These days, with advancements in technology, smartphone cameras, and digital SLR cameras can make anyone seem like a photographer, but in reality, learning how to use a digital camera is a lot more complex than it seems. Not only do you need to learn foundational photography skills like lighting, exposure, shutter speed and so much more, but you will also need to know how to use a digital camera.

This can be complex, but if you want to stand out as a photographer who takes professional-looking images that gets the most out of your camera, then you could do a DSLR basics for beginners course or find various digital photography tutorials for beginners.

Not only could you end up taking unforgettable images that could potentially even earn you an income as a photographer, but knowing how to use a digital camera can be an extremely rewarding hobby and satisfying way to express oneself.

DSLR Basics for Beginners: What’s a DSLR Anyway?

There are so many people out there who have got fantastic digital cameras, but sadly never seem to advance beyond pointing and shooting on the auto mode. This, unfortunately, is a great pity because just by understanding a few DSLR basics for beginners as well as the foundational principles of photography, whether analogue or digital, could put you on the road to exploring the wonderful world of photography.

So what is a DSLR camera? You may already know that they are not typically used as point and shoot cameras, because they’re more complex, more expensive and provide the greatest amount of manual control. Basically, they are used by serious photographers.

One of the first things you may learn in a DSLR basics for beginners lesson is about the difference between a Digital SLR (DSLR) and an SLR.  Firstly, SLR stands for single-lens reflex. A single-lens reflex camera is a camera that typically uses a mirror and prism system (hence the word "reflex" from the mirror's reflection). This means that when you look through the viewfinder, you see exactly what you will capture.

The digital SLR will capture the image on a sensor, whereas the analogue SLR will capture the image on film. Both are what’s called 35mm cameras.

On this subject, it’s important to note that the mirror needs to be kept free of dust at all times, so always make sure that either your body cap or lens is on. Also be quick about changing lenses, especially when you are outside in the wind, dust, fog, or sea spray.

A Few Tips About Buying a DSLR

Buying the right digital camera for you and learning how to use a digital camera is of equal importance. If you are yet to make your digital camera purchase, here are a few tips to help you with your decision making.

The Difference Between Fixed Lens Digital Cameras and the DSLR

Generally, these cameras are larger in size than compact cameras but smaller than DSLRs. They have many of the same functions as a DSLR but the main difference is that you cannot change lenses. The lens is fixed. This is the main reason why fixed lens cameras are not used by professionals.

Start with a Second-Hand Option

If you are still learning how to use a digital camera it makes sense not to over-invest until you have a bit more knowledge. Many of the greatest photographers started out on second hand, or even vintage, camera gear.

laptop, camera and camera lenses
If you're new to digital photography, start out with second-hand camera equipment. - Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels

Choosing a Camera Brand? Hire Camera Gear

Generally speaking, most professional photographers fall into two camps! They are either Canon or Nikon shooters and this choice is really just about personal preference! If you have decided to learn digital photography for beginners, but don’t want to over-invest in gear until you know more, you could always hire gear from places like Sunshine Co or Photo Hire. This way, you can try out different brands until you find one that suits you.

Of course the other option you could consider if you need a camera to learn digital photography for beginners is to borrow from a friend.

Read Camera Gear Reviews

Like all things digital, technological advancements in camera gear are happening at a very rapid pace and all of these changes can improve image quality in terms of resolution, number of megapixels, image stabilisation and so much more.

Purchasing camera equipment, especially if you are only learning how to use a digital camera can be a sizeable investment. Here are some tips on how to do camera gear research.

  • Read camera gear websites.
  • Read Google reviews.
  • Chat to other photographers.
  • Speak to shop assistants in camera gear and photo hire shops.
  • Find a private photography tutor to ask for advice, or join a photography school and ask the teacher.
  • Download camera manuals from the internet and compare.

Learn Digital Photography for Beginners in a School

Photography is one of those subjects that can be learnt in so many different ways. From browsing digital photography tutorials for beginners on YouTube to embarking on a qualification like a Higher Certificate in Photography from Vega, and even a degree – you have options.

Besides specialising in photography at a school like Vega, there are other reputable photography schools in South Africa worth investigating. Choosing one of these depends on your own goals, budget, and time. For instance, you could find a course to learn digital photography for beginners or even a school that could take you to a Masters of Arts degree.

Here are some photography classes to consider:

  • The Cape Town School of Photography
  • The Photography Institute, Johannesburg
  • The Durban University of Technology

Any of these reputable institutions can take someone who knows absolutely nothing and wants to learn digital photography for beginners, to becoming a master in photography, perhaps even one with a degree that includes the full gambit of post-production from darkroom processing to digital editing using software like Photoshop.

For beginners, who don’t have the resources and time to join prestigious photography schools, digital photography tutorials for beginners, or finding a private tutor, are also excellent options.

camera lens next to two plants
Always carry your lens caps to protect your camera lenses from scratches and dust. - Source: Unsplash

Find a Private Tutor to Learn How to use a Digital Camera

There is absolutely no doubt when it comes to absorbing anything new, one-on-one tuition is the way to fast-track your learning. This is especially true when it comes to grasping some of the more complex, even mathematical in nature type concepts of photography.

In South Africa, there are thousands of private photography tutors who have joined Superprof located all over the country. You could choose someone located near to you, or you could opt for private online lessons, the choice is yours.

What is important is connecting with the right tutor for you, not only in terms of personality, but you would also want to share a similar style or interest in a specific genre or type of photography.

Also, make sure that in your research for a private photography tutor that you make sure that they are either highly recommended through your own word-of-mouth sources, come with online reviews, or are verified by a reputable organisation.

Superprof tutors, for instance, do come with reviews, their experience is verified and in most cases, their first lesson is offered for free. This is a bonus because you can share a lot of information about yourself and your photography goals as well as find out about your tutor’s teaching methods and background.

In terms of fees, private photography tutors who advertise their skills on Superprof in South Africa cost an average of only R256 per hour.

Here are some of the topics you could expect to cover when you learn digital photography for beginners:

  • The Different camera types
  • Camera resolution and pixels
  • File types (e.g. shooting Jpeg or Raw)
  • Exposure and controlling available light
  • ISO
  • Aperture or f-stop
  • Shutter speed
  • The relationship between aperture and shutter speed
  • High and low depth of field
  • Landscape photography
  • Portrait photography
  • Motion or sport photography

photographer adjusting digital camera settings Besides the individual attention that comes with private tuition, there are several other benefits to signing up with a private photography tutor. Consider some of these:

  • Lessons are informal in tonality.
  • You have instant feedback on your questions.
  • You don’t have to sit through questions regarding concepts that you have already grasped.
  • Enjoy the flexibility in terms of schedules and personalisation of course content.

Also, one of the advantages of learning anything new these days is that you can do it online. This is also true with photography and you could choose a tutor from just about anywhere in the world as long as you have a webcam, a meeting platform like Google Meet, and a solid internet connection.

The Best Advice for Learning How to Use a Digital Camera  

Finally, there is a lot to learn about photography and of course, how to use a digital camera but there are two very important pieces of advice that every budding photographer should consider.

Firstly, take your time mastering the theory of exposure. This is where having a private tutor can be extremely beneficial because you can spend time on this topic.

Secondly, practise, practise, and practise some more. Remember that it is those valuable times in between the theoretical lessons where the camera is actually in your hands that you will learn the most.

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.