Have you recently had a baby and decided to buy a Big Girl Camera to capture all that squishiness? Are you overwhelmed by all the buttons and not sure where to start? Here are the basic buttons for a Nikon DSLR Camera.

If you have a Canon DSLR check out our Getting to Know Your Canon Camera.

Nikon DSLR Front

This is the front of a Nikon D7000. It is a mid-range beginner camera. 
  1. Flash Button. Press this button to activate your pop-up flash. When you’re in full auto mode, your camera will decide whether or not to use the flash. However, if you want to manually decide to use your on-board flash (ex. fill flash), this button can be useful.
  2. Bracketing Button. Press this button to set up your camera to take several pictures with different exposures.
  3. Lens Mount and Lens Mount Index (white dot). Every lens has a similar white dot that is meant to match up with the white dot on your camera body. It allows you to align, twist and click the lens into place. You’ll know your lens is secured once you hear the click.
  4. Lens Release. Press this button to release your lens from the secured position. When changing lenses, turn your camera off and avoid dusty areas.
  5. AF Mode Button/Focus Mode Selector. This is where you choose where you want to do auto focus or manual focus. 
  6. Mirror. The mirror allows you to see, through your viewfinder, almost exactly what you will photograph by reflecting the image up, and into the eyepiece. It is activated the moment you press the shutter release and will return to its original place once the photo is taken. DO NOT TOUCH THE MIRROR WITH YOUR FINGERS. Also, you should only use special cleaning solutions and equipment to clean it. If you spot any dust on your mirror, don’t mess with it. Any dust on the mirror will not appear on your image, so leave it alone.
  7. Depth of Field Preview Button.  The depth of field determines how much of an image is in focus. For example, if you took a photo of someone with a mountain range in the background, and both the subject and the mountain range are in focus, you have deep or large depth of field. If the subject is in focus but the mountains are blurred, you have shallow or small depth of field. This button will close the aperture to give you an idea (through the viewfinder) of what will be in focus.
  8. Function Button. You can use the Function Button to set up many different shortcuts. This is something you will not use until you are more familiar with your camera. 
  9. Sub-Command Dial. This is the secondary dial to the main dial you will find on the back.
  10. Remote Control Sensor. This sensor is used as an indicator for the self timer function with a flash and beep during the delay.
  11. Pop-Up Flash. Most “prosumer” DSLR’s have a built-in flash that will activate in full auto as the camera thinks required. Try to avoid using your on-board flash.

Nikon DSLR Back

  1. Viewfinder. Unlike your old point and shoot camera, you actually have to look into the viewfinder to see what you are shooting. Some DSLR models include a live LCD screen (or a flip-out screen), but it’s just as easy to look through the viewfinder. When you look inside, you’ll be able to see your focal points, your histogram, ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings (all of which we’ll talk about in future articles).
  2. Dioptric Adjustment. Tucked in behind the rubber eyecup, the small dioptric adjustment dial is easily overlooked. Dioptric adjustment allows for fine-tuning of the viewfinder focus to meet an individual’s eyes. If adjusted correctly, a person who normally wears glasses or contacts, wouldn’t need to while using their camera.
  3. Rubber Eyecup. If you wear glasses, the rubber eyecup protects the lenses from scratching against the camera. Without glasses, it allows the viewfinder to form around your eye and eliminate any surrounding glare.
  4. AE-L/AF-L button. This button can serve many purposes. It can lock the focus and/or exposure or turn on the autofocus. You can set which function you want to use in the Custom Menu.
  5. Main Command Dial. You use this dial to control most of the cameras functions. 
  6. Live View Switch/Movie-Record Button. This button has 2 functions. A) Live View Switch: This lets you see the images on the LCD before taking the photo. B) Movie-Record Button: When you push this button it starts and stops movies.
  7. Rear Multi-Selector/OK Button.  When you zoom into an image you can move around the image.  You will use the arrows to navigate your camera’s menu. The OK button will select items in your menu. You also use this to move around your focus point.
  8. Focus Selector Lock Button. If it is set to the white dot you can move your focus point around, if it is set to L you will not be able to move your focus point.
  9. Memory Card Access Lamp. This will be lit up when you camera is writing the data onto your SD card. You should not remove your SD card when this is lit up.
  10. Info Button. This will wake up your LCD screen if it is sleeping.
  11. LCD Screen. Displays menus and images that have been exposed.
  12. Quality/+ Button. Another button with 2 functions. A) Quality: Use this to set the image compression, image file format and image size. B) + ButtonDuring playback this will zoom in on images.
  13. ISO/- Button. This button also has 2 functions. A) ISO: Use this to set what ISO you need for your situation. B) – Button: During playback this will zoom out on images. You also can use it to make a checkerboard of your images.
  14. WB/?/Key Button. This button actually has 3 functions. A) WB: Use this to set your White Balance. B) ? Button: If you see a ? in your menu you can press this and it will try to explain what is going on in more detail. C) Key Button: During playback you can hit this button to protect an image from deletion.
  15. Menu Button. The menu gives you access to all internal menu functions on your LCD screen. You scroll through them using the cross keys (or dial if you have one) and select buttons. See your camera’s manual for camera specific functions.
  16. Playback Button. When the camera is turned on, this will display the last image taken on the small screen. Then you can scroll through all the others by using the cross keys.
  17. Erase Button. This button will erase any selected images. You are normally asked first “are you sure” as a safeguard.

Nikon DSLR Top

This is a lot to take in. Make sure you pin this article to look at later.

  1. Shutter Button/On,Off & Light Switch. A) Shutter Button: This is how you take a picture. But did you know that by pressing it halfway down, you will start the auto focus and exposure calculations? Press halfway down to establish your settings, then press all the way down to take a photo. B) On, Off & Light Switch: Switches the camera power on and off. If you leave your camera ON, the sleep mode will kick in after a few minutes and you can turn the power on quickly and instantly by pressing the shutter button. If you flick it one more time to the bulb it will light up the top LCD screen to check your settings.
  2. Meter Mode/Format. A) Meter Mode: Press and hold this button, then use your rear dial to select which light meter mode you want to use. B) Format: You can press and hold this button along with the delete button on the back of your camera to format your memory card. Just make sure you really want to format your card.
  3. Exposure Compensation +/-. Press and hold this button, then use your rear dial to change the brightness of the next photos you take. This is used to alter the standard exposure set by the camera. You can make the image brighter or darker with this function, and it can be used in any creative shooting mode (but cannot be used when shooting in manual). This setting does not automatically cancel when you turn your camera off, so you must manually reset it to zero when you’re done taking photos.
  4. LCD Control Panel. You can see all your settings on this little LCD screen. You will also be able to see how many pictures you can still take with your memory card, etc.
  5. Hotshoe. The area where you can place an external, dedicated speedlight or other flash drive.
  6. Release Mode Dial. Push this little button and then spin the dial to choose your release mode. You can select Single Frame (S), Continuous Low (CL), Continuous High (CH), Quiet (Q), Self Timer, Remote, Mirror Up.
  7. Exposure Mode DialSpin it to select among P, S, A and M exposure modes. You can select Auto, Scene mode and User Modes.
Professional Automatic (P)

This chooses all of your settings for you but is better then just Automatic mode. This mode is a good place to start.

Aperture Priority (A)

Allows you to set the aperture of the lens and the camera will select the correct shutter speed. Shoot in this mode if you want more control over the depth of field (DOF) in your images. Note: An aperture of f/2.8 will have very little DOF, but a lot of bokeh (blurred background), while f/16 will have a much greater DOF and much more of your image in focus.

Shutter Priority (S)

Allows you to set the shutter speed and the camera will select the correct aperture. Shoot in this mode in situations where you need control of the shutter speed, such as sports, wildlife or children. Most DSLR cameras have a range from 30 second exposure to about 8000th of a second (or faster).


Allows you to be in COMPLETE CONTROL. The camera’s metering system can guide you, but you decide the shutter speed and aperture manually. By the end of the summer, we hope you will be shooting in manual mode.

Nikon DSLR Bottom and Side

Finally, the bottom and side of your camera. You probably already know what these are for.

  1. Battery compartment. This is where the re-chargeable batteries live. Keep at least two charged (one in the camera and one spare) at all times so you are never caught without battery power.
  2. Tripod Socket. This piece makes it so that you can attach your camera to a tripod.
  3. Card Slot. Not to be obvious, but this is where your memory card goes.


Now grab your DSLR, grab your kids, head outside and use some of these new buttons. The best way to learn is practice, practice and more practice.

For more lessons on getting to know your camera, check out our post on 7 Basic Photography Rules.

Photo Credit: Sarah Halstead

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Sarah lives in North Carolina with her husband and two sons. She enjoys photography and blogging about her life as a special needs mom at By Sarah Halstead. You can contact her through email.

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    Great tips on getting to know your Nikon, Sarah. Excellent post. Sharing it on Pinterest. Cheers


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