How to Use a Mirrorless Camera: A Beginner’s Photography Guide

Darren Curtis


So you’re the proud owner of a new mirrorless camera. Awesome! Mirrorless cameras are a wonderful bit of photography kit, with a number of advantages over other types of camera. They’re also one of the best cameras with which to learn photography on, because you can see the changes you make to various settings in real time.

However, a mirrorless camera is a complicated piece of equipment. As such, you definitely need to spend a bit of time learning how to use it properly so you can unlock its full potential.

Which is where I come in. I’ve been taking photos for over thirty years with a wide range of cameras, from a film SLR through to compact, mirrorless, and DSLR cameras. I also teach an online photography course, lead photo workshops, and give talks on photography around the world.

So those are my qualifications.

Today, I’m going to share with you all the key things you need to know in order to get the most out of your new mirrorless camera. I’m going to tell you all the major functions it has, the settings you need to master, explain how to get great photos with your new camera, and then go over some tips for caring and looking after your new investment.

This guide is written on the assumption that you have no previous photography experience, so we will start with the basics and work our way forward. Of course, if you have photography experience that’s great, however, refreshing yourself on the basics never hurts in my opinion.

At this point, I would like to quickly say that photography is not a simple subject. It can take time to grasp many of the concepts, and practice with your gear is the best way to get a handle on it. Reading a guide like this is a great starting point, but I urge you to get out there and take photos as much as you can.

Digital film doesn’t cost anything, and as you use your camera more and more the various settings and features will all start to make more sense. Please don’t get too frustrated if you feel overwhelmed. Photography is complicated, and like any skill, it takes time to master. Perseverance and patience are key!

Feel free to bookmark this page and come back to it for reference as your photography journey progresses. Now, let’s start with the basics of what a mirrorless camera actually is.

What is a Mirrorless Camera?

A mirrorless camera is a type of digital camera. There are a number of types of digital cameras on the market, such as DSLR cameras, compact cameras and even smartphone cameras.

These cameras actually have more in common with each other than differences. In fact, the basic principle of how a camera works hasn’t changed a great deal since photography was invented.

At its core, a camera is a device which is used to record light information, to create an output we call a photograph. The medium for recording light was initially a chemically photosensitive piece of film, but that has been replaced by a digital sensor in most modern cameras.

All types of digital cameras take light from a scene, focus it through a lens, and record it onto a sensor.

The differences between the various types of digital cameras are largely around some of the components that make up the camera. Key differences include:

  • the size of the sensor inside the camera. Smaller cameras usually have smaller sensors
  • the size of the aperture inside the lens
  • the level of manual control a user has
  • whether or not it supports different lenses or not

A mirrorless camera is very similar to a DSLR camera in most regards. Most mirrorless cameras have relatively large sensors, produce high quality images, have full manual controls, and have interchangeable lenses.

The difference is that a mirrorless camera, as the name suggests, does not have a mirror inside it. In a DSLR, the mirror is used to redirect the light passing through the lens to the optical viewfinder. This means the photographer sees the actual scene when looking through the viewfinder.

A mirrorless camera does not have this mirror, and as such, it does not have an optical viewfinder. The image that the photographer uses to compose the shot is either displayed on the screen on the back of the camera, or on some mirrorless cameras, in the electronic viewfinder.

In both of these cases, the image is the result of the light hitting the camera sensor, being processed by the cameras electronics, and then output to the screen as a digital image.

This is actually the same with smartphones and most compact cameras, which also do not have a mirror inside. However, because the mirrorless camera arose as a direct competitor to the DSLR, and the key difference is the lack of mirror, the name stuck.

Mirrorless cameras have a number of advantages over DSLR cameras. They tend to be lighter and smaller whilst producing similar image quality. They are easier to use in many cases because what you see on the screen is exactly the image you get when you press the shutter button.

Plus they have the same advantages that a DSLR camera has, including interchangeable lenses, support for RAW shooting, and full manual controls.

The main disadvantage is price, as most mirrorless cameras tend to be a little bit more expensive than their equivalent DSLR product. There is also a very slight delay between reality and the image seen on screen due to the processing. This isn’t noticeable or even a factor for most photographers, however high end sports photographers have largely stuck with DSLR cameras for this reason.

In addition, there is still a wider selection of lenses for DSLR cameras as they have been available for longer, and battery life on a DSLR is better than on a mirrorless camera.

 

Mirrorless Camera Controls: A Guide to Using Your Mirrorless Camera

When you take a mirrorless camera out of the box, you will probably notice that it has a lot of buttons and controls, with a range of obscure labels and markings.

This can be a bit overwhelming, and you might be tempted to leave it in auto mode as a result. This is definitely a natural reaction. However, to get the most out of your camera, it is definitely worth learning what at least some of the buttons do.

The good news is that once you have done this with one camera, you can transfer your knowledge to other cameras which are all fairly similar.

I am now going to go through the major controls, features, and buttons that most mirrorless camera have. The exact controls, features and naming conventions might vary from camera to camera, but this should cover most of the key elements you should be looking to master on your new camera.

 

Shutter Release

Probably the most obvious button on your camera, the shutter release is the button you press to take a photo. This will usually be located at the top right of the camera, to be operated by the index finger on your right hand.

Left handed photographers are out of luck, as far as I know there has never been a left handed camera design with the shutter button placed for left handed use.

Shutter Release

 

Mode Dial

Like DSLR cameras and some advanced compact cameras, a mirrorless camera has a range of modes that you can operate it in. These modes are generally used to define how much degree of manual control you want over the camera.

They will range from full Automatic modes where the camera does everything for you, through to a fully manual mode where you are in charge of everything.

To change the mode the camera is in, you just rotate the mode dial to the mode you want. This will instantly change the mode the camera is in, and the new mode is usually displayed on screen as well when you change operating mode.

The exact modes available will vary by camera model, but should be similar to the following:

  • Auto. This is the default mode that most cameras will come set to. In Automatic mode, the camera will handle everything for you, including setting the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. It will also often pick the focus point, and may fire the flash if you have one. Auto is designed so you just have to point the camera at your subject and press the shutter button.
  • Additional Auto modes. As well as the default auto mode, the camera may also come with a number of additional auto modes, which are usually referred to as “scene” modes. For example, there may be a landscape auto mode, a portrait auto mode, a night scene mode, and a macro auto mode. These modes exist to give the camera a clue as to what you are taking a picture of, so it can adjust the settings for you.
  • P mode. “P” mode stands for Program Auto. This is basically a slightly advanced version of automatic mode, where the camera lets you make some adjustments to the shot. These include increasing and decreasing the brightness of the image with exposure compensation, adjusting the ISO, and changing the white balance. It’s a stepping stone to the more manual controls, but I’d suggest ignoring it and moving to one of the modes below instead.
  • “A” or “AV” mode. This is aperture priority mode. Aperture priority lets you set the aperture, and then the camera will evaluate the light in the scene, and set the appropriate shutter. You can also adjust the ISO in this mode, as well as adjust the brightness using exposure compensation. Aperture allows you to control depth of field, and this mode works well for both portrait shots and landscapes.
  • “S”, “T”, or “TV” mode. This is the shutter priority mode. Shutter priority lets you set the shutter, and then the camera will evaluate the light in the scene and set the appropriate aperture. You can also adjust the ISO. This mode is essentially the same as aperture priority, except you control the shutter. You can also adjust the brightness using exposure compensation. Shutter priority is great for when you want to control motion in the shot, such as freezing a fast moving subject.
  • “M”. This is full manual mode. In this mode you control the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The camera will use the exposure meter to tell you if you are under or over exposing the image, but it won’t stop you from doing either. You can’t use exposure compensation in this mode because you have full control over the exposure. You can also adjust ISO in this mode.

Although out of the box, you may want to start just shooting in Auto to get a feel for the camera, I would recommend that you aim to eventually shoot in aperture priority, shutter priority or manual modes. These modes give you the most control over the final look of the image and the composition.

Aperture priority lets you control the aperture, which adjusts the depth of field of the shot. This works well for portraits and landscapes, or any shot where the depth of field is a key part of the composition.

Shutter priority for me is all about controlling how motion appears in your shot. If you want to show some motion blur, you’d use a slow shutter speed. If you want to freeze the action of a fast moving subject, you’d use a high shutter speed.

Exactly how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO work together to create a correctly exposed final image is a concept known as the exposure triangle. This is a bit beyond the scope of this post, but I have written a detailed guide to the exposure triangle which I think you will find useful.

Finally, don’t worry too much about jumping all the way to manual mode. Whilst manual mode is useful for specific photography situations like long exposure photography or astrophotography, I generally find that for my photography needs, I work 90% of the time in either aperture priority or shutter priority mode.

These modes let me control a specific compositional element of the scene, like depth of field or motion, whilst not having to worry too much about the other settings at the risk of missing the shot.

Mode Dial

 

Control Wheel

Depending on the camera you have, you will have one or more control wheels to play with. These may be located in different places on the camera. A common place for a control wheel is near the shutter button, so it can be easily adjusted with your index finger.

Control wheels can also often be found on the back of the camera or on the top of the camera. For example, on my Lumix GX8 mirrorless camera, there’s a control wheel around the shutter button, and a control wheel on the top of the camera behind the shutter button.

Usually, a control wheel is used to adjust a specific setting. What it changes will vary depending on the mode the camera is in.

In aperture priority mode for example, the control wheel can usually be used to increase or decrease the aperture. In shutter priority mode, the control wheel will usually increase or decrease the shutter speed.

If your camera has multiple control wheels, then in manual mode one wheel will adjust the aperture, and the other will adjust shutter speed.

Depending on your camera, you might be able to change exactly what each control wheel changes. For example, you might be able to set it up to manage exposure compensation, ISO settings, white balance settings, and so on.

The default settings will usually be fine, but every photographer is different, so do feel free to adjust these to your needs as you progress on your photography journey.

Control Wheel

 

ISO Button

Nearly every mirrorless camera should have a dedicated ISO button on the back or top of the camera. Pressing this button will take you directly to the ISO settings. Often, pressing the ISO button will also mean the control wheel adjusts ISO.

ISO is one of the three sides of the exposure triangle. If you put the camera into manual mode and leave the aperture and shutter speed as they are, when you increase or decrease the ISO you will see the image getting brighter and darker on the screen.

A side effect of increasing the ISO is that your images will get more noisy. Most modern mirrorless cameras perform admirably at an ISO range of 100 – 800 (for daily use I recommend 100-400 range), and noise will start to creep in from ISO 1600 and higher.

Noise appears as blotches of grain or color on your images. It can be hard to see on the camera’s screen, but when you look at your images on a computer screen at 100%, it will be very obvious.

Because of the noise issue, ISO is often the last control we want to use to adjust the brightness of an image. Ideally, you will be able to get the correct exposure by adjusting the aperture and shutter speed, and using a nice low ISO.

Of course, this isn’t always possible. When you are shooting in low light, you might need to increase the ISO. However, it is really important to remember to reduce this back to a normal range of 100 – 400, which should work in most photography situations. If you leave the ISO too high, you run the risk of all your images turning out noisy, which is not something you want.

ISO

 

Exposure Compensation Button (+/-)

Exposure compensation is a common feature across the majority of cameras, including smartphones and compact cameras. It’s basically a quick override button that lets you brighten or darken an image without having to play around with any settings.

The technical term for capturing an image in photography is actually an exposure. This is because you are exposing the camera’s sensor to the light for a defined period of time (the shutter speed), with the exposure being the end result.

In most situations you want a correctly exposed image, which is not too bright and not too dark. Camera’s use a variety of methods for calculating the correct settings for this correct exposure, but they don’t always get it right.

For this reason, you can quickly tell the camera to increase or decrease the brightness of the image using the exposure compensation button. Usually this will be marked with a +/- button.

When you press the button, you will be able to increase the exposure compensation, or decrease it. This might be done on screen, or by using the control wheel when exposure compensation is selected.

Some cameras have a dedicated exposure compensation wheel rather than a button. This achieves the same effect, it’s just a little faster to do.

On a mirrorless camera, the change to your image should be immediately apparent on screen, as it brightens and darkens the shot.

When you make changes to the exposure compensation setting, you should see the camera making adjustments to the aperture, shutter speed, or ISO in order to actually make the image brighter or darker. The numbers for these settings will appear on screen.

As with ISO, it’s really important to remember to put your exposure compensation back to zero after you have finished using it. I have spoken with folks learning photography who have accidentally set their exposure compensation to a high number at some point, and then they can’t figure out why all their images end up being way too bright. This is a common photography mistake, so try to avoid it if you can.

Exposure Compensation

 

Flash Button

Many of the mirrorless cameras on the market today feature some sort of built-in flash. We’ve written a couple of guides to flash in photography, specifically around how to turn off flash on your camera, and reasons to turn off flash on your camera.

Suffice to say, we aren’t huge fans of the built-in flash on most cameras as the results are sub optimal. In addition, there are many locations where flash photography isn’t allowed.

Still, folks are used to having a flash and manufacturers are used to putting them into cameras, and flash does come in handy at times. The good news is that it’s quick and easy to adjust the flash settings on your camera, as most mirrorless cameras feature a dedicated flash button (assuming they have a flash built-in).

My mirrorless camera doesn’t have a flash built in, but as the flash button is pretty universal, this image of a compact camera flash button should do! The flash button is the little icon on the right side of the back of the camera.

Disable camera flash

Pressing this button will take you to the flash settings menu, where you can enable or disable your auto flash settings. We’d recommend disabling it for most situations unless you really want to use it. This will stop it from going off when you don’t want it to.

If you have an external flash unit, this will normally be controlled via it’s own menu system and buttons, although you will need to configure the camera via the menu as well.

 

Focus Mode

When we take a picture, we want our subject to be nice and sharp. This sharpness is achieved by adjusting the focus. An in focus image will be sharp, whilst an out of focus image will be blurry.

Most mirrorless cameras on the market today ship with a variety of focus modes, which allow you to adjust how the camera focuses. The focus mode button on the camera, which may also be a dial or toggle, lets you quickly switch between some of these modes.

If you are looking for the button on your camera, it will usually be labelled something like “AF”, which stands for Autofocus. If it’s not accessible via a button, you might have to go into your camera’s settings menu, where it will be called something like “focus mode”.

The exact modes your camera has will depend on your manufacturer, but usually there are at least three modes you can access quickly.

The first of these will be the standard focus mode, perhaps called auto focus single. This is the focus mode you would use for subjects that are not likely to move. In this mode, the camera will focus on the subject, and then lock the focus.

The next mode will be called something like auto focus continuous. In this mode, once you have a subject, the camera will do it’s best to track focus on the subject even if it’s moving. This means you will get sharp shots of your subject even if it moves as you take one or more shots of it. Continuous focus is good for any moving subject, including photos of wildlife, photos of sporting events, or photos of people moving.

The third mode you should also have access to will be a manual mode. Manual mode means that you have total control over the focus. Usually, there will be a focus ring on the lens itself, which you twist to change focus.

I should add that many cameras have additional versions of the above modes. For example, many cameras offer some sort of face or eye detection for focus, meaning the camera will automatically detect and track focus on a subjects face or eye. This can be especially useful for taking pictures of people in motion.

Focus Mode

 

Zoom / Focal Length Ring

A mirrorless camera, like a DSLR camera, lets you change the lens depending on what you are shooting. There are two types of lens that you can get. These are “prime” lenses, where there is no zoom, and “zoom” lenses, where you can zoom in and out on the scene.

In photography terms, this “zoom” is known as a focal length. This is a number in mm. The smaller the number, the wider the shot, and the more of the scene you will be able to see. The larger the number, the narrower the shot, and the larger your subjects will be.

Most lenses have a dedicated focal length / zoom ring on the lens itself, which you can twist to increase or decrease the zoom amount. Some lenses do not have this however, in which case there will be some sort of button on the camera body itself which you can use to electronically zoom the lens in and out.

Focal Length Ring

 

Metering Mode

Another button that you might find on the back of the camera will let you quickly change the metering mode.

As previously mentioned in this guide, before you actually take a photo your camera calculates the correct settings by measuring the amount of light in the scene. This is so you get the correct exposure, and the image is not too bright or too dark.

The way the camera measures the light is through a process known as metering.

By default, most cameras are set up to evaluate the whole scene that is in frame to create a balanced exposure. However, there are some scenarios where this will not give the best results, such as a scene with a very strong contrast between the dark and bright areas.

In order to shoot in these more challenging situations and still get good result, you can set your camera to different metering modes. This will help the camera zero in on the part of the scene you want to expose correctly for.

Different cameras have different metering modes. Most cameras will have have a spot metering mode, which only uses the light information in the very centre of the image. For other cameras, you might be able to set the metering point to be the focal point, which is also a good option in many cases.

The camera I am using to demonstrate does not have a metering mode button, but this function has to be accessed via the menu system.

 

Shooting Mode

Next up, the shooting mode.

If you’ve ever wanted to take a picture of yourself, this is the mode you want to adjust.

Shooting mode tells the camera how to take the picture. Most cameras will have a single shot mode, a continuous shooting mode, and a timer mode.

The single shot mode will take one photo when you depress the shutter button. To take another photo, you have to raise your finger off the shutter button and then depress it again.

Continuous shooting mode will have the camera continue to take photos while you hold the shutter button down. As long as you depress the shutter button, it will keep taking photos. This is good for capturing action shots of something happening over time. Note you will need to use this in conjunction with a continuous focus mode in order for all your shots to be sharp and in focus.

Finally, most cameras on the market today come with some form of timer mode. This lets you press the shutter button, and the camera will take an image after a period of time, often 10 seconds. This is useful for capturing self portraits and group shots.

Shooting Mode

 

Video

This article is primarily about photography rather than video, however these days all the mirrorless cameras on the market also have the capability to shoot video.

As such, there are usually buttons dedicated to video on the camera as well. These normally let you quickly toggle the camera between photo mode and video mode, and there may also be a dedicated button to stop and start video recording as well.

When in video mode, most the other buttons on the back of the camera will work in the same way (video is after all very similar to photography), but it is definitely worth checking your specific camera manual for any differences if you do intend to use your mirrorless camera for video.

 

What The On-Screen Display Tells You

Lastly, your mirrorless camera will have a screen. This may or may not be a touchscreen. If it is a touchscreen, you will likely be able to access many of the above controls and settings through the touchscreen interface as well as the buttons.

In addition, the display will overlay a lot of information on the image. This information will relate to various camera settings, and it’s important to understand what is being displayed so you can be sure the camera is set up correctly.

Exactly what is displayed will vary from camera to camera, and also depending on how you have your camera set up. Usually there’s a “display” or “disp.” button to toggle different levels of information.

However, here are some of the key pieces of information you will likely find on the screen of your mirrorless camera. This information will usually also display on the electronic viewfinder if your camera has one.

  • Current mode the mode dial is set to
  • Aperture
  • Shutter speed
  • ISO
  • Remaining battery
  • Remaining images
  • Focus mode
  • Flash status
  • Whether you are shooting in RAW, JPG, or RAW+JPG
  • Exposure compensation
  • WiFi / Bluetooth / GPS status
  • Current focus point
  • White balance
  • If image stabilization is active

Of all the above, the most important readouts to keep an eye on are the current ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

Some cameras can also overlay a horizon levelling tool so you can see if you are holding the camera level, as well as a grid that follows a compositional rule like the rule of thirds.

You can see both of these features enabled in the image below on my mirrorless camera example.

Mirrorless camera display symbols and meanings

 

How to Get Better Photos With A Mirrorless Camera

In this part of the guide I am going to go through some tips for using your mirrorless camera, to help you start getting better photos right away. I’m also going to include some areas you should focus on in your photography generally, which are camera agnostic, but still important.

Hold Your Mirrorless Camera Properly

The first thing you need to do when using your mirrorless camera is to learn how to hold it properly for taking photos.

This advice applies to all types of camera. Holding your camera properly will make it more stable and will result in fewer blurry pictures as a result of camera motion whilst you take the shot.

To hold your mirrorless camera, your right hand should grip it around the right side of the camera, with your right index finger over the shutter button. Most mirrorless cameras have a grip in this position which makes positioning your right hand quite easy.

A common mistake at this point is to shoot one handed. You definitely don’t want to do this. Holding the camera with both hands will hugely increase the stability and result is less lost shots. This is particularly important when shooting indoors or in any situation where there is limited light available, as the camera will use lower shutter speeds.

When taking a picture, your left hand should be supporting the camera lens. Usually this will be in a palm up manner. You might need to rotate your hand to adjust focus or zoom, but when you are ready to shoot you will ideally return to the palm up position.

For maximum hand held stability, tuck your elbows tight to your body. This reduces how much your arms can move during shooting.

If you find yourself struggling to hold your camera steady even following the above steps, then you should consider investing in a travel tripod which will let you keep the camera totally still in every situation. This will guarantee sharp photos.

 

Understand the Settings and Modes

In the first part of this guide I went through a variety of the controls, modes, and settings that you have available to you on your new mirrorless camera.

Really, I just want to reiterate that it is important to learn what these modes, settings and controls do.

It is true that as the technology inside a camera gets better, many cameras work very well in automatic mode. They are great at figuring out the light, figuring out what you are taking a picture of, and identifying and even tracking your subjects.

So for many photographers, you will find that in automatic your camera will get good to great shots at least eighty percent of the time.

However, you don’t want to miss a shot because the camera accidentally picks the wrong subject, or misjudges the lighting conditions, or just gets the settings wrong. It is for this reason that you want to take full control of your camera, or at least know how to do this.

A mirrorless camera is after all an expensive and capable bit of equipment, and the best way to get the most out of it is to full understand how to use it.

I would add also that you should read the instructions’ manual – it often comes in paper form with the camera or you can look it up online. Each camera is a bit different and its important to know how to use your particular camera and get the most of its functionality. The best way to do that is to check out the instruction manual.

 

Learn About the Exposure Triangle

When it comes to photography, one of the most important concepts to understand is the exposure triangle. I have touched on this in this guide a few times already.

The exposure triangle can be a complicated seeming concept that takes a while to grasp. It’s also a fairly large topic, and I’ve put together a detailed guide to the exposure triangle here, which is worth reading.

However, as a summary, the exposure triangle simply refers to the three controls that all mirrorless cameras offer you to control the exposure of the image. It’s called a triangle because there are three controls, like the three sides of a triangle.

These three controls are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. These are terms that I have touched on already in this post, and are three of the most important photography concepts to get to grips with.

Changing any of these three controls will result in a change to how bright the image you capture is – the exposure.

In addition, changing each of them will also change how the image looks in a different way.

If you change the shutter speed, you change how motion appears in your image. A very fast shutter speed for example, like 1/2000th of a second, can be used to freeze fast action motion like a race car. However, a fast shutter speed lets less light in, and can result in a darker image.

Changing the aperture changes the depth of field of your image. Again, this is an important concept to get to grips with, and I’ve written a guide to depth of field in photography to help. I also expand on this a little further on in the post. However, put simply, depth of field controls how sharp the foreground, midground, and background of your image are.

Finally, the last control you have over exposure is ISO. Increasing the ISO from say 200 to 600 will increase the exposure of your image. It will also make the image grainier.

As a general rule, ISO is the last side of the exposure triangle that you want to change. However, if you can’t achieve what you want by adjusting the shutter speed or aperture, then it is definitely a handy option to have.

 

Learn the Basics of Composition

This post has largely been about the more technical side of photography, covering how your camera works, and the various settings you have available to you.

However, obviously photography is about much more than understanding how your camera works. Generally, I believe there are three main components to becoming a photographer. These are:

  • Understanding how your camera works
  • Learning what makes a great photo
  • Mastering photo editing

This post has focused on the first of these three, but the other two are just as important in my opinion.

The second point is all about learning how to put together, or compose, a great shot. Composition covers a great many things, but in summary you need to:

  • consider where your subject is placed relative to other elements in the shot
  • get to grips with concepts like the rule of thirds
  • understand how colors work with each other
  • learn how the eye searches out patterns like leading lines and symmetrical subjects
  • start to think about how you can frame subjects
  • think about how to balance your composition

There are of course more compositional concepts that you can get to grips with. By learning some of these tips and techniques, you can effectively shortcut your way to developing what many refer to as a photographer’s eye. I’d advise reading through my more detailed guide to composition in photography for more tips.

Finally, whilst I’m not going to cover photo editing in this post, it is important. See my guide to the best photo editing software which will give you some pointers as to what options are on the market for photo editing.

How to Use a Mirrorless Camera: A Beginner's Photography Guide

 

Master Depth of Field

Getting to grips with depth of field is another great way to start taking better pictures.

You have no doubt seen depth of field in photos, even if you weren’t aware what it was. If you think of a portrait of a person, very often the person will be sharpy in focus, whilst other elements of the shot like the background and even the foreground, will be pleasingly blurry.

Modern smartphones can even achieve this affect with special “portrait” modes, where the effect is usually simulated through clever software.

However, traditionally this effect has been achieved through changing the settings on your camera. Specifically, as mentioned in the section on the exposure triangle in this guide, by adjusting the aperture on your camera, you can control the depth of field.

If you set an aperture number of between f/1.2 and f/4 for example, you will get a shallow depth of field. This means only your subject will be in focus, whilst the parts of the image between the camera and your subject, and behind your subject, will be out of focus.

You would use this effect primarily for portraits, or when you want to isolate your subject from the background.

If you set the aperture to a higher number, like f/8 – f/16, then more of the scene will be in focus. You would typically do this for landscape shots, or any shot where you want as much of the image to be sharply focused as possible.

To practice your depth of field, I recommend putting your camera in aperture priority mode, and shooting the same scene and subject at different aperture settings to see the difference.

I also have a complete guide to depth of field in photography here for more information and tips.

Depth of field

 

Understand Light

As I’ve mentioned throughout the post, a camera is just a device for recording an image, which it does by capturing light information.

As you would imagine, light is therefore quite an important part of photography. However, not all lighting conditions are the same, and understanding different types of light and lighting conditions is key to taking better photos.

To start with, there are different sources of light out there. The sun is generally the first light source you will think of, but there are other light source, from indoor lights to stadium lights to camera flashes. Even at night, the moon and stars, or even the Northern Lights, can be a light source.

Different light sources have different qualities, and can result in different images. This may be due to their relative strength or weakness, due to the color of light they emit, or simply as a result of the angle you are shooting them.

Shooting a photo towards the sun will give very different results to shooting the same photo with the sun behind you for example.

In addition, our primary light source, the sun, gives different lighting results at different times of day and in different weather conditions, as the light is affected by the earth’s atmosphere.

I’m not expecting you to become a meteorologist of course! There are however some simple rules of thumb around light that can help you get better photos. These are:

  • Generally, shooting with the sun somewhere behind your shoulder rather than in front of you will get better photos
  • If it’s a partly cloudy day, if you can be patient and wait for the sun to come out, you will usually get better photos with more colour and contrast
  • Shooting with the sun directly overhead results in flat looking images, so try to avoid this if possible
  • Shooting at sunset and sunrise, when the light is a more golden tone, often results in the best images. This is known as the “golden hour” in photography, although how long it lasts will depend on where you are in the world

Hopefully these tips on light give you some pointers for improving your photos.

Callanish Standing Stones

 

Take Workshops or Courses to Improve your Skills

Another great way to improve your photography and take better photos is to take part in some form of leaning program.

There are a range of different options, from in person workshops, to photo walks, to local seminars. Some universities and colleges offer courses you can sign up for.

If you’ve found this post useful and found my style of explaining photography concepts works for you, you might also be interested in my online photography course. I’ve taught thousands of students how to improve their photography in this course, and I’d love to help you out as well. I think that for what it includes, it’s also incredible value.

You can read all about that and buy it for yourself, here.

 

Take Lots of Photos!

Last but not least on my list of ways to start getting better photos is, well, to practice! One of the joys of mirrorless cameras, and digital cameras in particular, is that once you have invested in the equipment, you don’t have to worry about the costs of getting film developed.

This means you can take as many photos as you want, try different settings, and really see how they change the look of a shot.

A mirrorless camera is particularly good for learning on because as you change settings on the camera, you will see the results in real time on the screen or through the electronic viewfinder. So you can tell quickly what’s in or out of focus, and if the image is too bright or too dark.

If you are struggling to find subjects or topics to photograph, then I can recommend trying to set yourself challenges around different subjects or themes, like wildlife, portraits, moving objects, landscapes and so on. Getting used to taking your camera with you everywhere you go will also help you on your photography journey.

 

How to Care For and Protect Your New Mirrorless Camera

A mirrorless camera is a serious investment, so you will want to keep it in good condition so you can take photos for years to come. Based on our years of international travel with a whole assortment of photography gear, I wanted to share some tips for keeping your gear in tip top condition.

 

How to Protect your Mirrorless Camera

Whilst mirrorless cameras are generally fairly well built bits of equipment, they are still ultimately an electronic device which has, amongst other things, components made of glass.

As a result, they can of course be damaged.

There are a number of options you have for protecting your mirrorless camera.

The first two products we use on all of our cameras are a lens hood and a UV filter. These are two inexpensive products that will help protect the lens on your mirrorless camera.

A lens hood, also known as a sun hood, sits over the end of your lens and is primarily designed to reduce lens flare from the sun. However, in my experience, it also works very well to protect the end of your lens from bumps and scrapes when you have the camera slung over your shoulder, and I never go anywhere without my lens hood on my camera.

A UV filter is a screw in filter that attaches directly onto your lens. On a digital camera, the only function these serve is to protect the glass element on the end of your lens. However, as lenses can be expensive to replace, and UV filters run around $15 – $40, a scratched lens filter is a lot cheaper to replace than your whole lens.

I have literally dropped a camera from a few feet in the air onto concrete, and shattered both my sun hood and UV filter. However, the camera and lens have been fine, because the impact was cushioned and absorbed by these components.

I’m not saying a UV filter and lens hood mean you can go around dropping your camera onto concrete, but they are definitely a worthwhile investment in my opinion.

Another must-have accessory in our mind is a camera strap. Whilst most cameras come with the manufacturer’s strap, we think a third party strap is often more comfortable and functional. My favorite straps are the Peak Design ones, and we use both a sling strap and a hand strap.

Jess likes personalized straps such as those available on Etsy and the colorful camera straps by iMo.

I can also recommend investing in a decent camera bag for your mirrorless camera, which I go into a little bit more in the section below on travelling with your mirrorless camera.

Finally, it might be worth purchasing a specific warranty or accidental damage cover for your camera when you buy it, or even shortly afterwards if possible. This will cover your camera against a variety of mishaps, and is usually a worthwhile investment. You can see some options here.

 

How to Clean your Mirrorless Camera

To be honest, I don’t do much cleaning with my camera beyond keeping the lens clean and trying to ensure there’s not too much dirt or dust on the outside of the camera.

To achieve that, I use an air blower like this,and micro fibre cloths like this.

It is true that the sensors in mirrorless cameras are particularly prone to getting dust on them, which can become apparent in your images. Sometimes I will use my air blower to try and dislodge the dust, which will work to a point.

However, for more thorough cleaning I personally use a professional. See the section below on camera servicing for more tips on that. I’d also advise checking your manual, which will likely have advice on any cleaning and care steps that manufacturer recommends for your particular camera model.

 

Tips for Travelling with a Mirrorless Camera

For many people, a camera is most commonly used when travelling, and as travel bloggers, this is definitely true for us as well!

If you are planning on taking your camera travelling, then I can highly recommend picking up a proper camera bag to put it in. Unlike a normal bag, a camera bag has lots of nice soft padding to keep your gear safe and protected from the various bumps and knocks that are par for the course when on the road.

There’s a wide range of camera bags on the market. When looking for a bag, I’d suggest finding one that will fit your camera as well as a few accessories, so you have plenty of room. Of course, the ultimate decision on the right bag for you lies with you.

Personally, I use and travel with Vanguard bags. They make a wide range of camera bags, as well as other photography accessories, and I’ve always found their equipment to be well made and durable.

For example, they have this relatively compact camera bag, this shoulder bag, and this backpack, all of which would work well for a mirrorless camera system.

Make sure if travelling by air that you check the airline regulations. As we often discover, weight can be an issue with cabin luggage, especially if you have a lot of photography gear. As such, you may need to check certain items like tripods although most airlines will let you fly with them as carry-on. Also you should be aware that some items, particularly batteries, are not permitted in checked luggage.

Finally, I can also suggest ensuring that your insurance policy covers your cameras. Many travel insurance policies have relatively low single item limits, meaning that loss, damage or theft of your equipment might not result in you getting the full value of your item back.

Instead, you might find that your home insurance policy can be upgraded to include more expensive items away from the home. This is how we cover our camera equipment.

How to Use a Mirrorless Camera: A Beginner's Photography Guide

 

Should you Service your Mirrorless Camera?

If you want to keep your camera in great condition for a long period of time, then I would definitely recommend you consider getting it serviced from time to time, perhaps every couple of years at least.

In particular, you will want to get the sensor on your camera professionally cleaned. This shouldn’t cost too much (around $30 – $70 most likely), and will ensure your images are free of any imperfections.

I try to get my cameras cleaned by a camera servicing professional at least once a year since they are used so regularly and endure quiet a bit with all our travelling. You should be able to find a service either online, or with your local camera shop.

 

Best Mirrorless Camera for Beginners

If you don’t actually own a mirrorless camera yet, but this post has inspired you to get out there and get one, I wanted to provide a couple of tips for the best mirrorless cameras for beginners.

We also have a more detailed guide to the best mirrorless cameras which I recommend you check out, but here are two options that would make a great starter mirrorless camera at a reasonable price point.

1. Canon EOS M100

I’ve been a Canon user since I was 13 years old, and I think they produce an incredible range of great cameras. The EOS M100 is no exception – it’s a wonderful bit of kit that is available at a great price point.

How to Use a Mirrorless Camera: A Beginner's Photography Guide
For your investment you get a 15-45mm lens, and APS-C sized 24.2MP sensor (the same as you’d find in a larger Canon DSLR), as well as WiFi and bluetooth support. It has a nice touchscreen interface on the back, but is lacking an electronic viewfinder.

It is also missing 4K video support and there’s no in-body image stabilization. However, the latter is rare at this price point in either a mirrorless camera or DSLR. You can see the latest prices and buy it online here.

 

2. Sony A6000

I’ve been recommending the Sony A6000 as a great beginners camera for years, and despite being a little long in the tooth now, it still offers great image quality for an exceptional price.

How to Use a Mirrorless Camera: A Beginner's Photography Guide

For your money you get a 16-50mm lens, a 3 inch LCD (no touchscreen), an electronic viewfinder, a 24.3MP APS-C sized sensor and up to 11fps shooting speeds. It also has WiFi, but there’s no image stabilization or touchscreen on this model. We also find the menu system to be a bit of a challenge, but that might be because we are so used to the Canon interface!

Sony has released a number of later cameras in the A6xxx lens, which offer a number of upgrades, including 4K video support, improved autofocus, in-body image stabilization and touchscreen support. However, those models are much more expensive, making the original a6000 still great value for money in our opinion.

You can see the latest prices and buy it online here.

 

Further Reading

Well, that was quite a lot on the topic of mirrorless cameras! Before you go though, I did want to share some more guides we’ve written on the subject of photography which I think will help you on your photography journey.

Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate photographer, I’m sure you’ll find something in these guides that will help you.

  • We have a similar guide for how to use a DSLR, which you might find interesting as a companion piece. We also have a guide to how a DSLR works
  • Knowing how to compose a great photo is a key photography skill. See our guide to composition in photography for lots of tips on this subject
  • Once you’ve mastered aperture, you can control depth of field. Read more about what depth of field is and when you would want to use it.
  • If you have a lens with a zoom feature, you can take advantage of something called lens compression to make objects seem closer together than they are.
  • We are big fans of getting the most out of your digital photo files, and do to that you will need to shoot in RAW. See our guide to RAW in photography to understand what RAW is, and why you should switch to RAW as soon as you can.
  • You’re going to need some way of editing your photos. See our guide to the best photo editing software, as well our our guide to the best laptops for photo editing. We also have a guide to getting the best performance out of Adobe Lightroom, our preferred editing software.
  • If you’re looking for advice on specific tips for different scenarios, we also have you covered. See our guide to Northern Lights photography, long exposure photography, fireworks photography,
  • tips for taking photos of stars, and cold weather photography.
  • You may hear photographers talking about a concept called back button focus. If you’ve ever wondered what that is, and want to know how to start using it, see our guide to back button focus.
  • For landscape photography, you might find you need filters to achieve the look you want. See our guide to ND filters for more on that.
  • If you’re looking for a great gift for a photography loving friend or family member (or yourself!), take a look at our photography gift guide,
  • If you’re in the market for a new camera, we have a detailed guide to the best travel cameras, as well as specific guides for the best cameras for hiking and backpacking, the best compact camera, best mirrorless camera and best DSLR camera. We also have a guide to the best camera lenses.
  • If you want a camera or lens, but the prices are a bit high, see our guide to where to buy used cameras and camera gear for some budget savings options.
  • We have a guide to why you need a tripod, and a guide to choosing a travel tripod
  • Finally, if you want to improve your photography overall, you can join over 1,000 students on my travel photography course. I’ve been running this since 2016, and  it has helped lots of people take their photography to the next level.

And that’s it for our detailed guide to getting the most out of your new mirrorless camera. As always, we’re happy to take feedback and answer your questions – just pop them in the comments below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

A complete guide to how to use a mirrorless camera. All the controls you need to learn, a guide to the settings, and how to take great photos!

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