifically to your camera, and can be manipulated through manually (M) adjusting the following functions on your camera:

  1. Aperture
  2. Shutter Speed
  3. ISO


First lets look at the Aperture. What does it do, and how can we adjust it to help us create the perfect photograph:

1. Aperture – size of the hole in your lens, which determines:

  • brightness and the Depth of Field

2. Depth of Field (DOF) – relates to proper focus (sharpness) of your photograph on a particular 2D plane:

  • when you focus on an object, your camera focuses on that particular plane – the foreground and background become out of focus to some degree
  • everything acceptably sharp is the DOF, while everything outside that is considered outside the DOF

3. Wide aperture f/stop numbers are low, such as 1.2, 2.9 or 4.0 – leads to brighter image & low DOF.

4. Narrow aperture f/stop numbers are high, such as 22 or 32 – leads to darker image & high DOF.

Aperture Trade-offs

  • To shoot in dark locations, you will need a wider aperture (low f/stop), but a high DOF (preferred in group photographs, for example) will be difficult without adding extra lights.
  • To shoot on a sunny day, you need a narrower aperture (high f/stop), but a low DOF (if you would like to blur the background on a portrait, for example) will be difficult.

Lets look at it with an example of my daughter’s Smurfs. As you can see I set the Smurfs up in a way where we can see where the focus falls on them. In every photo, I’m focusing on the middle Painter Smurf. To be able to keep the shutter speed 1/60 sec and archive the consistent light on every image, I had to change my ISO settings. Take a look at how the f/stop affects the photograph:

That’s it for today!  I hope you enjoyed this basic tip. I would enjoy seeing your images; if you like, you can post them in the comments and I can give you some feedback on them.

Next week’s tip: Shutter Speed, ISO and White Balance! 


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