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Basic DSLR camera functions and skills


During this lesson, the teacher will work with students in small groups to teach practical basic skills when it comes to taking photos.  If the teacher prefers, students who are not working with the teacher can be working on something independently.


  • Students will learn basic, practical camera skills that they can apply when taking pictures.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6 Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level.


45 minutes


Multiple D-SLR Cameras

Class set: How Do I…? graphic organizer

Lesson step-by-step

*NOTE: Today’s lesson has multiple options for implementation.  As written, it encourages the teacher to work with students in small groups during today’s lesson. If this is the case, the teacher can pair this with the lesson Caption Writing & Headlining to give the other students in class something productive to be working on.  However, depending on technology availability, the teacher can have students research this information & complete the graphic organizer either from home or using class time. This way, students have the ability to look for information specific to their own camera type, and they can practice getting information via Youtube video tutorial.  It also allows the teacher to begin valuable conversations about the credibility and strength of an online source.

1. Rotating group instruction —45 minutes

Split class into groups of 2 or 3 students.  Spend 5-10 minutes with each group of 2 or 3 students. Show them the following skills:

a. Reformatting disk options.  Most photographers suggest reformatting the memory card once all photos have been uploaded.  This clears any funky settings that may be associated with the card or the pictures and returns the memory card to its original state.  (Note: This will delete all pictures on the memory card too, so make sure you’ve saved them somewhere)

Sony: called “Format” under Menu

Canon: called “Format” under Menu

Nikon: called “Format card” under Menu

b. Date/time setup.  Allows you to set the date and time of the camera.  This is beneficial for accessing when a photo was taken in a photo’s metadata.

Sony: Called “Date/time setup” under Menu

Canon: Called “Date/time” under Menu

Nikon: Called “Date” under Menu

c. Image size.  Adjusts the size of a picture.  You should never blow photos up to be bigger than the original size that you shot them in.  Most cameras have settings for large, medium, and small.  The larger the photo, the more memory it will take up.

Sony: Called “Image Size” under Menu

Canon: Called “Quality” under Menu (this setting allows you to change size & file type)

Nikon: Called “Image mode” under Menu

d. Type of file.  This setting allows you to choose what type of photo saves: RAW, RAW&JPEG, “Fine” (a high quality jpeg), and “standard” (a lower quality jpeg). RAW allows for more editing options in Photoshop but takes up significantly more memory, RAW&JPEG saves two files for each photo.

Sony: Called “Quality” under Menu

Canon: Called “Quality” under Menu (this setting allows you to change size & file type)

Nikon: Called “Quality” under Menu

e. White balance.  This setting allows a photographer to automatically adjust the camera for certain light settings.  Note: This setting can often not be used when taking photos in a camera’s “auto” setting.

Sony: Called “white balance” under Function

Canon: Called “white balance” under Menu

Nikon: Called “white balance” under Menu

2. Practice — if time

Depending on class size, small group instruction may take the entire period.  If there is time leftover, allow students to play with the cameras within the room, especially with White Balance settings.  At the end of the period, ask all students to “reformat” the disks to erase the memory cards.

3. Homework

Pass out the the “How Do I…?” graphic organizer and complete for homework.  (It may be a good idea to avoid passing this out until the end of class, that way students must look up or find the answers again rather than just copying them down mindlessly while the teacher shows it to them. This will reinforce learning the skills)


If you have students who have a good amount of experience with D-SLR cameras or who pick up on the skills quickly, they can deepen their knowledge by helping to explain or teach these skills to other students. (Particularly, if you have students who have knowledge of specific brands of cameras, you can set up stations around the room and have those students help you instruct).