Photography class 3 - Camera button layout and changing settings - part 1

Photography for beginners 

This is one of the most important classes in our online photography classes for beginners. How so? Learning your cameras button layout and what each button does will really improve your photography competence and speed. We obviously can't cover every menu, option etc for every camera here. But, we'll cover the main ones. You'll have to invest a little time with your camera manual to learn everything.

Most cameras will have a selection wheel of sorts. You'll probably find an Auto mode, P mode, S mode, A mode, M mode (for Nikon. Canon is Av, Tv and so on). Each camera will be a little different, but these will pretty much be the norm.


We're throwing the practical element right at the start of this class. This class is aimed at getting your familiarised with your camera body, where the buttons are, and what the buttons/menus do. Read through our settings and compare them to your camera manual and body. The settings and button locations are most likely to be varied on yours. You can take 400 photos if you'd like, but we're happy enough with you changing a setting, then deliberately changing to another.

An awesome idea is to imagine a situation where you would need to change settings, shooting a wedding for example. In this imagined situation, you may need to change from single shot to a burst mode, or change the ISO. 

The idea is to get you familiarised with your own camera body and how to change settings. The longer you spend doing this, the better muscle memory you'll develop. After a while changing settings will become second nature.

Camera modes

Main mode dial

These modes are important to know. Not because you'll use them, but learning them will open you up to more possibilities. You may find yourself in situations where a semi auto mode, like aperture priority, will be your best friend...

These main mode and sub mode dials really only apply to entry level and semi professional cameras. Most professional level cameras have even more dedicated buttons for super fast settings changes.

Auto mode

This exactly what is says. Throw the camera into this setting and it will do all of the thinking for you. It may not always be right, but it's the easiest option and the one I would never recommend to anyone! Ever!

P mode - Program mode

P mode or program mode is similar to auto mode in the amount of thinking the camera does for you. This mode won't use the pop up flash. You can change a few settings though. ISO and white balance generally can be changed giving you a little flexibility. Again, you'll have to refer to you specific camera brand's manual to see the full details.

S mode - Shutter priority 

It's called shutter priority mode on Nikon, Canon it's Tv (time value). This mode is a semi automatic mode that makes maintaining the selected shutter speed the top priority of the camera. For example, let's say we want a constant shutter speed of 1/100th, we can put the camera into shutter priority mode, select 1/100th and watch the camera automatically change aperture and/or ISO to keep our selected shutter speed.

A mode - Aperture priority

Again, it's aperture priority on Nikon, and Canon it's Av (aperture value). This is another semi automatic mode that makes maintaining the selected aperture the cameras top priority. Similarly to S mode, this mode will change the cameras shutter speed and/or ISO to keep the selected aperture at a constant. Asides from manual mode, this is pretty much the only other setting I use on my camera.

M mode - Manual mode

Here we have the all scary manual mode. Alot of photographers stay clear of manual mode because of the amount of control it gives us. More control means more mistakes right? Not necessarily. When we have a decent understanding of how and exposure is made, manual mode isn't bad at all. Infact, it'll become your best friend! But for now all we need to know is manual mode lets us control everything. There's next to no help from the camera here at all.


Advance mode dial


The advance mode dial is typically found underneath the main menu dial on semi professional cameras. Sub menu dial will contain settings such as shutter mode, timer, Mup mode etc. 


Camera dials/wheels

Some people call them dials, some call them wheels. 

Main command dial/wheel

Main command dial-wheel.jpg

Main command dial/wheel

Located on the back of the DSLR. 

The main command dial/wheel is located on the rear of the camera body and is positioned in such a way that you can easily use your thumb to adjust settings. For example, in manual shooting mode, the rear command dial/wheel, adjusts the shutter speed.



Sub command wheel.jpg

Sub command dial/wheel

Sub command dial/wheel

The sub command dial/wheel is active when the main command dial/wheel has already been assigned a function. For example, with the camera in manual shooting mode, the rear command dial is already assigned the shutter speed. The sub command dial is assigned the aperture. 

Note: Not all camera bodies have sub command dials/wheels. They aren't present on a number of entry level DSLR's. Settings that would have been controlled with the sub command dial/wheel, are changeable through the camera menus.

Click here to continue to part 2!