On November 13, I took a Canon Rebel 101 class and promised I would share all the details of what I had learned.  So sorry it took me a MONTH to get around to my recap, but here it is!


I want to preface this post by saying I am a newbie when it comes to SLR photography!  I definitely do NOT think I know everything, so if I get something wrong or miss an important point, please feel free to expand in the comments section.  🙂


As described on my Camera page, I have a Canon Rebel XS.


Basic Definitions!


First things first.  An SLR camera allows you to manually adjust (among other things) the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.


The number on the top left (i.e. 1/40 in the picture) is the shutter speed, which is basically how long the camera shutter is open (that clickity click noise you hear when you take a picture).  Shutter speed is measured in seconds, so 1/40 is equal to 1/40th of a second – that’s FAST.  Side note: most people can hold still for 1/30 of a second while they take a picture.  If you try to use a slower shutter speed, you need a tripod or it will be fuzzy.


The number on the top right (i.e. F1.8) is the aperture, which is the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.  Aperture is measured in “F Stops.”  The lens on my camera (which is a 50 MM F 1.8 lens) goes from F 1.8 to F 22.  Large  aperture (more light gets through) have smaller numbers and smaller apertures (less light gets through) have larger numbers. The aperture is important because it relates to Depth of Field (DOF).  The larger the aperture (smaller numbers), the more that will be in focus in the picture – the foreground and the background, for example).  The smaller the aperture (larger numbers), the less that will be in focus – like just a single French fry. 


The number underneath the aperture is the ISO number. In digital photography, ISO refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive the camera is to light.  Higher ISOs are better in darker situations, but there is more “noise” in the picture.  My camera has the following ISOs: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600.


What Do All Those Buttons MEAN!?


Someone once said to me, “If you only use your SLR camera on the automatic settings, you might as well use a point and shoot.”  SO TRUE!  The great thing about SLR cameras is that you can adjust the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to create beautiful pictures that a P&S camera simply cannot “know” you want to take.


I’m only going to deal with the options above the green square button (the green square and everything below are automatic settings in which you cannot change the ISO, aperture, shutter speed, or flash).


  • P Mode: The camera will automatically pick the shutter speed and the aperture.  You can adjust the exposure (using the AV + or – button on the back of the camera), white balance (using the WB button on the back of the camera), and ISO (using the ISO button).  I take most of my indoor food photographs in P Mode without a flash, with adjusted exposure (+ a quarter of a stop), and with adjusted white balance (on the Tungsten Light setting).


  • TV Mode: In this mode, you can change the shutter speed, but the camera will choose the aperture for you.  You can adjust the shutter speed by using the scrolling button on the front of the camera.  If the aperture number flashes when you try to take a picture, there is not enough light coming into the camera for the camera to take a picture at that shutter speed.  You can also customize ISO in this setting.


  • AV Mode:  The opposite of TV Mode – you can change the aperture, but the camera will choose the shutter speed.


  • M Mode:  You can customize everything in this mode.  M stands for manual.


Some Final Tips


  • The best advice I can give you is to just PLAY WITH YOUR CAMERA!  Spend a few hours taking pictures of different things with different settings to see how they come out.


  • When you review pictures with the playback mode, you’ll see four numbers at the top.  These numbers represent the shutter speed, aperture, exposure, and the file number.  If a photograph doesn’t look right, inspect these numbers to see what went wrong.


  • Keep your ISO as low as possible.  The higher the ISO, the more noise in the photograph.


  • You can select the point your camera focuses on instead of allowing it to auto focus using the star-in-a-square symbol shown on the upper right of the above photograph.  Look through the lens, press this button, and use the scrolling bar to select a new focus point.


  • Avoid using the flash at all costs.  Food usually looks terrible with flash.


  • USE YOUR SAFETY STRAP!  Enough said.


I hope you enjoyed my review of my Canon Rebel 101 class!  :)  Although a lot of this information is specific to Canon Rebels, it can be applied to all SLR cameras.  This is very introductory, and there are many neat things that SLR camera can do, so be sure to play and explore! 


To learn more about my camera and lens, check out my Camera Page.


What photography tips do you have to share?



  • Jessica @ How Sweet It Is December 10, 2009, 4:35 pm

    This would be fab if I actually had one! Hopefully Santa drops one off and I can come back and use these tips.

  • GirlonRaw December 10, 2009, 4:49 pm

    Great post and totally agree on food looking terrible with a flash but sometimes I have no choice..thanks for sharing some great hints and tips.

  • Lee December 10, 2009, 4:50 pm

    I want one! My camera actually is a point and shoot but it has a manual, aperture priority and shutter priority settings. The shutter speed and F-stops are weird on it though.

  • Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers December 10, 2009, 4:50 pm

    oh my xmas wish list…i’m not holding my breath though!

  • Brie (The Fit Bride) December 10, 2009, 4:51 pm

    I can’t even take a picture well with my point-and-shoot. Do you think, generally, it’s easier or harder to take good pictures with an SLR?

    • Caitlin December 10, 2009, 4:53 pm

      coming from someone who takes like, 100 pictures a day (NO JOKE), P&S are easier to carry and faster but SLRs produce better pictures.

  • Nicole December 10, 2009, 4:55 pm

    Great info! If you do need a flash, i’d recommend getting an external one. You can move the flash around so that you don’t point is straight on and can bounce the light. I just got one and it’s lovely at night!

  • Meg December 10, 2009, 4:59 pm

    Thanks for all the tips. I’m a Nikon girl myself, but all of those things translate the same. Off to go dust off that expensive camera to play with the settings…

  • Allison (Eat Clean Live Green) December 10, 2009, 5:10 pm

    I think you have aperture backwards – small aperture numbers (like 1.8) means the lens is wide open, so more light gets through, not less 🙂

    How do you like the lens? I want to get one similar to yours, but for Nikon – my kit lens is just not enough!

    • Caitlin December 10, 2009, 5:15 pm

      whoops, corrected!

  • Katy @ These Beautiful Feet December 10, 2009, 5:10 pm

    Thanks so much Caitlin! I am going to spend a couple hours tomorrow playing with my SLR for sure, I haven’t had to much time to do that yet so yay! Great advice. 🙂

  • Jenna December 10, 2009, 5:11 pm

    super jealous of your camera!

  • Grapeful December 10, 2009, 5:17 pm

    “Large aperture numbers mean MORE light gets through the lens, and smaller numbers mean LESS light gets through the lends.”

    I could be wrong but I think it is the opposite. The smaller the aperture number, the more light that gets through the lens. When you have the F number at 1.8, the aperture is wide open, allowing more light in and allowing you bokeh (focusing in on a single fry while the rest is blurry). F numbers are actually reciprocals 1/1.8, 1/22, etc. So if you were taking into consideration the reciprocal, then f 1/22 is a larger number and does let more light in.

    I’m a newbie too, so if someone else can chime in please do!

    • Caitlin December 10, 2009, 5:21 pm

      i fixed the aperture comment – i had it backwards – it is SOOOO CONFUSING.

    • Grapeful December 10, 2009, 5:21 pm

      Ooops, I had meant “if you were taking into consideration the reciprocal, then f 1/22 is a SMALLER number and does let LESS light in,” making your original statement true.

  • Christine December 10, 2009, 5:18 pm

    I love my dSLR 😀 I just wanted to expand on something you said about the aperture. You put “Large aperture numbers mean MORE light gets through the lens, and smaller numbers mean LESS light gets through the lends.” It’s actually the opposite. The smaller the aperture number (ie 1.4, 1.8, 2.2) the more light will be allowed in the lens. The larger the aperture number (ie. 12, 16, 22) the less light will be let into the lens.

    Also, a good rule of thumb for shutter speed is to not go slower than 1/focal length. So for your 50mm lens, I wouldn’t photograph handheld anything slower than 1/50th of a second. If using your zoom camera and you’re at 70mm, wouldn’t use it any slower than 1/70th and so on.

    As for shooting modes my camera is always in Manual. I drive a standard car. I like being in control. lol. I recommend using manual once you are more familiar with the settings and how they work together. The second best is Aperture Priority. A huge element to photos is the blurriness/focus ratio and controlling the aperture is the smartest thing you could do.

    I normally keep my ISO as low as possible but don’t be afraid to play with it. ISO 400 or 800 isn’t going to be the end of the world, especially if you are only using the photos on the web. It’s more important when you’re trying to make large prints.

    And everything in your post is pretty much the same for every single dSLR camera. The buttons may look different or have different symbols but the basics are the same across the board.

    Great post! 🙂

    • Caitlin December 10, 2009, 5:29 pm

      really excellent tips

  • Katie December 10, 2009, 5:49 pm

    This is so helpful!

    Check out my blog – http://katiechangesforkatie.blogspot.com/

  • Sam (Merit to the Carrot) December 10, 2009, 5:51 pm

    Good to know for when I get my paws on a Rebel of my own 🙂

  • amy December 10, 2009, 5:54 pm

    I’m a newbie DSLR user too. I love love love this product… http://www.amazon.com/Professor-Lightscoop-Standard-Universal-American/dp/B0017LNHY2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1260485542&sr=8-1 I think you would like it since most of the pictures you take are indoors

  • Joelle (The Pancake Girl) December 10, 2009, 5:55 pm

    I want one!

  • Estela @ Weekly Bite December 10, 2009, 6:05 pm

    Thanks for the tips! Very useful!

  • Mama Pea December 10, 2009, 6:25 pm

    Thank you so much. I definitely need to take the time to play with my settings. So far I’ve been on auto, which is good until it gets a little darker in the house. Even so, I still think the photo quality is better than my point and shoot, but I may just be kidding myself and my wallet. 🙂

  • amy December 10, 2009, 6:26 pm

    Loooove this post and all the comments that have followed.

    We all know these cameras cost more than a mortgage payment, so its a shame not to learn all about its full potential.

    I’m taking a Rebel couse next month, can’t wait!! 🙂

    Are you over your hatred for you 50mm lense yet?? I still lust after mine.:)

    • Caitlin December 10, 2009, 8:06 pm

      yes i love it again!

  • Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) December 10, 2009, 6:49 pm

    I totally need to play with my camera! We have had a Rebel XT for a while, and I use it all the time, but don’t know how to do anything special with it!

  • skinnyrunner December 10, 2009, 6:58 pm

    oh my gosh i have absolutely zero camera tips. i take the worst pictures!!

  • Marisa (Loser for Life) December 10, 2009, 7:14 pm

    Great tips! I am still a dunce when it comes to my point and shoot!

  • Karla December 10, 2009, 7:16 pm

    Great tips!
    Playing around with it is also the best way to learn (and it’s fun!)

  • Wendy December 10, 2009, 7:53 pm

    I know next to nothing about photography! However, I do read the Pioneer Woman’s blog, and, along with beautiful pictures, she has excellent, easy-to-understand tips and tutorials in her photography section: http://thepioneerwoman.com/photography/

  • Teacherwoman December 10, 2009, 8:00 pm

    Sweet! Thanks for sharing! I have wanted a camera like this for a while now and once you got one I was super excited for you!

  • Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg December 10, 2009, 8:04 pm

    Thanks for posting this! I have a feeling that Santa might be dropping off an SLR camera in my stocking (Woooo hooo!), so I was excited to read these tips!

  • Lindsey @ EatReadRun December 10, 2009, 8:52 pm

    Thanks for this great info! I have a Rebel XSi – so all of this has been so useful. I’ve been trying to find an intro class in my area, but until then, I’ll refer to your post for a little help.

  • Lex December 10, 2009, 9:30 pm

    I have had my SLR for quite some time and it has been so intimidating to use to it’s full extent. I play around with the settings but I really have no clue what I’m doing!
    I acquired the 50mm lens and love love love it!

    Thanks for posting these tips – I can read all about it online/books etc, but it’s nice to have it in layman’s terms and coming from a new user as well!

    Hopefully in the new year I get to take an intro Rebel course!

  • Mastering Public Health December 10, 2009, 9:59 pm

    This is so relevant because I have a Canon Rebel as well and keep getting hounded to read the manual (which I may or may not have misplaced). I can take aesthetically-fantastic pictures, my brain is just not oriented for all the technicalities!

  • Jaya December 10, 2009, 11:43 pm

    Hi Caitlin! I just made the switch to DSLR after learning all of my photography on a manual SLR (my Dad’s amazing 1969 Pentax) and producing my own prints. DSLRs are awesome, and you are so right about using a P&S if you are just going to use the manual features.
    We have the Rebel XSi and really splurged on the 18-200mm lens. Amazing focal length, amazing range, just incredible. I am just a novice photographer, but it is the best and most versatile lens I have ever worked with and a great training tool until I am proficient enough to justify getting the macro!
    Wonderful post and thanks for your tutorial wrap up!
    Jaya 🙂

  • Kristin December 10, 2009, 11:57 pm

    Very good beginners info, Caitlin! Most people DO use their DSLRs on Auto which of course is a total waste of money, it’s great that you’re advancing your knowledge about your camera and it’s functions. Happy Photographing! 🙂

  • Penny December 11, 2009, 1:42 am

    Excellent information! I have a Canon 50D that I am still learning, so I’m always interested in SLR know-how. Love your blog!

  • Amber December 11, 2009, 2:16 am

    SOO helpful!! I linked it in my blog post! Thank you missy =)

  • christie, honoring health December 11, 2009, 5:54 am

    Awesome post, I learned so much from it. I use a rebel xsi and the same lenses as you but have only ventured into automatic settings. Though the quality of my pictures have already improved (I love the blurry background look), I think this post has helped me move into the “real” settings. Thanks so much, Caitlin!

  • rungirlrunn December 11, 2009, 7:37 am

    What a wonderful post. I really don’t know anything about using different settings on a camera, but this makes it seem manageable!

  • Carolyn December 11, 2009, 10:50 am

    Thanks for the tips!! I have a Canon Powershot that as far as I knew wasn’t an SLR, but I have the same functions as yours. Hmmmm…. BTW, by reading the instruction manual, I came to the same conclusion as you and take most pics on P changing the settings for the lighting.

  • Erika December 14, 2009, 1:28 pm

    Thanks – this was so helpful!
    Sometimes with the p-mode the flash still goes off – how do you turn it off all the time?

    • Caitlin December 14, 2009, 1:29 pm

      on my camera the flash only goes off in p mode if i force it. soooo im not sure why yours would be going off (but if the flash is up, it will go off… so push it down).

      • Erika December 14, 2009, 1:35 pm

        Yup that makes sense – sometimes I switch from Auto to P so the flash doesn’t go off but I probably didn’t push it down…:)

        Your pics are great! I just got my rebel xs a month ago so I’m still learning…

  • Shannon, Tropical Eats March 2, 2010, 11:11 am

    wowza all of those settings are so intimidating! That’s neat they have a class for that. Great tips!

  • Fran March 11, 2010, 11:13 am

    “The larger the aperture (smaller numbers), the more that will be in focus in the picture – the foreground and the background, for example). The smaller the aperture (larger numbers), the less that will be in focus – like just a single French fry. ”

    This is still wrong 🙂 – it should be:

    The smaller the aperture (larger numbers), the more that will be in focus in the picture – the foreground and the background, for example). For example, you’d use this to take a landscape on a sunny day, where there’s plenty of light, and you want everything in focus.

    The larger the aperture (smaller numbers), the less that will be in focus – like just a single French fry. You’d use a smaller f-stop in lower light conditions – as you say, good for food photography, or macro, or throwing out the background on a portrait. If you were to take a photo of someone with a busy background behind them, it would blur the background, as it has a smaller Depth of Field.

    The large the aperture (lens opening), the smaller the depth of field, and the quicker you can take the photo. This is why these lenses are called ‘fast’ lenses, and are more expensive!

  • Raya @ Raya Runs May 10, 2010, 1:52 pm

    I want one soooo badly. I keep hinting at it to my parents for my birthday in august.

  • Heather May 10, 2010, 2:08 pm

    been dying for a nice camera, maybe one day! I will for sure have to take a class, it is all so confusing!

  • Mary May 28, 2010, 4:36 pm

    umm, I think you have this backwards, Caitlin:

    The aperture is important because it relates to Depth of Field (DOF). The larger the aperture (smaller numbers), the more that will be in focus in the picture – the foreground and the background, for example). The smaller the aperture (larger numbers), the less that will be in focus – like just a single French fry.

    • caitlin May 29, 2010, 10:49 am

      i need to change this… i think i keep getting confused whenever i have to write it out. it’s so confusing! thanks!

  • Charlie September 18, 2010, 11:15 pm

    I just got the very same camera – really useful guide to get started before getting through the manual, that is not always that easy to understand!

  • Lindsay April 25, 2011, 9:57 am

    Hi Caitlin! Just read this post from your Twitter link to your best of page 🙂

    Just wanted to note that your aperture description is still a bit off. The larger apertures (smaller numbers) provide less depth of field and the smaller apertures (bigger numbers) provide larger depths of field, which are perfect for landscape shots and any photos where you want all the details from close up to far away to be in focus and not blurred.

    • CaitlinHTP April 25, 2011, 2:00 pm

      Oh thank you! It’s so confusing.

      • Lindsay April 25, 2011, 2:23 pm

        Yes – I agree! And its especially hard to explain…when you are doing it, it makes sense, but to talk about it, it becomes more confusing!

  • Winegirl December 26, 2011, 8:42 am

    Thanks for the quick lesson. Just got a new lens for my Rebel and a photography class. NOW, I’m ahead of the class!

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