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Mastering your AE Lock Button

How to make the camera take photos you want, rather than the photos it wants!


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Back lit portraits, whether they be people, animals or flowers, can often fool the camera into giving an incorrect exposure reading.  Primarily because the exposure, is usually taken as an average from the whole frame.  This can result in the background being nicely exposed, but your subject matter appearing too dark or even silhouetted.

The trick is to recognise this situation before it happens, so you can fool the camera into taking the photo you want, rather than the one it wants to take.

There are several ways to do this but one of the easiest way is to use the AE Lock button (automatic exposure lock button)

AE Lock can be found on the back of most DSLR cameras  On Canon models it’s indicated by a star symbol and on Nikon look for AE-L

Move in closer to your subject, until the whole frame is filled with what ever you want to photograph and doesn't include any of the bright sky behind.  Don't worry about focus, its not important at this stage. When you are close enough, press the AE lock button once.

This locks the exposure reading into the camera for 15 seconds. You now have 15 seconds to move back, recompose your photo and take the picture.

The only drawback to this method is, that it only works for one shot.  If you want to take several photos you will need to repeat the exercise each time, or set you camera to manual and copy the EA lock settings.

If you would like to learn more about Light and Exposure, MyPhotoSchool tutorNigel Hicks runs an excellent 4 week online photography course on taking your photography to the next level.

Geoff Harris

I am a photography journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill, Steve McCurry and the late Mary Ellen Mark. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time.

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