Tips for Nailing Perfect Focus

We’ve all been there. The picture looks absolutely perfect on the back of the camera and then we get it on the computer and DANG. It’s OUT OF FOCUS. I don’t know about you, but I get quite sad when this happens. If you often have trouble getting shots in focus, read on. But please know, it’s common to have a few out of focus images every so often. We’re not perfect, our cameras aren’t perfect, and it happens to everyone. But here are a few tips to help you lower your chances.

Don’t Shoot Wide Open (Aperture)

Even though I have lenses that can go to f/1.4, most of my images are shot between f/2.5 and f/3.2. When you are shooting with extremely wide apertures (like f/1.4), your plane of focus is so small that your likelihood of error skyrockets. Stopping the lens down (aka choosing a bigger number, like f/2.8) will give you more room for movement and error, and you are more likely to have a shot that is in focus.

Choose Your Own Focus Point

Most cameras when set to auto will automatically select the focus point based on what it THINKS you want in focus. I’m sure we’ve all experience when this doesn’t work out for us. The key to getting around this is to choose the focus point yourself. (Check your camera manual for how to do this… under Focus Points.) I mostly shoot with the center focus point only, as it is the strongest in most cameras, and recompose as needed. Which brings me to the next point…

Recompose Carefully

Once you have locked in your focus and you move your camera to recompose your shot, you’re introducing movement and a risk that your subject will no longer be in focus. There are a few things to keep in mind when recomposing. Make sure not to move your body backward or forward – only move the camera up/down or side to side. If you move your camera down to recompose and accidentally lean back a bit, your focus will be lost. Also, try to just use small movements for recomposing. If you want the subject in the very bottom of the frame, select the focus point that is closest to minimize camera movement.

Focus Between Every Shot

Another tip is to make sure you are re-focusing between each shot. If you focus once and take a bunch of pictures, but missed the focus on the first one, all of the rest will be out of focus as well. Refocusing each time increases your chances of nailing it. Often times, for me, this creates more work as I have to focus, recompose, focus, recompose, etc, but it’s worth it! Trust me.

Choose Your Autofocus Mode Carefully

There are a few different autofocus modes on cameras these days. They might be called something different in your camera, so be sure to check your manual. The first is called One Shot (Canon) or AF-S (Nikon). This mode means that once you’ve pushed your shutter halfway down, the focus is locked regardless of whether you or your subject moves. This setting is good if you do a lot of recomposing your shots. The other main mode is called AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous/AF-C (Nikon). This mode continuously refocuses on whatever is in front of the active focus point. This is great for subjects that are moving, like children or sports. You simply press the shutter halfway down, follow the subject that is moving (being sure to keep the subject in front of the focus point – this is key!), and press the shutter all the way when you’re ready.

Use Fast Shutter Speeds

This doesn’t necessarily affect your focus per se, but using too slow of shutter speeds can cause movement (either from subject movement or camera shake) resulting in a blurry picture. It’s not exactly the same as being out of focus, but it still results in a photo that isn’t sharp. I usually try to stay faster than 1/200 sec if at all possible.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I know it sounds cliche, but a lot of times it really just takes some experimentation with settings and practice to figure out what works best for you. If you’ve tried all of these tips and are still having issues, leave a comment and I’ll see if I can help!

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