A Guide to Using Your DSLR for Bloggers

These days cameras can be hideously confusing machines with buttons, dials, and widgets galore that may seem totally overwhelming to the novice photographer.  Learning what each of these controls do, however, is necessary if you want the camera to stop getting in the way of you taking the pictures you want.  Here’s a quick guide to the primary shooting modes on DSLRs and most compact cameras and how you can use them to improve the photos on your blog.


Oh yeah, and before I dive into it here I should mention that you should probably read my previous article regarding ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, just to make sure that you’re clear on all of the terms that I’ll be referring to.


Also, since each camera manufacturer has different camera user interfaces, I will not be going into the specifics of how to adjust each one on each brand.  For this info, I strongly recommend reading your camera’s manual or looking up some instructional videos on YouTube.




“AUTO” (or the little green box thingy):

  • Your camera will select what it thinks is an optimal ISO, aperture, and shutter speed for the given shot.
  • I can’t recommend shooting in this mode unless you…well, unless never.  I never use this mode, for anything; there are zero advantages to it.
  • All control is relinquished from the photographer and given to the camera and the photographer makes no decisions regarding how they want their image to look.


“P” (Program Mode):

  • In this mode you select the camera’s ISO and it will select the aperture and shutter speed necessary for a proper exposure.
  • This is a good mode to use when you’re just learning the basics of photography and composition of images, but does not have any advantages for the fashion blogger.


“S” (Shutter Priority Mode [“Tv” on Canon cameras]):

  • In this mode you select the ISO and the shutter speed and the camera will select an f-stop to give you a proper exposure.
  • Useful for freezing fast action.
  • When shooting models moving down a runway, for example, you could set your shutter speed to 1/500th of a second to ensure that the moving models are not blurred by their movement.  -Keep in mind, however, that the faster you make your shutter speed the lower your f-stop will be so that the camera gets enough light, thus making your “depth of field” much smaller (DOF is how much of your image is in focus; higher number f-stops have greater DOF, lower number f-stops have narrower DOF).


“A” (Aperture Priority Mode):

  • In this mode you select the ISO and the aperture and the camera will select a shutter speed to give you a proper exposure.
  • This is by far the most useful mode on your camera for most situations because controlling your DOF (which changing your aperture gives you the most direct control over) is one of the most powerful creative tools a photographer has at his/her disposal.
  • I use this mode when I shoot street style and outfit shots to keep my f-stop low (usually f/1.8 for street style and f/3.5 for outfit shots) and the background out of focus; I also use it for shooting events and showrooms simply because I have found that the narrower DOF, which gives the image an overall softer feel, is a look preferred by many fashion bloggers.
  • For work purposes, I use this mode about 99% of the time.


“M” (Manual Mode):

  • You select the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture; the camera does nothing for you.
  • When working slowly and deliberately (and usually with a tripod) this is my preferred mode for shooting (e.g. landscapes, working with models, etc.).
  • It’s not for the faint of heart; DSLRs have too many buttons and dials to be used quickly in full manual mode and you’ll very often miss the shot while you fiddle around with them trying to find the proper exposure.


“B” (Bulb Mode)

  • Same as full manual mode, but the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold down the shutter release button.
  • I only use this mode for when I’ve got my camera mounted on a tripod and I’m shooting a very long exposure (i.e. over 30 seconds, like when I do nighttime photography).
  • No practical purposes for the fashion blogger.


I know that this stuff can seem extraordinarily confusing at first, so feel free to ask me any questions you like. Once you start playing around with your camera’s settings though, and checking out the resulting images, it will quickly start to make much more sense.


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25 Responses

  1. Danah

    This is fantastic! I’m very glad you gave us an in-depth yet easy to read, to the point guide on using DSLRs. I have a ‘dummy’ guide book for mine, but this is a much easier read! Thank you!


  2. Michelle

    this helps a ton. i shoot things in manual, but when i have someone take pictures for me…its probably best that i use Auto, but the pictures never come out the way i like so I don’t even bother unless i know somebody who knows how to work a camera.

  3. Style Chic 360

    Awesome tips I just bought a new camera, it’s not a dslr but I can use these tips as my camera allows many of these functions. Thanks so much!! 😉


  4. Loren

    These are some nice quick tips. I’m still just a photography novice although I usually shoot in manual sometimes the pictures don’t turn out to good. I have a Cannon camera and I really like using the ‘preview’ button to adjust most of my settings. It shows me what the exposure will actually look like once I’ve taken the shot. Then I switch out of preview mode to really set up the shot. (Because preview mode actually crops the photo differently than my lens does…)

  5. Danielle V

    Really great post! It’s definitely true, just starting out with DSLR photography can be daunting… it’s so easy to fall into always using the auto modes. But I’m glad to be learning new things about my camera each day!

  6. Candyce Nicole

    I have a DSLR that I’ve been too scared (lol) to use because of all the options. This makes things a bit clearer for me. Thanks so much!

  7. Marie

    Thank you so much! When I got my DSLR I tried to read the manual but it was so complexed that I gave up and used the green thingy. Until now! Thank you for explaining it from a fashion blogger point of view!
    – Marie

  8. kavery

    Very helpful post. The way you’ve broken down the modes makes a lot of sense. I’ve been using the A or Aperture mode a lot and I’m most comfortable using it now.

  9. Catherine

    I should probably use Aperture Priority mode more often for candid shots, but when it comes to outfit photos, I use manual! I had a DSLR prior to taking a photography class, but once I learned on a manual SLR camera, I got the hang of using entirely manual settings.

    • Nando

      Just a tip: Aperture Priority mode with a proper use of exposure compensation (I usually set my EV to +2/3 of a stop to preserve detail in the shadows [you should only do this if you shoot RAW, which you should be, because JPEGs have zero flexibility]) will always be faster and just as accurate as Manual mode.

      I’ve shot on all kinds of cameras and while I will always prefer the tactility and streamlined functions of something like my Yashica, not to mention the way a waist-level finder forces me to really slow down and compose, one thing I’ve learned is that DSLRs are made to be used with partial automation. They have too many buttons to be used quickly on Manual, the plastic focusing screens aren’t accurate enough to be used at apertures faster than f/2.8 without autofocus (especially not if your eyesight is as bad as mine), and the lenses’ focal increments are too extreme for quick and precise adjustments. Learning to properly use exposure compensation and your AF points will greatly improve your speed of use with your camera.

      Granted, you may not be shooting as much as I do when I work; I need to be as fast as possible and get the job done quickly and accurately. I definitely encourage you to learn how your camera works in Manual, so you can really see how aperture and shutter speed affect your image.

      Also, the one time I always use Manual for work purposes is if I’m at a showroom or something and shooting very dark clothing. In Av mode the camera will assume that it’s just a dark part of the image and will make your shutter speeds super slow to compensate and blow everything else out. In a case like that I find an exposure that just preserves details in the blacks while keeping my shutter speed fast enough for handholding your camera.

  10. bestofbklyn

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve had a DSLR for a few months, but have been way intimidated! Appreciate the simple advice!

  11. Joy

    Hi Nando,
    Thanks very much for your great post as per usual. One day I’ll be able to take better photos.
    Enjoy the rest of your week 🙂
    Joy x

    • Nando

      My pleasure, Joy! Glad all you gals are getting something useful out of my posts. Love your blog by the way, keep it up!

  12. Emily

    Great post. I’ve used P and M before – and Auto – yes, I know!! But I never tried A before – I’m going straight home tonight and playing with that!! Thank you 🙂

  13. Rachel

    Thank you so much, my dads slowly handing over his old Nikon D100, I’m pretty amateur with it.

    This is super. Thanks so much!!

    • Nando

      Wow! I’ve never even seen a D100, that’s a very old camera. Don’t be in a rush to get a DSLR just to have a DSLR. Those really early DSLRs are especially confusing because they were throwing all kinds of functions into the cameras to cope with the problems inherent to early CCD sensors.

      I checked out your blog and you’re taking great pictures, even without a DSLR. I’d suggest you keep you what you’re doing, keep working on improving your images, save some money, and invest in something that’s going to last you longer than a camera that is already ten years old. I’m actually amazed your dad’s camera is still functioning; DSLRs are just not made like film cameras, which last forever, I’ve got a few that are almost forty years old and still work like they were made yesterday.

  14. Kate

    Thank you so much for doing this! Can’t tell you how confused I am by my Canon DSLR, but this post will definitely be my guide now 🙂

  15. JayMarie

    Thanks! I’m still learning all the functions and it deff takes time and this is another big help! Thanks (:

  16. Michal

    Sometimes the obvious things are not available online. Thanks for sharing, that was actually very helpful!

  17. kate heimann

    thank you for posting this! 🙂 I’ve had a couple of really fun gigs in the past year photographing Project Runway fashion shows, coordinating photography for fashion shows, and even coordinating my first fashion show this week! After it’s all said and done, we all have lots to learn and need little reminders that are simple enough to jot down in our memories for instant retrieval. You have condensed the basics very well and am happy to have your article be the first thing I reference to my new photography friends. 🙂 thank you and great job!

  18. Victoria

    Hi there,
    Just read this post and its great! However, if I was to take very simple and minimalist outfit photos with a white background, what settings would you suggest on a Nikon D7000? I can’t quite get the crisp, white feel to my photos, they are sort of blurry…
    Would be great if you could help out! Thanks 🙂