DSLR Photography Basics

Boston Harbor - Boston, MA DSLR Photography
Boston Harbor – Travel Photography Boston, MA by Alex Sablan (click image to see full size)

DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) cameras are popular among professional photographers and enthusiasts for their versatility and flexibility. Understanding the basics of DSLR photography can help you take better pictures and make the most of your camera’s features. In this article, we will cover some essential aspects of DSLR photography and provide examples from famous photographers perfect for beginners.

DSLR Aperture

The aperture is the opening in the lens that controls the amount of light entering the camera. It is measured in f-stops, with lower numbers indicating a larger aperture and vice versa. A wide aperture (lower f-stop number) creates a shallow depth of field, meaning that only the subject is in focus while the background is blurred. A narrow aperture (higher f-stop number) creates a deeper depth of field, which means that more of the scene is in focus.

One famous photographer who often uses a shallow depth of field is Annie Leibovitz. In her portrait of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the wide aperture creates a dreamy, romantic effect, with the couple in sharp focus while the background is blurred.

DSLR Shutter Speed

The shutter speed determines how long the camera’s sensor is exposed to light. A faster shutter speed freezes motion and is useful for capturing action or sports photography. A slower shutter speed creates motion blur, which can be used creatively in artistic photography.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a master of using shutter speed to capture decisive moments. In his photograph “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,” he used a fast shutter speed to freeze the moment when a man jumps over a puddle, creating a sense of tension and drama.


ISO measures the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. A higher ISO number allows for faster shutter speeds in low light conditions, but it also increases the amount of digital noise in the image. A lower ISO number produces cleaner images but requires more light or a slower shutter speed.

For example, in his photograph “The Afghan Girl,” Steve McCurry used a high ISO setting to capture the girl’s striking green eyes in low light conditions. The result is a powerful and emotive portrait that has become iconic.


Composition refers to the arrangement of elements within the frame of the photograph. A well-composed photograph can create a sense of balance, harmony, or tension.

One photographer who excels at composition is Elliot Erwitt. In his photograph “California,” Erwitt uses the rule of thirds to create a balanced composition, with the palm trees on the left side of the frame and the beach on the right.

DSLR photography involves understanding the basics of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and composition. By mastering these elements, you can create powerful and emotive images like the famous photographers discussed above. Practice and experimentation are essential for developing your own unique style and vision.

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