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Get to know what the different buttons on your camera mean

by Chloe Baird

You’ve just bought yourself a brand new DLSR or mirrorless camera. You’re determined to take your photography skills to the next level. Maybe even turn your passion project into a career.

But first off – you’ll need to get a handle on what all the different buttons and dials on your camera mean.

In this quick and simple camera guide, we’ll take you through some of the different buttons on a typical, entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera and what they do. Instead of just selecting the ‘auto’ function on your camera, you’ll discover how to adjust exposure, ISO, shutter speed and more so you can have total creative control over your photos.

Ready to start shooting? Let’s begin!

A quick guide to the different buttons on your camera

Whether you’re a passionate hobbyist or an aspiring professional, it pays to know the ins and outs of your photography equipment.

Exposure compensation aperture control button

Exposure compensation allows Photographers to adjust the exposure settings manually, overriding the camera’s automatic settings. This means that you can brighten or darken images manually.

You might want to adjust the exposure yourself if the camera’s automatic light metre makes the image over- or underexposed. Or maybe you just want to create a certain mood by adjusting the exposure yourself.

The exposure compensation aperture control button usually has a plus and a minus symbol on it.

ISO button

The ISO setting controls how sensitive your camera is to light. Having the right ISO selected will be the difference between a blurry photo and a clear photo. You need a lower ISO for brightly lit or sunny places, and a higher ISO for dark places. But ISO also affects how ‘grainy’ a picture looks. A higher ISO will generally mean that your picture is grainier.

The ISO button is often very easy to find. It’s almost always labelled with the letters ‘ISO’.

Command dial

Now, to control the exposure and aperture, you usually have to turn the command dial to make these adjustments.

In most cases, the command dial will also help you scroll through different options on the camera.

Mode dial

The mode dial usually includes a combination of letters and symbols. The letters you’ll see here stand for Program, Shutter priority, Aperture priority and Manual – P, S, A and M. Here is where you’ll also find the ‘auto’ setting for your camera, which will allow you to point and click away without having to worry about adjusting your settings.

But if you want to get the most out of your new DSLR camera, then it’s definitely worthwhile practicing with some of these other functions.

  • Program – this selection on the mode dial gives you more control than auto mode, but not as much as straight manual. It’s kind of like using auto mode but without the training wheels!
  • Shutter priority – this selection will allow you to manually select the shutter speed, while your camera will automatically select aperture and ISO. This is good for shooting fast-moving images, or for capturing things like light trails.
  • Aperture priority – this allows you to adjust the aperture and depth of field, but your camera will still choose the best ISO and shutter speed to use. This mode works well in well-lit places.
  • Manual – this gives you the option to adjust both the shutter speed and the aperture speed yourself.
Learn how to get the most out of your camera and up your photography game.

Flash button

You’ll recognise the flash button with its lightning bolt symbol. Most entry-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras have a built-in, pop-up flash (as opposed to the large, external flashes you might attach to high-end cameras). You can adjust the brightness of the flash with this button. You might find you need to adjust the flash if you’re shooting a photo that has a lot of background light – such as when a person is standing in front of a window, or behind the sun.

You might find that getting the flash just right takes time, so be prepared to experiment with different light sources and different settings.

Scene mode button

If you haven’t quite got a handle on how to expertly adjust the ISO, exposure or aperture, you can select a pre-set mode from the scene selection. Cameras will differ on what kind of scene selections you can choose from, but some of the most common are portrait mode, landscape mode, sports mode, macro mode, and night mode. These pre-set modes are designed so that they provide you with the optimal settings to take photos in these particular circumstances.

Scene mode is often differentiated by the letters SCN. It will often appear as a menu item on the mode dial.

Drive mode/ burst mode button

The drive mode or burst mode button allows you to choose whether you want to take single shots or multiple shots at once. This can come in handy when you’re photographing fast-moving things, like people playing sports.

Different cameras will have a different frames per second (fps) range.

Want to take your photography skills to a whole new level?

Whether photography is a past time or a job, studying a photography course can open up new opportunities for you that you might otherwise miss out on.

Learning about photography from experts means that you’ll gain a thorough understanding of the craft and the practical skills involved in taking great shots. You’ll also have the chance to learn about the history of photography and how the artform has changed through the ages and influenced the world around us.

Open Colleges offers the CUA41115 Certificate IV in Photography and Photo Imaging online, which means you can fit your study around your life’s other commitments.

This nationally recognised qualification is perfect for those looking to turn their love of photography into a paying job, or for hobbyists who want to take a deep dive into their favourite pastime.

What are you waiting for? Find out more today about our online photography course and see where it could take you.  

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