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Make the Most of Your DSLR


All right! You’ve made the commitment and purchased a DSLR. Now that you have your shiny toy, it’s time to make the most of your new photographic instrument. And like any instrument, you have to master some skills in order to make it sing—or in this case, take great photographs. Here’s some sound advice for any DSLR, from the most affordable to out-of-sight professional models.

Read the Manual

We know we sound like an old high school teacher, but in order to get the most out of your camera, you have to know what all the buttons and dials do. This advice will go a long way toward maximizing your experience. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a first-time DLSR buyer, you have to delve deeply into the owner’s manual, because every camera is different. Otherwise, you’re just skimming the surface of the camera’s capabilities, which is a shame if you’ve just dropped $750 or more. Keep it handy, read it in chunks, but go through it all.


Learn every detail about your DSLR by reading the manual

Learn every detail about your DSLR by reading the manual

Take a Class

We can hear the groans again but if you’re not familiar with the intricacies of photography, it would well worth your while taking a class in person or online. Check out BetterPhoto.com to see what’s available. Also many of the top DSLR brands offer local classes plus they have online tutorials to walk you through their cameras. The more you know and the more familiar you become with your camera, the better your photos will be.


Check out BetterPhoto.com for classes

Go Beyond Auto

Every DSLR has an auto mode. It’s a good place to start as you get the feel of the camera and become comfortable with the control layout (see steps one and two). Once you’ve shot for awhile, it’s time to spread your wings with scene modes, which are similar to the scene modes found on point-and-shoots. With these shortcuts the camera will make the appropriate adjustments for a specific subject (portrait, sports, landscape and so on). They’re baby steps, but the more photos you take, the more confident you’ll become.

Auto Setting

Test out the different scene modes on your camera

Unleash Your Inner Child

And by this we mean play with all of the major image components available to you, including exposure compensation, bracketing, white balance, contrast, saturation, sharpness—the whole nine yards. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results you’ll get from tweaking images to your vision. Depending on the camera, you may want to under- or overexpose your photos all the time to suit your taste (exposure compensation), you may prefer less sharpness – or more. The list goes on. It’s up to you. And don’t be afraid to go crazy taking tons of photos. Our best photography teacher urged our class to just shoot 10 rolls of film – at anything and anywhere – every week for a month. We even had to develop our own film and make piles of prints. It was a liberating experience, and really opened our eyes as to what personal photographic expression could be. There’s no excuse not doing the same thing with digital.

Take tons of photos

Don't be afraid of taking a ton of pictures at different settings

Take Notes

You can go analog (pen and pad) or digital (iPhone apps), but it’s important to note the adjustments you made to each practice photo so you’ll know exactly how you tweaked the image when you review them. There’s nothing worse than forgetting your settings. Of course, you can check out the file’s metadata, but that usually doesn’t show all the adjustments. Once you’ve examined your photos on the monitor (make sure they’re enlarged at least 50 percent) you’ll know which tweaks worked best. You’ll also see at what ISO digital noise becomes a problem, so you can avoid that option in the future.

Take note

Keep track of your settings for review

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