DSLR Camera Buttons and How They Work

Man taking a picture with lens toward the camera

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When making the switch to a DSLR camera or an advanced camera from a beginner-level camera, you may be overwhelmed with the large number of camera buttons, dials, and parts that the advanced camera has.

Most of the buttons on the DSLR camera or advanced camera lead to shortcuts to commonly used features. It certainly does take some practice and time to learn how to use each of these buttons, but once you get the layout of the camera buttons figured out, you'll be amazed at just how much time these buttons can save you during your photography sessions.

Use these tips to remember the function of the camera buttons on your DSLR or advanced camera, starting with the vital shutter button. 

Note: Not every DSLR camera or advanced camera will have the same button configuration, so be sure to check your user guide for your camera’s specific layout.

Camera Buttons

  • Shutter Button: This is the most important of all of the camera buttons. Typically, it is a large button along the top of the camera, near your right index finger as you hold the camera. If you press the shutter button and nothing happens, one of two problems probably has occurred. One, the camera is in an auto-mode and cannot focus properly on the subject, which sometimes occurs in low light situations. Press the shutter button halfway to allow the camera to pre-focus; then press it the remainder of the way to shoot the photo. Two, if the camera is recharging the flash or saving a photo, the shutter button will not shoot additional photos until those tasks are completed.
  • Exposure Compensation Button: This button usually has a "+" and a "-" on it. You can use it to manually set the exposure for the photo.
  • Aperture Button: This button is usually marked with what looks like a partially closed shutter. Use this button it to manually set the aperture.
  • Self-timer Button: This button is usually marked with what looks like a stopwatch. You can use it to shoot a delayed photo. The amount of time the shot is delayed usually can be set in the camera’s menu structure.
  • Lens Release Button: This button often has no markings, and is usually located directly to the right of the lens mount. Press and hold this button first before attempting to unscrew the lens from the DSLR camera.
  • Delete Button: This button is usually marked with a trashcan icon. Use it to delete one or multiple photos.
  • Playback Button: This button is indicated by a "play" icon, as found on a DVD player. Use it to view your stored photos.
  • Menu Button: This button gives you access to the camera’s various menus. It usually is marked with "MENU" or a lined paper icon, either on the button or near the button.