Archive: ‘Focus’

How to Control What you Want in Focus

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012


One of the most common questions I get when I speak with people about their fancy DSLR cameras is this: How do I get it to focus on what I want?

Many people get frustrated when their camera seems to ‘choose’ what it wants to focus on instead of what they want it to focus on.

The answer is very simple (once you know what to do of course!) It involves learning about a few things:

1.  AF (autofocus) Point Selection

2. Focus Lock

If you are having problems getting your camera to focus on what you what it is more than likely set on the auto selection setting. Get out your camera manual and look up AF Point Selection. If  you are a beginner I suggest simply changing you settings to manual selection then selecting the center dot or point.  Note: you will have to get off the green box to do this so set it on the M setting or other creative setting.

This is what it may look like on your screen/viewfinder:

When all of these dots are lit up red on my camera it means that I am in auto point selection mode and the camera is going to jump around and decide what to focus on. When just one dot is lit up it means that my camera is set to manual point selection and whatever is behind that lit up dot will be in focus. In the beginning, it is easier to just use the center dot and aim with that. Your camera will focus on whatever you put that dot on whether it is in the front of back of the scene.


Let’s say that you have two objects in you frame. One is in the foreground and the other is in the background. Let’s say you want the closer one or one in the front to be in focus … you simply compose the shot so the ‘dot’ in your viewfinder is on the center of the object you want to be in focus like this photo below


Now lets say that you want the subject in the back to be in focus:


You place the ‘dot’ over that one instead. If you use all the AF points (auto)and let your camera decide, then you have no control over what will be in focus, the camera won’t be able to read your mind  and sometime it will pick the subject you want but generally it is random or it tries to pick whatever has the best light. If you just have one subject and nothing else in the shot then chances are that it will pick the right one! But if you have more than one thing in the viewfinder it will get confused.

Focus Lock:   If you have it set on the center point but the subject you want in focus is not in the center of your shot then simply aim on the subject you want in focus, hold the shutter down half way then recompose or move your camera to get the composition you want. The focus will lock on the first subject. When you get really good you can quickly adjust those dots and not have to do the focus lock, but for now it is easier to hold the shutter down half way and move the camera or simply crop the photo after you shoot it.

With my sports photography – if I use all the AF points, then the camera may focus on a player in the foreground or background, rather than the player I want. If I have it set to manual and choose the dot then the only times I miss is when another player jumps in front of my subject or if the AF point I selected slips off the subject which can easily happen with a fast moving athlete! But generally when I have the center point selected I am able to follow my subject and get them in focus.

I will cover more on this in the future but for now…. go find your camera instruction book and figure out how to change the AF Point Selection setting to manual! Remember: you are smarter than your camera!!! Don’t get discouraged and keep practicing!!

Most of these photos were shot with my 50 mm lens, 1/160 ss, F stop 4.0 ISO 500

Thank you Karl and Sara for the wonderful cake pops!

Focus on Focus

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Are your photos in focus? I mean really in focus?

Look again.

They may not be.

This one is not in focus:


This one is. Can you see the difference?


This was hard for me to realize when I started getting serious about my camera. I thought I was taking sharp images, after all I always used auto focus and so I thought that the camera would do it’s job for every shot. But, I was wrong. It took someone pointing it out and helping me see that what I thought was a focused shot really wasn’t. I was in the dark and didn’t even know it because I wasn’t really looking.

This weekend I was reminded once again that you must pay attention to your focus. We were shooting some group family shots with a very bright back lit background and I was having a hard time getting my camera to focus. I didn’t hear it whirl around and lock in – -it was just kinda shifting back and forth,  struggling to find that sweet spot.

I will go ahead and say it: Focus is more important than any other photography element.  


1. Because blurry photos are ugly

2. you can’t fix a blurry photo in post editing. You can usually fix the exposure but if it is blurry…throw it out.

You have 2 focus settings/options:

1. Auto Focus. Look on your lens and make sure the switch is on AF instead of MF.  You will also have to set your focal points on your camera so your lens will know what point you want to focus on. Look in your manual and find where and how you change the AF Point Selection on your camera and move it to Manual Selection and choose the center focus point for now so only one red dot is showing up in the very center of your viewfinder. Over time you can learn how to toggle between all the dots but for now select the single point center focus.  Now you know what the red dots do! Your camera will now automatically focus where you put that dot.

2. Manual Focus: puts you in the drivers seat and allows you to tell your camera what to focus on. This button will be on your lens and you will turn the lens ring to focus.

Here are a few situations when Manual Focusing is better than Auto Focus:

img_29381. Extremely backlit shots can make it difficult for your camera to focus. Your camera’s eye can see the subject better when the subject is lit up, not the background.



img_62173. Subjects in low light. Remember that photography is all about the light. Your camera won’t be able to see what to focus on if it is too dark so you may have to do it yourself.  Don’t be discouraged from taking low light shots just realize the limitations of your camera’s auto focus function in low light situations.


img_09494. Subjects behind a net or cage. Your camera may not know what to pick to focus on so sometime it is good to focus on the subject manually so your camera won’t try to focus on the fence.  Some people like to use manual focus with sports photography…I’m still working on that.






IMG_36245.  Close up photography. When shooting very close up shots you will get better results if you take the focus control away from your camera and put it in your own hands.  The narrow depth of field means that you have to be very precise; using a tripod will help too.



img_21826. Portraits. It is simply easier to get those eyes in focus when you switch to manual focus. Your camera can’t tell the difference between an ear and an eye!



You know you are having problems when you hear your lens shifting without locking in on a focus point. When this happens, evaluate what is going on. Too much of all one color can make it difficult for your camera to ‘see’ what to focus on too.  Another tricky ‘focus’ problem:  what you see in your viewfinder is not always  real…sometimes your viewfinder photo looks OK, but when you get it on the computer it is way off.


This shot actually looked OK’ish  at first glance in my small viewfinder.


but when it got bigger….it wasn’t OK at all:


The only way to get the focus right is to practice practice practice. You will never understand how your camera works if you don’t use it a lot. I will be writing further on the subject of sharp images as it is SO important. But for now, be encouraged, you can do it and before long you will be more confident with your camera’s ability to focus!

Camera Mom Tips: Figure out if you are taking crisp sharp images. Look through your photos after you upload them and zoom in a bit to see if they are actually in focus. Pay attention to and learn how  the focus functions work on your camera.  Read about your AF point selection in your manual so you will be in charge of what your camera is focusing on. And finally, get a tripod and use it when you can.


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