What’s up, guys? Today I want to share a few basics with you that I hope will help you take your photography to the next level. DSLRs are so great, and they’re at a price point now where almost anyone can get their hands on one. So, today I want to cover a little camera terminology to help you get the most out of your DSLR.

I want to cover some settings and terminology because there are so many people who have DSLRs and are shooting using the camera’s fully auto mode. Meaning the camera is determining every setting, and the user is simply clicking the shutter button to capture the photo. In my opinion, if you’re doing this, you might as well just use your smartphone.

Camera modes

So on your DSLR, depending on the brand and model, you’ll have a number of modes. They don’t differ very much from model to model or brand to brand really. For brands they might just be called something different. For the sake of this article I’m going to use a Canon Rebel T5, which is one of Canon’s lower end models, as the example.  Disclaimer – There’s so many modes I wasn’t sure what they all meant, so I looked it up for all of us! Spoiler alert, I only recommend using three of the zillion modes.

Scene Intelligent Auto (Green A+ icon)

This is the completely automatic mode I was talking about above. The camera analyzes the scene and selects every setting that it thinks will make for the best photograph. Again, I don’t recommend using this setting ever.

Flash off (Flash lightning crossed out icon)

This is just like the above mode, Scene Intelligent, but the flash is disabled. I also don’t recommend using this mode. I actually don’t recommend using the flash built into your DSLR either, no matter what mode you’re on.

Creative Auto (CA)

This mode is similar to the Scene Intelligent Auto but give you a way to tweak some of the picture qualities, like how much the background blurs. I also don’t recommend using this mode.

Portrait (person icon)

This mode allows you to get your typical portrait shot. Sharp and focused subject with a blurry background. Don’t use this either.

Landscape (hills + cloud icon)

This mode is designed to help you capture scenic vistas, city skylines, and other large-scale subjects. It produces a large amount of a large depth of field which means that objects close to the camera as well as far away appear in focus. I wouldn’t use this either.

Close-up (flower icon)

This is suppose to help you take better photographs of flowers and other smaller objects. I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but, I wouldn’t use this.

Sports (running person icon)

This will help you photograph moving objects. Wouldn’t use this either…haha

Night Portrait (person + star icon)

Designed to deliver better-looking portraits at night or in low light. Pass on using this too.

Programmed Auto exposure (P)

For this mode, the camera selects the aperture and shutter speed, but you can choose from different combinations of the two. I’ve never used this either and probably wouldn’t recommend it.

Shutter Priority Auto exposure (TV)

For this mode you select the shutter speed and your camera chooses the aperture. And with that we’re to the first mode I’d use. This is a good mode to use it if you’re shooting sports events or something when you really need control of your shutter speed. I have used this mode before, but not often.

Aperture Priority (AV)

This mode is actually the mode I learned on. It allows you to choose your aperture and your camera chooses the shutter speed. I used this for the longest time especially when I first started out, but I rarely use it now. If you do use this, be careful and always mind your shutter speed and make sure it doesn’t get too slow (unless that’s what you’re going for).

Manual (M)

This is the mode my camera pretty much stays at. This mode allows you to choose your shutter speed, aperture, iso, and white balance.. It gives you full control of the camera and I love it. The only tricky thing with this is you have to remember to keep an eye on both settings.


No this doesn’t mean In Search Of…ISO is the sensitivity of the image sensor in your camera. The lower the number the less sensitive to light your camera is, the higher the number the more sensitive it is. In my opinion the lower ISO you can shoot the better. As a rule of thumb I try to stay at 800 ISO or less. Anything higher than 800 ISO the more digital grain will show up in your photo. And disclaimer, digital grain is introduced at 800 ISO, but for my taste, I’m okay with it.

When your ISO is higher you can shoot faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures in lower light scenarios.

Aperture or f-stop

The aperture or f-stop is the opening in your lens in which the light travels. The lower the aperture, something like 1.8, the more depth of field you’ll get, or blurrier your background will be. Understanding depth of field and aperture is what really can take your photos to the next level. My personal preference is a shallow depth of field, meaning I like a lot of blurry backgrounds. I typically shoot with my lens wide open. Not all the time, but more often than not.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is the speed at which your shutter opens and closes to capture the photograph. Understanding shutter speed is a must for sharp photographs. Always keep an eye on this setting when you’re shooting, but especially keep an eye on it if you’re shooting something and want to pause its motion.

For example, when I’m shooting portraits, I typically don’t shoot under 1/125. If you shoot much lower and aren’t careful, you’ll get motion blur. Don’t get me wrong, having motion blur is cool, but it has it’s time and place and your kids soccer game probably isn’t the time. You probably want to freeze that motion and capture it forever.

Slower shutter speeds are awesome too, though. They give you the option to play around with longer exposed images, and they can come out super cool. I shot a photograph of Danielle on our honeymoon in London with the underground train behind her. In the photograph, it’s blurry, but she’s sharp. If my shutter speed had been too high, I would’ve stopped the motion of the train, and for this photo, that’s not what I wanted.

DSLRs are amazing, but I want to make sure you’re getting the most out of that amazing camera you have in your hand. Now this isn’t all you need to know, but the information above will help you grasp a further understanding of your camera, its settings, and start taking better photos.

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Photography Basics – Get the Most out of Your DSLR