Making sure your image is in focus is a basic requirement of photography. Modern camera have great autofocus, but there’s still a few things to learn to make sure your images are in focus.
Most cameras have multiple focal points. The number depends of the model, newer and more expensive models may have over 50 different points, but around 9 is more common on older or entry level cameras.
When using automatic mode, your camera decides which focal point to use. Try it, set your camera to automatic and half press the shutter to focus. You will see all the focal points flash. This doesn’t mean that the camera is using all the focal points, it means that it is choose the focal point to use.
This can result in missed focus, as your camera doesn’t know what you want to focus on.
Cameras use contrast to help them find focus, so they will look for high contrast when deciding which focal point to use.
Look at this image. We want to focus on the little boy. but the camera may not choose this point. It could instead choose the contrast between the trees and the sand in the background, and he would be out of focus.
So how to do we prevent this?
We can avoid this by choosing our own focal point. You may not be able to do this in automatic mode, sou’ll have to set your camera to a creative mode, such as aperture priority mode, shutter priority or manual.
Find the button on your camera that allows you to set your focal point. it may look like one of the images below.
Choose your focal point. On a portrait, you want to use the focal point that is over your subjects eye. The eye closest to the camera. The eyes are the most important part of a portrait so they need to be in focus.
If it’s not a traditional portrait, make sure your focal point is over an area of high contrast, because it’s easier for the camera to grab focus from a high contrast area.
Focus and Recompose
Sometimes the focal point does not cover the area you want to focus. You can move the camera to move your focal points, but that would change your composition.
Instead, you use focus and recompose.
To do this, move your camera so that the focal point is where you want it. Then half press the shutter button. Keep the shutter half pressed whilst you move your camera back to the original composition, then take the shot.
For focus and recompose to work, you need two things
- The focal point should be fairly close to where it needs to be, you don’t want to move the camera too much, or the focus will be off.
- Focus and recompose does not work so well with a shallow depth of field, so if you are working with a wide aperture, decrease it before using focus and recompose to increase the depth of field.
Cameras have different focus modes for different situations.
One Shot Focus
One shot is used when your subject is not moving very quickly. With one shot, you set the focus once and it does not change until you reset the focus.
With one shot, the camera beeps to let you know that it’s managed to focus (if you have this function turned on).
I tend to use one shot for most circumstances.
Nikon and Sony cameras call this focusing mode AF-S (auto-focus single).
With continuous focus, the camera will continually refocus (using the chosen focal point). This is great if your subject is moving quickly.
Nikon and Sony cameras call this mode AF – C (auto-focus continuous).
Canon cameras call this Al Servio
Some situations make it more difficult to grab focus, backlighting is one of these situations. When there is a lot of light spilling into the lens, it can be tricky to get focus.
Try using a lens hood to block out some of the light, or just use your hand to block out some of the light whilst you focus.
If you are having trouble, try using the central focal point, as this is generally the most accurate focal point.