DSLR Basics for Beginners -The Mode Dial

This post is written for beginners who have just purchased a Digital SLR (or Mirrorless) camera or planning on picking up one soon. DSLR basics for beginners will discover the functionality of your new camera. All the buttons and setting may seem daunting at first, but with some guidance and experiments, they will become second nature. In this article, we will be going through the Nikon D3300.

This knowledge can be applied to any brand of Digital SLR camera. Whether you have a Sony, Nikon, Canon, or Pentax, the basic functionality remains the same. Different manufacturers may use their own terminology for the features but the functions remain the same.

DSLR Basics for Beginners is divided into 4 articles for the ease of understanding. In this article, we will look at the various functions of the mode dial. I will try to clarify some main marking on the dial.

 What is an SLR?

The modern camera has come a long way since their inception. Early cameras were essentially wooden boxes, in contrast, modern cameras consist of precision and delicate parts. Fundamental features of a camera have remained the same regardless period of history.

All cameras from all manufacturers are based on the same set of common principles. They are necessary for a camera to create a photograph. The three common things that make a camera are a lens, a curtain, and a medium(film or digital sensor). A lens is required to focus light on the medium. The curtain or the shutter allows the light to enter the camera for the intended amount of time.

SLR stands for single-lens reflex. D stands for digital. DSLR camera uses a single lens to take a picture and project the same image into the viewfinder. A mirror mechanism located just before the image sensor reflects (reflex) light several times before reaching the viewfinder.

One of the great features of a DSLR camera is its ability to interchange lenses. You can mount lenses of any focal length of your choice. A prime lens is great for shooting portraits. Telephoto lenses can be a great tool for photographing birds, animals or nature in general. Zoom lenses offer convenience of variable focal lengths by allowing to close in on any part of your subject.

What is Camera Mode Dial

The camera mode dial offers many shooting options. They range from auto, portraits, macro, sports and so on. These modes are preset or preprogrammed that users can select according to their shooting situations. It’s OK to use presets if you are a beginner or just wanna have fun with various effects. But if you are interested in taking your photography to the next level, then understanding the P, S,A, and M mode is crucial.

The AUTO mode, as the name implies puts the camera in auto mode. In this mode, the camera makes all the decisions on how to make your photo look its best. It does this by sampling light and using algorithms to make the necessary adjustments to achieve the correct exposure. The auto feature is pretty good but sometimes it can make mistakes. The camera might think what is right but it may be something you do not want.


The ‘M’ on the camera mode dial stands for ‘manual’.  Your goal should be to get out of AUTO and start experimenting with the manual settings. In this mode, the user makes all the necessary adjustments to achieve the intended exposure. Manual mode allows the user to select aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Within M mode there are two other modes – (B) Bulb and (T)Time.

In B or bulb mode, the shutter will remain open as long as the shutter release button is depressed. T or Time mode is similar to bulb mode, but in this mode, you will have to press the release button to both open and close the shutter. The primary use of these modes is for long exposure photography.Dial Mode

A- Aperture Priority

Aperture priority is a semiautomatic mode. In this mode, the user selects the aperture and ISO values, and the camera decides on shutter speed.

This mode is very popular even among many professional photographers. This is also a great place to start if you are a beginner. Aperture priority modes work well in daylight situations.

It can also be useful for evening shots or after sunset. Caution should be exercised because, in these low light conditions, the camera will choose a very low shutter speed. This will cause motion blur. Be sure to use a tripod when shooting in low light conditions.

Camera Settings

Patullo Bridge

Pattullo Bridge Surrey, BC. Aperture Priority Mode.

S – Shutter Priority

Similar to aperture priority, by selecting shutter priority mode you choose the shutter speed and the camera automatically decides on the aperture size that will produce the correct exposure. Knowing some basics of shutter speed will get you up and running using this mode.

Shutter speed is often used to convey motion. Fast shutter speed will instantly freeze the action. It gives the image a sense that time has stopped. Some example of fast shutter speed are, sports, birds in flight, a racing car.fast shutter speed

Slow shutter speed will produce a subtle blur on the image giving a sense of motion or passing of time. Choosing slow shutter speed is useful anywhere you want to convey a sense of livelihood. Maybe at children s’ birthday parties to indicate energy and vibrancy.


I hope this article has given you some basics about the three shooting modes. The aim of these modes is to give your image the correct exposure. Having a conceptual understanding of these settings is crucial for successful photos. No amount of literature can make you achieve the results you want. The only way to reach your goal is by practice. With continued practice and experiments, you will able to see the differences how one changing one variable affects the other.

Please add your thoughts by leaving any comments or questions below.

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