Lesson 2: Focusing Tips You’d Be Crazy Not to Follow
To be an even half-decent photographer, you have to master focusing, or you won’t get very far in photography. Any good photographer knows that the most important rule in taking pictures is that your subject should be sharp and in focus…all the time! No viewer wants to deal with having to look at blurry subjects that are out of focus! That just strains the eyes and is no pleasure to deal with.
In today’s modern digital camera landscape, you’re in luck, though. Never before have photographers ever had so many tools at their disposal to make it easier than ever to take sharp pictures that are in focus. However, knowing how to smartly use and apply these tools is a totally different story altogether!
In this second, highly informative lesson, we’ll teach you all you must know about using your camera properly in order to get the sharpest results when you snap a picture. You’ll have to know various focusing techniques, depending on which focus mode you utilize.
What is Focusing?
Focusing is really easy to understand. A real image is created when light goes through a convex lens. How said real image appears is based on the path of light going through the lens. It’s affected by the lens structure and the way the angle of light goes into the lens.
This so-called angle of light entry changes if you position any object farther or nearer to the lens. Light beams that go into a lens at a sharper angle are going to come out at a more obtuse angle; the opposite it also true. This means that the real image of an object that’s nearer to the lens actually forms farther away from the lens than a more distant object’s real image.
Applying this knowledge to your digital camera, you are actually moving the lens of your camera either farther or closer from the surface of the film when you are focusing your lens. When you move the lens, you have the chance to line up the object’s focused real image, so that it falls right onto the surface of the film.
Finally, the total bending angle is dependent on your lens’ structure.
Sure, the vast majority of cameras today have autofocus, but if you’re really adventurous, you can try your hand at manual focusing! Manual focusing is particularly awesome if you want to attempt macro photography, which is getting extreme close-up shots of really small objects. It’s easier to focus closely on a subject if you do it manually rather than depending on the camera’s autofocus.
In addition, Live Preview technology makes it quite easy to manually focus because it enlarges the subject on the screen to where you can view the exact area you want to focus on. From there, it’s a cinch to adjust your focus until it’s totally sharp!
Single AF or Continuous AF
If you’re taking pictures of still-life images, then single AF is what you need. This focus mode permits you to set your camera to focus as you depress the shutter release just halfway. Its purpose is to keep the lens firmly on the chosen subject until you finally take your shot and thereby release the button.
Continuous autofocus, on the other hand, continuously focuses the lens so long as you half-press the shutter-release button or press the AF button. This focus option is brilliant for taking pictures of moving subjects since your camera’s going to adjust the focusing distance while the subject is on the move! Some more advanced cameras—like the Nikon D7000 and Canon EOS 7D—feature options that let you specify the AF points your camera is going to use to track your subject as it moves in your frame.
Focus Point Selection: Manual AF and Automatic
You can manually set the AF focus point yourself, which will provide you with the most control regarding where your camera will focus. This approach is ideal for landscapes, portraits and still life. Normally, you use this mode by pressing down the AF point selection button and utilizing your navigation controls to choose the desired AF point, as you look through your viewfinder. After you get to the AF point that’s right over the subject, it’s time to focus and snap the image.
Automatic focusing involves having your active AF point over the viewfinder’s subject to make it appear sharp as can be. This involves the automatic AF point, which allows the camera to pick for you by taking advantage of the automatic AF selection point mode. In many cases, the camera will do a fair job on its own.
Face Detection AF
Many cameras feature face detection AF, which is a type of automatic AF focus point selection. Its purpose is to recognize a scene’s facial shapes and then emphasize the focus on them. Sub-options in this mode include smile shutter, which forces the camera to take a picture when it decides your subject is smiling (this works most of the time).
Certain cameras go farther with this mode by including a feature that recognizes certain faces in a crowd and then focusing in on them. This mode is extremely practical if you want to take some pictures of your kids at parties and the like.
In this mode, you’ll inevitably remark that boxes will start appearing around the faces of people on the LCD of the camera. This is to indicate that the camera has recognized these people. If you only half-press the shutter release, you can bring the faces into focus, all nice and ready for your shot.
An example of a camera that uses face detection AF is the Canon PowerShot S5 IS.
Focus & Recompose Technique
Your camera’s focus and recompose technique is great at times when its AF points are just not up to par with what you need. As a bonus, choosing the focus and recompose option is even faster than picking an AF point.
Let’s say that you have picked your central AF point, yet the subject is too far off to one side of your frame. With this mode, all you have to do is make the AF point sit over your subject while you half-press your shutter button to make the lens focus. As you keep the focus locked by continuing to half-press the shutter button, recompose your image to have the subject appear where you want it in your frame. Finally, press down the shutter release to take your picture.
Focusing With the Back Button
The so-called back-button focus technique is great when it comes to moving subjects, but where you don’t want to lock the exposure settings when you’re pressing down the AF button. Ideally, of course, you want to only lock the exposure settings when you’re ready to shoot and then press down on the shutter release. What this approach lets you do is view the subject sharply in your frame and then only take your shot when the lighting or composition is okay.
It’s also helpful in case something unexpected moves into the frame. If this happens, you can simply prevent your focus from becoming adjusted just by removing your finger from the AF button as you keep taking pictures!
Hyperfocal Distance Focusing
A widely used technique, hyperfocal distance focusing is meant to get as much of any given scene as sharp as possible for any given aperture. You just focus on your subject and utilize the depth of field scale of your lens to determine where the best sharp point is. If your depth of field begins right in front of your focal point, then that’s your hyperfocal point!
After you calculate your hyperfocal point, then the camera will refocus your lens to it to make the subject sharp. You’re able to at least estimate this focus distance by downloading an app like DOF Master.
A digital technique, different images with various focal distances are mixed into just one picture that’s sharp from the background all the way to the foreground. Though it can be used for landscape photography, it’s really valuable in macro photography because your depth of field will be exceptionally restricted if your subject is very close.
Use a tripod for focus stacking. With the camera on the tripod, shoot the first picture with the closest section of the scene in focus. Without moving anything, take the second shot after refocusing just a bit more into the scene. Keep repeating this process with all the subsequent shots you take. At the end, you should obtain a shot that features the focus on the farthest section of the scene.
At this point, all of the shots may be combined to make just one photo that’s sharp all the way around. Accomplish all of this manually by using a great image-editing software that lets you work with layers. Photoshop Elements is the perfect choice for this.
Without Focusing Power…You’re Nothing!
This is not an overstatement by any means: If you can’t master focusing, then you may as well trade in your camera for a cell phone because the pictures you’ll be taking will come out so blurry that it’d be pointless! Now, though, with our eight premium focusing tips, you can keep your camera since you’ll be able to get the most out of it by focusing as sharp as ever!
The days of taking blurry photos so that you could never tell what you were photographing are over! Follow our tips, and you’ll never have to deal with out-of-focus messes being passed off as pictures ever again. Thanks to this exclusive series, you’ve now learnt all about your subject and focusing like a pro, so stay tuned for the third installment, which will cover the most vital camera features that you just have to know at all costs. You won’t regret it!