How to Look at a DSLR

© Copyright 2022 Sariya Adnan, Ryerson University

A DSLR camera and a couple of lenses
Conor Luddy. Untitled photograph. 2018. Unsplash. ©Unsplash

As creatures obsessed with the idea of preservation, we are constantly documenting our lives through photos: photos of our overly-primped children, concerts we’re afraid to forget, food too decadent to eat—our lives are lived through a lens. While we’re so busy learning how to look at these different things, we forget to look at how we’re able to create these time capsules of memory: cameras, one of the most powerful tools known to man. Though there is an array of different cameras, I will be focusing on digital single-lens reflex cameras, commonly referred to as DSLRs. 

DSLRs, like all cameras, were developed from the camera obscura, a device used to project images, done so by drilling a tiny whole on one side of a “dark room”—which is where the invention gets its name—to allow light to enter (Smith). While DSLRs follow a similar mechanism, they are made up of a variety of different parts, ones that go unnoticed when in use.

A diagram of the camera obscure
Unknown. “Optics: the principle of the camera obscura. Engraving, 1752.” Wellcome Collection, UK. ©Creative Commons License CC BY

When imagining cameras in general, the lens is the first, and perhaps only, piece to come to mind. The lens captures rays of light—which are flying in different directions—on a piece of glass and focuses them onto a single point. If the rays meet on the sensor, which converts light into signals, a sharp image is created (Maio). If not, the image will be out of focus. This relates to the function of the focus ring which moves that piece of glass away from or closer to the sensor to sharpen the image. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say capturing and controlling light was magic.

The aperture controls how much light enters the camera through the lens’ opening and adjusts the depth of field. The shutter, working alongside aperture, is in charge of how long the sensor is exposed to the aforementioned light, determining the exposure of the photo. So, in pressing the shutter release button, the shutter opens up to capture the photo, stays open for as long as the shutter speed is set, then closes back up; thus, you have your photo. 

Those are (some of) the mechanics. While important in our understanding, DSLRs are far more than this. Cameras are manufacturers of time machines, otherwise known as photographs. They’re masters of preservation, adept at conserving what is lost to us, ways to keep people, things, and versions of ourselves long gone alive. Cameras are spectacles unfit for human wear as they help us see beauty in what may not be beautiful outright and find flaws in things labeled as flawless. They scrutinize, judge, alter, and reflect our world, our people, ourselves. Cameras are more eyes than the ones fixed into our skulls.

As a creative outlet, cameras are power. With our hands wrapped around our DSLR, we have the nearly limitless ability to shape reality, preserve it, whatever we desire. We document how we see life; the world will be able to see how we see the world as we craft it a mirror using our own two hands and a lens.

The next time you find yourself with a DSLR, refrain from solely focusing on the final outcome; ponder the revolutionary machinery and the magical capabilities grasped within your fingers—it’s all in your control.

Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.

Luddy, Conor. Untitled photograph. Unsplash, 15 Jan. 2018, Accessed 9 Feb. 2022.

Maio, Alyssa. “Camera Sensor Sizes Explained: What You Need to Know.” StudioBinder, 24 Aug. 2020,

Optics: the principle of the camera obscura. Engraving, 1752. Artstor,

Smith, Paul David. “When Was the Camera Invented?” Paul David Smith Photography,

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.