21 Settings, Techniques and Rules All New Camera Owners Should Know

21 Settings, Techniques and Rules All New Camera Owners Should Know

Some are very basic while others go a little deeper – but all have been selected from our archives specifically for beginners and new camera owners. Enjoy.

Introductions to Useful Modes and Settings on Your Digital Camera

Photography Settings, Techniques and Rules

1. Digital Camera Modes Explained – I spoke with a family friend recently who had just bought a new point and shoot camera. She came up to me with her camera when no one was watching and embarrassedly asked me if I could tell her what all the little icons on the dial on top of her camera meant. This article explains what each of these most common digital camera modes means and does. Knowing them can take your shots to the next level.

2. Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode – this introduction talks you through these two very useful settings that can be found on many digital cameras. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes take you out of Automatic mode giving you more control over your images – but don’t thrust you fully into manual mode – they are great settings to explore and master.

3. Introduction to White Balance – one of the most common problems that I see in beginner photographer images are shots with incorrect color. We’ve all seen them – portraits where your subjects teeth and eyeballs (and everything else) has a yellowish tinge. Learn what causes this and how to combat it with this tutorial on White Balance.

histogram.jpg 4. Understanding Histograms – ‘histograms are scary’ – this is what one reader said to me recently when they discovered that they could view these little graphs or charts on their camera. While they might seem a little technical it is amazing how simple a histogram is to interpret. Know what you’re looking for and with just a glance you’ll know if your image is under or over exposed. It’s a useful tool to master.

5. Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) – this feature is another of those often unexplored settings that many cameras have built into them that will allow you to get well exposed shots in even the trickiest of lighting situations.

Other Basic Camera Techniques

How to Hold a Camera

6. How to Hold a Digital Camera – this beginner tutorial covers a topic that most camera owners skip over without realizing that it is a foundational lesson in photography. Get this wrong and it can impact the quality of your shots.

7. Shutter Release Technique – another ‘basic’ or ‘beginner’ type tip that many do intuitively – but which can drastically improve your photography if you don’t do it.

8. How to Use Focal Lock – yet another beginner technique that many of us take for granted yet which is at the core of how all digital cameras focus automatically. Get this wrong and you’ll take a lot of shots of out of focus subjects and in focus backgrounds!

9. How to Take Sharp Digital Images – ‘my shots are fuzzy’ – it’s a common problem that we’re asked about at DPS so we wrote this tutorial to refer people to to help them get the sharpest images that their camera can take.

10. Shooting with an In Camera Flash – flash photography with an in built flash can lead to some terribly blown out images – here are a few tips on how to avoid them. On a similar topic – here’s 7 Strategies for Avoiding Flash Blow Out.

11. How to Get Shallow Depth of Field in Your Digital Photos – a great technique to learn if you’re into many types of photography (portraits, macro etc) is how to control the depth of field in your shots and make your main subject ‘pop’ out by making your background nicely blurred – this tutorial talks you through how to do it.

12. Understanding Exposure – this post talks new camera owners through the three main elements of Exposure. Once you’ve read it also check out our introductions to ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.

Camera Care and Maintenance

camera care

13. How to Avoid a Dirty DSLR Sensor – one of the fastest ways to ruin every single shot you take with your new DSLR is to end up with a dirty image sensor. This tutorial gives some basic tips on how to ensure it stays as clean as possible.

14. How to Clean a DSLR Lens – as much as you try to protect them – lenses tend to get a little grimy over time. This tutorial shares some basic tips on how to clean them up so that your shots will be as clear as possible.

15. 7 Digital Camera Predators and How to Keep them at Bay – this tutorial talks you through 7 of the most common ways that digital cameras get damaged – what to look out for and what preventative action to take to avoid them.

Composition Tips

rule of thirds

16. The Rule of Thirds – whether you know it to follow it or break it – it’s something you should at least know about.

17. Points of Interest – an image without some visual point of interest in it is unlikely to hold the eye of anyone viewing it.

18. Getting Horizons Horizontal – the perfect way to ruin that lovely sunset or landscape shot is to make it lean to one side. Get your Horizon Horizontal!

19. Fill Your Frame – this is not applicable to every shot you take but many photographers could drastically improve their photography by getting in close to their subject and filling their frame.

20. Getting Backgrounds Right – the background of your shot can make or break your image. This tutorial talks you through a number of things to look out for and techniques to use to get them just right.

21. Adding Randomness to Your Photos – learn how to set your images apart from everyone else’s by injecting creativity, variety and a little randomness into your shots.

Of course the above 21 Settings, Techniques and Rules for beginner camera owners just scratch the surface of all there is to learn about the art of photography. Subscribe to our blog here (via email or RSS) to get more free daily tips to help you keep improving and learning.

Our Guide to Getting Creative Control Of Your Camera

If you’re looking for a complete guide to getting control of your camera then you might like to check out our course – Photo Nuts and Bolts which walks you through everything you need to know to start taking beautiful photos. Here’s the intro.

Join this great new dPS course here.

21 Settings, Techniques and Rules All New Camera Owners Should Know
Article Name
21 Settings, Techniques and Rules All New Camera Owners Should Know
If you are a new camera owner this guide will walk you through the most important settings, techniques and rules you should know.
Digital Photography School

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Mark Underhill August 17, 2013 11:57 pm

    Hello, My older camera:Fujifilm FinePix A600 has four different quality settings. could you please explain alittle on witch one does and what is the best setting? Thanks! They are as follows: 6MF 39 frames, 6MN 79 frames, 3:2 79 frames, and 3m152 frames. Thank you very much for your time! ;)

  • Mike January 17, 2013 10:15 am

    Great Info, Thanks!!!!!!!!! now to figure out how to use it!!

  • s v venkatesh October 16, 2012 12:20 am

    I have read after nearly four years the introduction to digital photography primer was published. It is very useful better late than never.

  • stek April 16, 2012 02:16 am

    and about automatic vs manual http://vimeo.com/39844136

  • Alex March 11, 2012 06:38 pm

    This site dedicated to giving photography tips and tutorials to photographers of all levels.Includes everything from buying a camera to what to do with the photographs you've taken.

  • abdu January 26, 2012 10:51 pm

    I love photography. Thanks for tips and tutorial about cameras so that I can know and understand about my camera. Thank you

  • Nirman November 19, 2011 07:39 pm

    Thank you so very much for taking the time and making such an easy, yet, comprehensive information about photography.

    Really thank you. You made everything so informative. Please always keep this website and all it's links working because i will keep coming back and keep this as my handy guide to photography!

    Amazing work.

  • Sophie August 19, 2011 04:06 am

    For Cool Effects:
    1. Move your Camera
    - panning
    - rotate
    - camera throwing
    2. Zoom your camera in or out while taking a photo
    3. Focusing. Get your camera out of focus
    4. Shoot from the ground upwards at your object
    5. Over expose your shots by experimenting with different exposure levels.
    6. Slow Sync Flash
    7. Stand on something and take a photo looking down on your object
    8. Multiple exposures
    9. Grainy photos
    10. B or Bulb settings
    11. Infrared

  • Mary VP August 19, 2011 04:04 am

    #16 Rule of Thirds
    -Rule of Thirds refers to a technique that many photographers use to highlight interesting or important parts of a photograph
    -to use the Rule of Thirds, you break up the picture into nine rectangles that are all the same size
    -the "Thirds" comes from the fact that the horizontal and vertical sides are broken up into groups of 3, therefore making nine rectangles
    -the result of the splitting into Thirds is 4 lines
    -the photographer usually imagines these lines and rectangles while looking through the lens in order to line them up with interesting or important parts of the image they are seeing
    -for example, in the image of the woman in the orange shirt, the photographer lined her up with the vertical line on the left
    -if the photographer had placed her in the middle, rather than along this line, the picture could have looked somewhat awkward

  • mj April 29, 2011 01:45 am

    That's great!
    Thank You
    please learn some hand made light equepments to us,but not expensive!!!

  • Mocha April 10, 2011 04:27 am

    I can't remeber when or where I first saw this article, but it was put in my "favorites". I am relatively new (1 yr) to DLSR photography, and it is a great crash course on the basics. It is also nice to have all the basics condensed and in one place for brush-ups. The only problem (in a good way) I have is getting sidetracked on all the "you might also like" articles. Can spend WAY to much time surfing!

    Thank you for putting this out there for us newbies.

  • byya@Traveller's Anatomy February 7, 2011 03:42 pm

    Oh, found this just in time when i need to understand using SLR. The best introductory tutorial/tips for for beginner like me. Thanks!

  • Money In Photos January 29, 2011 06:47 pm

    This is really useful and really helped me out. I highly recommend newbies have a good read of this!

  • Safiya January 12, 2011 11:16 am

    Great tips and techniques. Very useful for me as new owner for DSLR camera. Thank you very much for publishing it. Wish you all the best.

  • Emilia January 6, 2011 08:03 pm

    Thanks for sharing all this valuable information. I've been making notes all day and doing the practicals as I go along... I feel fully equipped as an amateur ;)

  • Kaustav Biswas January 5, 2011 09:22 am

    I am a great follower of your tips...kindly help me with some tips on proper focusing and landscape...I also have an quarry on "how to take good landscape from top of a hill and what can I do to take a good photograph in fog?"

  • Sade January 3, 2011 03:46 pm

    About a month ago, I received an entry level Nikon D3000 as a gift. I've been searching all over to find a website that would give me great tips on photography to help me grow as a photographer. And I think I just found it. Thanks!

  • Jaspreet January 3, 2011 09:50 am

    Fantastic post yet again! I've been a regular reader and follower of DPS and enjoy it to the fullest.. Though I've just been surviving with a pro-consumer Canon SX 10IS I realized long back that having a "Better Camera" plays a good part, but not the whole part in making one a "Better Photographer". :) So keep em coming! Kudos..

  • Jackie January 2, 2011 11:01 pm

    Thank you so much for this information, Darren I got my first SLR for Christmas and havent had a chance to have a play with it yet. There is so much I need to learn and am so looking forward to learning to take better photographs.

  • Mike Davern January 1, 2011 10:05 pm

    Here is another common flaw: Don't bullseye heads in the center of the shot. Similar to using the rule of 3rds, I often see shots of couples or groups with the heads set right smack in the center of every shot. Fill the frame horizontal or vertical when shooting people. Get close enough to get heads in the upper third of the frame. Also, helpful to get the flash off of the camera, but that is probably a more advanced tip.

  • nikki December 31, 2010 03:00 pm

    Fantastic post! Most informative and was a great "into to dslr's". You should make this your pilot email to subscribers.

  • Pavlos December 31, 2010 08:22 am

    One of the most complete, right-to-the-point, easy-to-understand articles I 've ever seen . Amazing info.

    Thank you Darren.

  • matt December 30, 2010 08:30 pm

    the beginners BIBLE!!

  • Geoff Sharp December 30, 2010 08:29 pm

    Your generosity week after week is amazing. Great list and I'm going out now to try a number of these tips on the beach in NZ.

  • Jim Esten December 30, 2010 07:08 pm

    Another nice compilation. My response to the type of person in #1: Come talk to me after you've read the manual.

  • fortunato_uno December 30, 2010 04:52 pm

    A great list of things all shutter bugs should know, even the simple things (listed) should all be part of our mental invintory when we go out and shoot. From the pro to the amiture, we have all had to learn these things. D-P-S has been a great resource for these and many tricks/tools/skills that will make us all better photographers. Thank you Darren, and the many contributors, moderators, and members who have helped so many obtain the skills that have made us better photographers.
    Sincerely, Jamie.

  • Diana Shay December 30, 2010 04:49 pm

    Excellent article Darren. This hits all the important points succinctly for not only beginners, but those of us needing simple yet thorough refreshers as well. Well done!

  • Maz December 30, 2010 04:43 pm

    Have been using a Samsung Digimax v5 for nearly 5 years and will be upgrading to a Lumix DMC FZ45. This posting is so useful and informative. Many thanks!

  • Kathy Fitzgerald December 30, 2010 04:03 pm

    Thanks for all the wonderful insight and tips. I have one question, though. When taking a group shot where the people are not all on one plane, where some are in front of others, I have a hard time getting everyone in focus. The camera, of course, wants to focus on the people in the front, but it leaves the people behind them out of focus. How do I correct this? Thank you.
    P.S. - I have a Nikon D90

  • Maikeru December 30, 2010 02:10 pm

    A great list for sure! Does any of it apply to point and shoot cameras or is it for DSLR users?

  • Leo Mangubat December 29, 2010 08:32 pm

    All these compiled will make a very good book!

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer December 29, 2010 03:30 pm

    This post is a great collection of the basic knowledge all new DSLR owners need. As I teach DSLR photography lessons in Tampa Bay, Florida area ( http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2009/10/3/dslr-photography-lessons-in-tampa-bay-area.html ) often to people brand new to the DSLR world, I will refer them to this post as a FAQ sheet to help them after the lessons.

  • NextCEO December 29, 2010 03:01 pm

    I have been getting "serious" about photography over the last few months. My friend, whom I might add is a very talented photographer, emailed me this website and said this is where she learned quite I bit. We went out the other weekend and i was playing around with her Canon. She was explaining a lot of ISO/aperture/shutter speed/white balance/"rule of thirds"/etc. This was the first time I have had anyone break all of that down like that. A lot of it stuck, or at least planted a seed. I just read about five or so articles on this site, on my iPhone sitting on my couch, and feel like I just found the 'Holy Grail' for beginner photographers wanting to get to the next level. Keep up the great knowledge!!

    - NextCEO...

  • flo December 29, 2010 02:06 pm

    Thanks Darren! This is a goldmine of refresher information! Love the site and all of the helpful reminders and tips! Cheers!

  • Mark Iragana December 9, 2010 03:21 pm

    The article is very informative. Now I know how to set up my digital camera properly. Thanks for the advice.

  • St Louis Wedding Photographer October 28, 2010 06:43 am

    Great roundup. While the title indicates this is for new camera owners, I'd say that if more professionals actually started using the techniques you have listed, they'd have much higher quality work.

  • Guess the Lighting August 21, 2010 01:09 am

    Nice list. Today's high-tech cameras have more features than most people know what to do with. If you're interested in seeing how famous photographers light their images, take a peek at GuessTheLighting.com

  • Anibal Trejo July 27, 2010 07:26 pm

    I'ill forward this link to all my "how do I" asking friends :)

  • Sase Antic July 27, 2010 11:50 am

    Useful. Bookmarked.
    You never know, maybe I'll need to come back, and read the tips again.

  • Girl with a Camera July 27, 2010 11:45 am

    THANK YOU!!!! I've spent my summer learning all these things (from a "Photography for dummies" book from the library.) I still have SO much to learn. This is an amazing post... may I link to it from my blog?

  • Robin Broitman June 26, 2010 12:06 pm

    What a fabulous collection of articles! I work for the National Wildlife Federation and we've just recently put together a collection of tips for people who want to focus specifically on nature photography...if any of your readers are interested, it's at http://www.nwf.org/phototips in our online Photozone.

  • Scarber March 22, 2010 09:26 pm

    nice post, nice blog! :)

  • rtrt March 21, 2010 04:34 pm

    i read it 2 times

  • Bruce March 1, 2010 01:46 pm

    I have been lost for like a week since I got the new camera. I was going crazy trying to figure out the features but this post helped me to get it all in perspective. A big help for a newbie like me.

  • SWP November 2, 2009 10:48 pm

    great tips for those just starting out.

  • RTW November 1, 2009 12:10 pm

    histograms ARE scary! When you said they are easy I said WHAT! Well I went back and tried to reason it out again after reading this and well - they are not so bad.....

  • AD November 1, 2009 12:07 pm

    Thanks for the links to your previous posts to do with exposure. I have struggled with that and typically let the camera decide - sometimes to my detriment. I have gained some understanding now as to how that all works.

  • Yoga online September 11, 2009 08:42 am

    Very usefull tips. I will surely improve my pictures.

  • Bill September 10, 2009 05:40 am

    Thanks for such useful tips! My newest camera is only two weeks old and I was intimidated by all the features. Your post will be a big help for me to use my camera in the best way possible.

  • Tracy August 11, 2009 05:00 am

    New owner of a Nikon D60 and very much enjoying this informative site! Hitting zoos in the surrounding areas to practice for the last three weekends in a row and learning so much! Thanks!

  • john ko May 30, 2009 07:21 am

    great tutorial! i pointed a bunch of friends to come to this site to learn from you! thanks for putting this all together.

  • warren April 21, 2009 11:19 am

    Very informative. A lot of very useful tips and techniques provided on how to shoot for a high quality photo. Love it very much.

  • Kiwi March 2, 2009 05:16 am

    Thanks for the tips, I can never get my shots quite as good as when I had old film cameras, but these should help. Thanks!

  • Mr.Jade Cadelina January 15, 2009 09:47 pm

    I can't stop coming back to this page. Very useful information. Thanks again. :)

  • Matt January 14, 2009 01:10 am

    Heck yeah histograms are scary! Great info here.

  • Neeraj January 13, 2009 10:01 pm

    I m a new user to the DSLR camera's n by luck got ended up to this site and believe me I never searched for another site to grab knowledge. Thnks buddy.

  • Mr.Jade Cadelina January 12, 2009 07:34 pm

    Great info! Thank you. :)

    Any tips or techniques on how to clean a DSLR CCD?

  • nicole January 6, 2009 08:40 pm

    Thanks - def. a few in here that I need to read upon :D!

  • Mandy January 4, 2009 08:15 am

    Working through this list is a good way to start the new year! Brushing up on some stuff and learning some new things - looking forward to it.


  • Elmer Blythe January 4, 2009 03:14 am

    Thanks for the reminders. I've been taking photos since I was 18, I'm 77 now. And I learned something from your list.

    I appreciate it

  • Ragster January 3, 2009 05:17 pm

    These are more than tips - these topics essentially amount to a master class in digital photography. You are doing a great job lifting standards. Well done.

  • dr,loy January 3, 2009 04:28 pm

    Now, i know the the complex side of taking photos. Thank's so much for the great help.

  • Joel January 2, 2009 02:25 pm

    Thanks a ton for the great tips!

  • Gina January 2, 2009 08:59 am

    WoW! Great content!! Tons of great information here for any new budding photographer! Thanks for all of your hard work!

  • Canon Camera Reviews January 2, 2009 03:56 am

    Oh wow these are great. I would have to agree with just about everything you said.

  • imLOST January 1, 2009 09:12 pm

    Very nice list. I'm going to read them all and hope to learn how to use my new Nikon a bit more. Thanks.

  • Bruce Simmons (brusimm) January 1, 2009 02:33 am

    Oh lordy! What perfect timing. A few weeks ago I bought an Olympus e-520. My first DSLR... eesh!

    Now I may have a chance to defeat this digital beast of the future and make it comply to my photographic whims!! Victory will be mine! HA

    Oh, Thank you.

  • themisfit January 1, 2009 12:40 am

    this is a great post, for beginners and a great refresher for pro's and pro-ams alike. never hurts to reiterate the basics.

  • Bibi December 31, 2008 09:08 pm

    Thanks so much for these tips. I learned something new today (about the night setting for flash when indoors to reduce burn-out). I find your tips very useful, and enjoy reading your newsletter! Happy New Year!!

  • Bones December 31, 2008 06:30 pm

    As i'm a newcomer in Photography, just Thank you for this very Usefull guides !

  • Imansyahâ„¢ December 31, 2008 02:05 pm

    This compilation is very useful. Thanks!

  • Kelly Anne December 31, 2008 02:02 pm

    Awesome list, and a great way to get some of my friends / family who have been asking me to teach them how to use their digital cameras hooked on this blog.

    Thanks for posting this. It is very timely.

  • Kim December 31, 2008 12:32 pm

    This was one of the best basic lists I've read! Thank you for sharing so much information and including the links to all the pertinent articles.

  • ThinkSoJoE December 31, 2008 12:25 pm

    I never even knew that half of these settings were in my camera, and now I know how to use some of them! Thanks, guys, for this great post!

  • yOn December 31, 2008 11:26 am

    Should elaborate a little bit even you can click to the link. Examples, 4.Understanding Histogram: bla... bla... You should see the curve is like spread tone for more balance. Or 13. How to Avoid a Dirty DSLR Sensor - bla.. bla.. use this kind of clothes to clean up your lense. Just a simple and basic suggestion for users/ readers. Great anyway.

  • sime December 31, 2008 10:21 am

    Deirdre, the comments on old articles are always left in place, you may sometimes need to click on the 'more' or 'comments' link at the bottom of a post to get to them.

    Hope this helps,


  • Tom December 31, 2008 10:19 am

    These are great tips that even many Pros forget. It never hurts too review the basics once in a while.

  • Joe Tech December 31, 2008 10:14 am

    I know what I'm reading tonight.

  • Nate December 31, 2008 08:04 am

    I was at the Huntington Library this past weekend (after Christmas) and I was amazed at the number of cameras I saw. Literally everyone had a camera and I was also surprised at the number of digital SLRs.

  • kim December 31, 2008 08:04 am

    very nice list!
    the photo of the broken lens is causing me physical pain ;)

  • Deirdre December 31, 2008 07:15 am

    Very helpful compilation of articles. Thank you.

    By the way, I wish that even if you didn't want to allow more comments on old articles, you would still leave the old comments up. I sometimes learn as much from comments on an article as I do from an article.

  • LisaNewton December 31, 2008 05:43 am

    I have so much to learn, and love this site. Thank you so much. You've got a regular reader here.

  • Jeremy Edmonds December 31, 2008 04:46 am

    Great, great list! I forwarded to this link to two people! I really think you should modify it though and switch group 1 (6-12) and group 2 (1-5) as it's critical to have done Understanding Exposure before getting into modes and setting (1 & 2). in those very articles it says "we've reviewed.." and refers to exposure understanding.

    also, #3 is a typo and is listed as #4.

  • Kevin December 31, 2008 03:51 am

    Very concise list, I like it :)

    Just an FYI though...you numbering goes:


  • Michael Warf December 31, 2008 03:26 am

    WOW! What a list. It seems like it took me forever to master everything thats in this list. If I got a new SLR for Christmas, I'd head straight here for a leg up! I suppose white balance was the last thing for me to figure out as a beginner, because I shot in RAW and simply "corrected" it on import. Now shooting with flashes and mixed lighting, white balance (and gels) seem to be one of the most important!

  • E December 31, 2008 01:59 am

    Excellent, thanks for posting this :)