What Do DSLR Camera Buttons Do?

Learn How to Make the Most of the Shutter Button

Man taking a picture
Photography taken by Mario Gutiérrez / Getty Images

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. (Keep in mind that not every DSLR camera or advanced camera will have the same button configuration; check your user guide for your camera’s specific layout.)

Shutter Button Tips

  • The most important of the camera buttons -- the shutter button -- typically 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 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.
  • The exposure compensation button usually has a “+” and a “-“ on it. Use it to manually set the exposure for the photo.
  • The aperture button usually is marked with what looks like a partially closed shutter. Use it to manually set the aperture.
  • The self-timer button usually is marked with what looks like a stopwatch. 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.
  • The lens release button usually has no markings, and it often is 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.
  • The delete button usually is marked with a trashcan icon. Use it to delete one or multiple photos.
  • The playback button contains a “play” icon, as found on a DVD player. Use it to view your stored photos.
  • The menu 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.