Camera Controls and Your Digital SLR - dummies

By Doug Sahlin

To master your digital SLR camera, you have to know it like the back of your hand. You must know what each control does and know where each control is in order to master a specific picture-taking situation. The following is a list of important camera controls and what they do:

  • Aperture setting: This determines how much light enters the camera. When you choose Aperture Priority as the shooting mode, you use a dial to change the aperture, and the camera automatically selects the shutter speed to properly expose the image.

  • Flash control: If your camera has a built-in flash unit, you push this button to pop the flash unit up and enable it.

  • Histogram display: This option displays a graph that shows you the distribution of pixels from the lightest parts of the image to the darkest parts of the image.

  • Hot shoe: You slide a flash unit that’s compatible with your camera into this slot. The contacts in the hot shoe communicate between the camera and flash unit.

  • LCD panel: This panel shows you all the current settings. When you change a setting, the panel updates to show you the new settings. If your camera doesn’t have an LCD panel, settings are visible in most camera viewfinders.

  • Shutter speed setting: The shutter speed setting comes into play when you shoot in Shutter Priority mode. You use a dial to change the shutter speed, and the camera automatically selects the correct f/stop to properly expose the image.

  • Exposure Compensation setting: You use this to increase or decrease the exposure when the camera gets it wrong and an image looks too dark or too bright.

  • Metering mode: Often a button control, but a menu item on Nikon cameras, the metering mode determines which area of the viewfinder is used to meter the image. In most instances, your camera’s default metering mode does an excellent job. However, in some picture-taking scenarios, you may need to change the metering mode.

  • White balance: In most cases, your camera’s default white balance setting, Auto White Balance (AWB), does the job of making whites look white. But, if the camera gets confused due to multiple light sources, the whites may have a green, orange, or blue tint. You can rectify this problem by choosing a preset white balance or by manually setting the white balance. Refer to your camera manual for detailed information on how to set the white balance for your specific camera.

  • Mode dial: This shooting mode dial lets you choose among Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Bulb, and Manual modes — and more.

  • Shutter button: You press this button to prefocus the camera and to take a picture.

  • ISO setting: You use this feature to change the ISO setting of the camera. The ISO determines how sensitive the sensor is to light. You use higher ISO settings to take pictures in low light conditions. On many cameras, you change the ISO setting by using a dial, although some cameras use a menu command.

Each digital SLR is different. The location of the controls you use to change these settings depends on the camera model you have. Refer to your camera manual for detailed instructions regarding the location of camera controls.

Some crucial controls on a Canon EOS Rebel XS/1000D.
Some crucial controls on a Canon EOS Rebel XS/1000D.
Key dials and the shutter button on a Canon EOS Rebel XS/1000D.
Key dials and the shutter button on a Canon EOS Rebel XS/1000D.