The Camera Viewfinder

Camera Viewfinder Detailed

Find your way around what you see through the viewfinder

Just look at that image above! Pretty confusing right?

I know that for many beginners this must seem really daunting:

  • What does everything mean?
  • How do I know if the settings are correct?
  • What happens if they are wrong?
  • Do I NEED to know what they all are?

Ok, don't panic. Most camera viewfinders don't actually show this much information, especially if you are just shooting stills. Video is another matter and in my opinion, the more information the better with video.

The reason the image above is so confusing is that it is showing EVERYTHING. All the possible variables for each mode or setting.

In reality, only a fraction of this lot will show in your viewfinder. In fact, my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has a very minimal amount of info shown. Pretty much what you see on the right there.

Camera Viewfinder Basic

All I need to see through the viewfinder when shooting stills is:

  • Shutter Speed
  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • Metering
  • Focus Points

Other than that, I know I have already set and fixed most other settings before I started shooting. Even those are few and far between. The idea is to keep photography as simple as possible and not to over-complicate things.

Viewfinder Basics

The thing to remember when you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR is that what you see is what you get. Well normally around 95%-100% actually. You usually get a little extra when you see the image on a computer screen which is not such a bad thing. It is easy to crop part of an image away but impossible to add detail that you missed when shooting.

Of all the numbers and flashing lights inside a viewfinder, the main one you need to concentrate on is the focussing points. Focussing is critical for most types of photography. Right now it cannot be adjusted later on (except for specialist cameras) whereas the exposure can to a degree.

A good DSLR will have 4, 5, 9 or more focussing points (up to a few hundred in a pro DSLR) around the display, how and when you use those we will cover next and in more detail in the next module (advanced).

For now, all you need to look out for is the led to light up to display focus has been achieved which is normally accompanied by an audible beep.

Other information in the viewfinder ​includes:

  • Shutter Speed - This is good to see whilst you are shooting so that you know you are not shooting with too low a shutter speed, which can cause camera shake and blurry images
  • Aperture Value - This determines how wide the aperture on the lens is. Good to know so that you can be aware of and/or control the depth of field (how much is in focus).
  • Light Meter - Indicates whether your shot will be underexposed, over exposed or correctly exposed. It can be in the form of a small row of lines, i.e.:


  • -2 = 2 stops underexposed
  • -1 = 1 stop underexposed
  • 0 = correct exposure
  • +1 = 1 stop overexposed and
  • +2 = 2 stops overexposed (we will cover stop values later)

Symbols and their meanings

Ok, so let's run through what some of the most important symbols mean and what you need to do with them. Again, don't overthink all this as all will become clearer as you progress through the course/site.


Viewfinder Camera Modes

What we have above are the main camera exposure modes...from left to right:

  • Full Auto Exposure - Camera does everything with no control from you
  • Program Exposure - Camera does everything with some control from you
  • Aperture Priority - You set the aperture, the camera does the rest for a good exposure
  • Shutter Priority - You set the shutter, the camera does the rest for a good exposure
  • Manual Exposure - Here you control everything so you need to know what you are doing : )
  • Scene - The camera will make settings based on the scene you set (landscape, portrait, sports...)
  • Video - Switches the camera into video mode (filming)

Fairly self-explanatory but even if they are not right now, they will become so as we move forward.

White Balance

Viewfinder White Balance

These help you to set the colour temperature to match that of your surroundings. To be honest, 99% of the time over the past 35 years, I have used "auto" : )

From left to right:

  • Auto White Balance
  • Daylight/Sun
  • Daylight/Shade
  • Cloudy
  • Interior Lighting/Tungsten
  • Fluorescent
  • Flash/Studio Lights
  • Custom White Balance

Once again, unless you enter this as a professional career with high end clients, you can be safe with AWB most of the time. If you shoot RAW instead of JPEGS, you can adjust the white balance AFTER taking the shot anyway.

Drive Modes

Viewfinder Drive Modes

These basically tell your camera how to take the photo and how many at a time. From top to bottom:

  • Single Shot - Only takes a shot each time the shutter button is pressed
  • Multiple Shot (motor-drive) - Continues to fire shots all the time the shutter button is pressed
  • Self Timer - Either operated by remote or a 10 second delay in most cases
  • Self Timer - 2 second delay

I will leave it there for now as I don't want to overwhelm you plus we cover everything else later. If you have any questions, please ask below or add them to your list for our next Q and A session.



Camera ​Viewfinder

Basically just become more aware of what you are seeing through the viewfinder.

As cameras become more technically advanced with more features, the more "clunky" and crowded the viewfinder can become.

Look through your menu or camera manual to learn how to choose what is displayed. My Panasonic mirrorless cameras for example have a single button that I can scroll through whilst hiding or revealing certain menu items.

Learn how to do this (if your camera allows it) and decide which menu items you wand and need displayed.