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How to use your digital camera: the basics

by Naidine Wadd

**This article was last updated in March 2020**

Still a little confused by your digital camera? Do you want to learn how to take better photos?

You’re in luck! We’ve enlisted budding photographer and photography student Naidine Wadd to help you navigate the basics of your camera.

learn camera basics

Who hasn’t compared their photos to a professional photographers and thought, what do they know that I don’t? I know I certainly used to!

It’s not the location, or the model in the photo, or even the best camera gear. The truth is, the best photographic tool you can have is an understanding of how your camera works.

Shutters and apertures

If you own an SLR camera and the terms shutter speed and aperture mean nothing to you, stay calm and carry on… reading.


Inside your camera, among many other parts that we won’t get into here, is a small trap door that opens and closes each time you take a photo.

This small trap door is called a shutter and the speed that it opens and closes is called the shutter speed.

How to use shutter speed

Shutter speed can be used to freeze motion or for making your image brighter.

Freezing motion

To understand how to use shutter speed to freeze motion and capture a moving object, it helps to think about how to use your hands to catch a ball.

If someone throws a ball to you, but you move your hands together slowly, the ball will quickly pass through your hands and you will miss catching it.

If you move yours hands together fast you be more likely to catch the ball and freeze/stop its motion.

It’s the same with shutter speed. If the shutter on the camera opens and closes quickly, it will freeze the motion of anything moving in your photo.

If a shutter speed is too slow for the speed of the thing you are photographing, the image will be blurred. The freeze motion technique is particularly useful for sports photography, taking photos of animals or even small children who are always on the go.


Photo by Naidine Wadd

Brightening an image

Shutter speed can also be used to control how bright your photo is.

If you’re in a completely dark room on a bright sunny day and someone opens and closes the door quickly, very little light will have time to enter into the room, so the room will remain quite dark.

If the door is opened for a longer time, more light will enter the room making the room brighter.

This also happens in your camera. When the shutter opens and closes quickly, only a small amount of light will make it into your photo.

If the shutter opens and closes slowly more light is allowed in making the photo brighter.

bright image


Inside the lens of your camera, is a circular opening called an aperture. The size of the opening increases and decreases as you alter your aperture settings.

Aperture can be used to control light in your photo, or to control how much of your photo is in focus.

When using aperture to control light, it’s easiest understood when compared to your eye.

The next time you’re on a romantic date, the lights down low, lovingly gaze into the eyes of your significant other and before you get lost in the moment, pay attention to the size of their pupils.

They will be large, and not just because there is a romantic interest there, but also to allow more light into the eye allowing them to see in low light.

When you go out into bright light your pupil will shrink right down to reduce the amount of light able to enter your eye, allowing you to see your surroundings and not to have everything so bright it looks white.

Aperture can also be used to control how much of your photo is in focus.

We’ve all seen those photos of people that capture them in perfect detail while, the background is a gorgeous blend of blurred colours and shapes, nothing is quite distinguishable.

The secret to these photos is simply achieved by selecting a low aperture number.

The more of the photo you want in focus, the higher the aperture number you will need to use.

Aperture inside a camera

Using shutter speed and aperture together

Aperture and shutter speed work at odds with each other to aid in controlling the light in an image.

If one of these settings is moved, the other setting will need to be moved in the opposite direction numerically to compensate, to ensure your photo has sufficient lighting.

For example, in order to take an image of a fast moving object with sufficient light for the subject to be seen, the shutter speed would need to be increased, which would mean the aperture number would need to be decreased.

Look at your manual

As each camera is different take a look at your camera manual to see where the aperture and shutter speed functions are on your camera, and how to change them.

how to take better photos

Put it into practice

Next time you take your camera out with you, have a look and experiment with how these functions work and interact with each other.

You might surprise yourself with how easily you understand these functions and can use them to capture the photos you previously only dreamed of.

With a little knowledge you can take your photography to the next level!

Our brand new Design portfolio features creative courses that will help you learn how to turn your passion into a career. If you’re interested in learning how to begin a career in photography, or looking to enhance your photography skills, then download a free course guide for our Certificate IV in Photography and Photo Imaging.

If you are interested in photography, go for it! Grow your knowledge, experiment a little, and decide where you might like to go from there. If you are already a keen photographer and interested in taking your skills further (whether for personal interest like me, or as a career like many of my course mates), explore what Open Colleges has on offer. Whatever you do, have fun!

5 Responses

  1. Vincent says:

    Would like to know more about photography.

    • Sarah MacDiarmid says:

      Hi Vincent, Thanks for getting in touch.
      For a pathway into a career in photography we offer the CUA41115 Certificate IV in Photography and Photo Imaging. Here is the link: If you fill in the form on the right hand side of the page you can download a course guide for free. The best thing to do is to contact one of our Enrolment Consultants to talk you through your potential options. You can reach them on 1300 365 137, or click this link and we will get back to you.
      Thanks, Sarah, Open Colleges team

  2. Lionel Thomas says:

    I would like to learn more about taking good photos

    • Sarah MacDiarmid says:

      Hi Lionel, Thanks for getting in touch. Why don’t you call us for a chat and we can help you find the course you’re looking for? There’s no pressure to sign up, so if you just want to talk about the how we could help you build up your photography skills, give us a call on 1300 365 137, or click this link and we will get back to you. Thanks, Sarah, Open Colleges team

  3. Roman Mark says:

    Best guide about how to use Digital camera. . I also bought a virtual guard for my business because the virtual guard is very important for our business and residence and get better results for security.

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