3 exposure techniques every beginner must know… and when you should use them

3 exposure techniques every beginner must know... and when you should use them

Although DSLRs have three different metering patterns to handle tricky lighting, these aren’t enough on their own. You can use a range of other techniques to fix the exposure, such as your camera’s Exposure Lock function. In this post we’ll talk you through three of the most useful camera features that can improve your exposure techniques, such as bracketing, as well as offer some advanced DSLR tips for fine-tuning them to help you start taking photos you can be proud of.

3 exposure techniques every beginner must know... and when you should use them

01 Exposure Lock

Previously on Digital Camera World, we have looked at the various exposure metering options available on digital SLRs and highlighted some of the instances where the metering might not be able to produce the best exposure.

The first trick is to recognise when these situations might occur and the second is to know what to do about it. All DSLRs have a range of modes and controls for modifying or overriding the exposure level chosen by the camera, and one of the simplest of these is the Exposure Lock button.

The Exposure Lock button

The Exposure Lock button, which may be labelled ‘AE-L/AF-L’ depending on the camera, is generally on the back of the camera body, within reach of your thumb. Here’s a situation where you might use it.

Let’s say you’re shooting indoors and there’s a bright window in the frame. This would normally cause the camera to under-expose the rest of the shot. You could move your subject away from the window, but where that’s not possible or desirable you should point the camera away from the window so that it’s out of the frame.

Now half-press the shutter release to activate the light meter – you can release it as soon as the meter has switched on. Now press and hold the AE-L/AF-L button to lock the exposure and the focus, reframe the shot with the button still pressed and take the picture. Now you can release the button.

By default, the AE-L/AF-L button also locks the focus, but this may not be what you want. The box above explains how you can configure the camera so that the focus isn’t locked along with the exposure.

It may also be possible to lock the focus and exposure by half-pressing the shutter release, but while this applies universally to compact digital cameras, DSLRs vary. On the Nikon D50, for example, it only locks the focus, not the exposure.

The AE-L/AF-L button is often the simplest way for you to override the camera’s exposure reading. If you want to photograph a shadowed subject against a bright background, you can frame the shot so that it’s filled only with shadowed areas, lock the exposure as we’ve described, then reframe and shoot.

You can even use your zoom lens for 
quick pseudo-spot metering. This is particularly useful with scenes such as  sunsets, where you may want to base the exposure on a certain area of the sky. 
Zoom in on this area, lock the exposure, then zoom out again and shoot.

Using The Exposure Lock button

AE-L / AF-L button options

As we explain in this section, the AE-L/AF-L button locks both the exposure and the focus by default. Often, though, you’ll just want to lock the exposure on its own because you want to focus on the reframed shot, not the area you used to get the exposure reading. You can usually change this by accessing the camera’s Custom Settings menu.

You’ll typically have three choices: the default, where the button locks both the exposure and the focus; Exposure Lock only; or Focus Lock only.

Just choose the option you find most useful – Exposure Lock only is often a good choice because it means you’re not messing with the focusing when you reframe the shot to take an exposure reading.

Note that on some camera models you only have to press and release the AE-L button to lock the exposure, while on others you have to hold it down until you take the shot, so make sure you check your camera’s manual first.

PAGE 1: Using Exposure Lock
PAGE 2: Using EV Compensation
PAGE 3: Using your bracketing feature


99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)
44 essential digital camera tips and tricks
Digital camera modes explained: choose the best shooting mode for your subject