Beginner's Guide To Using A DSLR Camera + How To Shoot in Low Light

Thanks to Currys* and Nikon*, I'm so happy to be able to share this post on a beginner's guide to using a DSLR camera and how to shoot in low light!

Last week, I was invited along with fellow bloggers to #LightsCameraCurrys to learn tips and tricks of using a DSLR for food photography. We were welcomed with a good spread of food and drinks after a walk through at Nikon School.

For those who have your own blogs, you'll know the obsession felt by all bloggers on how to take great photos and how to get better at it. I'm certainly hands up in this category. Until recently, I only ever used my iPhone and my compact Canon S95 in auto setting to take photos, but after an incredible workshop on Food Photography and Styling Tips in 5 Minutes a few months ago, I got braver and started using the manual setting on my compact camera with some great results.

However, I'd never used a DSLR before and find it pretty intimidating since I don't really know what to do with all the settings. But this all changed after I got to play around with a Nikon camera with a teacher to guide us!

"When taking any photos, the most important thing to remember is LIGHT. Without light, we wouldn't be able to see with our eyes, and the same goes for cameras." 

To be able to control the ever-important LIGHT in order to get a great image, these 3 things have to be in balance with each other:

3) ISO

When you look at your camera, you should be able to see M, A, S, and P highlighted on the dial settings. Think of this as the VIP area, the area you really want to be in to be able to control all your photos!

M stands for Manual
A stands for Aperture
S stands for Shutter Speed Priority
P stands for Programme Mode

The only settings we want to concentrate on as a beginner is Aperture and Shutter Speed Priority, but before I dig into these, I really want to share what I learnt about Custom White Balance. I found it absolutely amazing and so useful for when there is no natural light to shoot in.

Custom White Balance for Low or Yellow Light Situations
-This setting on DSLRs is a lifesaver (or photo-saver!) for those dark winter evenings and low natural daylight!
-This setting will be in a different location depending on your camera, but you need to look in your settings whilst on shoot mode. Locate 'White Balance', then 'Preset Manual'. Your camera should then ask you to take a photo of a white background, such as a piece of white paper. Take this picture as near to the object you want to shoot, as it gives a truer colour of your shoot area.
-Once you have taken a photo of the white background, it will ask if you want to override previous settings, so select yes.
-Now that the 'white' has been set on your camera, you can go on to shoot your subject and even if the shoot area is bathed in that horrible yellow light bulb lighting, your photo should still turn out pretty white.

The peppers had quite a strong blue light shining on it, and it the usual settings, there was no way of getting it 'whiter'.

However, as soon as I shot a picture of the table, which is white, and set the white balance, my photo turned out pretty white!! I was so happy with the results and you can see how there's also not as much glare as the first photo.

Moving onto another food station, this time, the area was bathed in a yellow light, a colour which is quite normal in households when you have the lights on. I shot a picture of the white table, even though it was pretty yellow to look at, as our teacher said the camera would be able to cope with it. 

And it worked!! Whilst the areas are very shadowed, at least it gets rid of the yellow tinge. Isn't this white balance setting awesome?!

The photo I was the most proud of had to be this berry photo. It was taken on the same 'yellow light' station as the kiwi's, but by now I'd had a bit more time to play around with the settings. I am super proud of this photo.

Now onto the nitty gritty of Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO.

Shutter Speed Priority
-A high shutter or the faster the shutter speed is, the shorter the time the camera is exposed to light.
-A low shutter or the slower the shutter speed is, the more time the camera is exposed to light.
-By using different shutter speeds you can create the same image to different effects.
-When you choose Shutter Speed Priority, your camera will set the aperture automatically for you.
-1/4000 is the fastest speed a shutter can go. The 1 stands for per 1 second, and 4000 stands for how fast the shutter is going at. This means in 1/4000, the lens are working to 4000th of a second! This is extremely fast and best used for capturing fast action shots like in a tennis game or when an animal is running. At this camera speed, you will be able to capture any fast movements with clarity and without blurriness. Think of this speed as freezing time.
-1/60 is a good speed for food photography as there is no movement in the objects you are trying to shoot. Whilst hand-holding the camera is still pretty workable, going any lower than 1/60 means you will need to use a tripod. The lower the shutter speed, the steadier the camera needs to be in order to take photos without blur.
-1/30 is the speed used for creating light trails at night. For this setting, you must use a tripod. Think of this setting as a romantic blur of real time.
-1/15 is a really slow shutter speed setting, but creates great images when you want to convey a sense of speed in a still photo. For example, if you were to shoot a person on a bike, you can pan the camera across as they cycle past you on 1/15, following the movements of the cyclist. What you get is the relatively clear shot of the cyclist, but the rest of the background will be blurred to the cycling motion.
-In the photo below, Left uses a slow shutter speed and on the Right, a high shutter speed is used 

-This setting creates a depth of field in the photos. You can think of this as how the camera focuses on the object, whether it's a close up shot of the subject or of a scene a little far out.
-Choosing a low aperture like F/2.8 creates a shallow depth of field. The object you have focused on will be sharp whilst the surrounding background is blurred. This is also know as a Bokeh.
-Choosing a high aperture like F/11 creates a deep depth of field. Everything within the frame is in focus and nothing is blurred.
-When you choose Aperture, your camera will set the shutter speed automatically for you.
-Aperture in F/3.5 is great for food photography. The main object in the photo will be in focus and the edges blurred.
- Aperture in F/8 for images with a sharp focus in the whole frame without blurs.

-ISO is the sensitivity to light. The more sensitive it is, the higher the ISO, which is great for creating better photos in low light.
-ISO 6400 can be used in low light situations
-ISO 200 can be used on a bright day


Thank you to Currys and Nikon for putting on such a fantastic workshop, I really did learn so much and I hope that by sharing this post, it has also enlightened you. What do you guys think??

*I was invited by Joeblogs to attend this event in collaboration with Currys and Nikon.


  1. I'm not new with my DSLR but I found this super helpful!

    1. I'm so happy to hear that Isabelle! It really makes a difference going to a photography class like this! x

  2. Ooh some excellent tips here Lucy! I definitely need to have a proper play around with my camera. I always find low lighting so hard to shoot in, so I look forward to trying out some of your hints!

    Etta xx

    1. Thanks Etta! Really hope these help you, I'm a complete novice to DSLR's so this was an eye opener for me too :) x

  3. Awesome! I'm definitely going to have a closer look at this post when I get home. I've been really struggling with my photos

    1. Thanks Catherine! I don't even own a DSLR, so I need to save my own tips for when I eventually get one haha x

  4. Wow this is great! I'm thinking of getting myself a DSLR camera but I was intimidated by all the settings. This helps put a lot. Thanks ����

    1. Thanks Maggie! I don't even own one to practice all the things I learnt, but it is definitely not as intimidating now that I know what the settings are! Glad you found it helpful x

  5. Pick out a couple of glow sticks and use Slow Shutter Cam app to take pictures with long exposure with the help of your mobile device for your blog. Or try HDR with Efex pro or aurorahdr or another hdr tools

  6. A debt of gratitude is in order for your data, it was truly exceptionally helpfull.. Lang Peer


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