If you’re new to DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras, or picking one up for the very first time, the features and options can feel a bit overwhelming. Good news: Focusing on a handful of initial steps and concepts will help you get the most out of your new DSLR camera — and your photos — in no time.

Read on for tips for tips on getting started from some of our favorite professional and dedicated amateur photographers.

1. Start out with auto mode.

“If you’re new to photography, get set up on your camera’s auto (or program) settings first. Manufacturers have done a really good job of making their cameras almost foolproof. They also sell big, expensive lenses that chances are, you do not need. I call it the Ferrari effect, where you show up with a $13,000 lens and everybody goes, ‘Oh my gosh, you must be a professional photographer!’ It only gives people a little attention.”

Daniel J. Cox, a professional nature photographer for over 40 years for publications such as National Geographic. Cofounder of Natural Exposures, providing photo tours for photographers to learn how to shoot in real settings.

2. Play around with the camera — and read the manual.


“Playing with anything new is how we learn best, so spend some time exploring your new camera. Go to each mode and try it out. Read through the manual to see what different settings do, then mess with the menus. By playing with different functions first, you will really start to understand just what your camera can do. It’s a better approach than just trying to take amazing photos right away.”

Daniel Hess, a photographer and filmmaker with over 10 years of experience who specializes in lifestyle and event photography as well as portrait and studio photography.

3. Pay attention to lighting. (It’s all about the lighting.)

“This advice applies to all types of cameras. If you want to take good photos, you need to be very mindful of where your light is coming from. On my photographic travels throughout the country, the biggest mistake I see inexperienced camera users make is taking photos of their subjects into the sun. As advanced as your camera is, it will not do well with all that light flooding in over the shoulders of your subjects. Keep that light behind you if possible, or if not, at least off at an angle.”

Lonnie Dittrick, a photographer with over 50 years of experience with a specialty in landscapes, nature, and astrophotography.  

4. Learn the exposure triangle: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.


“ISO is the camera’s light sensitivity. A lower ISO means the camera is less sensitive to light while a higher ISO means the camera is more sensitive to light.

Aperture is the opening of your lens that determines how much light enters your camera. A large, or wider aperture (which is indicated by a smaller f-stop number) allows more light to enter the camera while a smaller, or narrower aperture (indicated by a higher f-stop number) will allow less light into the camera. A wide aperture will minimize the depth of field and blur out part of the image while a narrow aperture with a larger depth of field will cause the entire image to remain in focus.

Shutter speed controls how long the shutter remains open. The longer the shutter speed is open, the more light allowed into the camera. Faster shutter speeds freeze the action of a fast-moving subject while slower shutter speeds blur the motion of the image.”

Jim Costa, a professional photographer and video producer for over 33 years with a YouTube channel showcasing 4,700 completed projects.

5. Master the rule of thirds.

“Your DSLR will have a viewing mode with a set of lines going horizontally and vertically across the frame. These lines divide the frame into thirds and help you to compose a better photo. Try to have the subject of your photo appear in the area where these lines cross; the composition will turn out looking better.”

Matthew Digati, a professional real estate and architectural photographer with seven years of experience.


6. Learn to work with RAW images.

“RAW images capture the most detail in a scene, which is ideal if you plan to edit your images in something like Adobe Lightroom, CaptureOne, or Mylio. But if you do not wish to edit your images, you should shoot in .JPG — this way, the camera itself will deal with the conversion from a flat, low-contrast RAW file to a beautiful final image”

Matt Sassenachs, a professional landscape photographer based in Scotland who runs photography courses through The Glen Coe Photo Co. and elopement photography through his second company, The Sassenachs.

7. Establish a post-shoot workflow.

“Photography is more than just a few clicks on a camera. Beyond taking photos, it’s important to learn how to `make’ them. Learning post-processing basics — using editing tools to shape how you want your photos to appear — is at least as important as shooting.”

Ben Zsekely, a part-time landscape photographer who is passionate about shooting nature.


9. Don’t compare your photos with social media.

“Most of the photos you see on Instagram are highly edited. Cameras do not have the dynamic range that your eyes have, therefore they cannot always recreate what you see. Shooting in RAW allows you to more easily edit your photos later.”

Cheryl Ritzel, owner of FocusEd Camera, a photography education and coaching company specializing in lessons for beginners.

10. Keep taking pictures. 

“They say your first 10,000 photos will be your worst. Mastery takes time, practice, and patience. Whether you want to be good at your hobby or aspire to become a professional, you’ll learn how to adjust for your mistakes and see how you’re progressing over time. You can join a photo-of-the-day challenge via a Facebook group. If you’re serious about starting a side hustle in photography, ask another photographer to review and critique your work. Or, be so bold as to shadow a photographer, ask for an internship, or sign up for a workshop.”

Michelle Loughman, a self-taught photographer who specializes in professional portrait and branding photographer and works with entrepreneurs, small business owners, and editorial photography publications. 

Download Mylio for free today to have a solution for editing, storing, syncing, and organizing your entire photo collection across multiple devices.