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Want Guaranteed Perfect Focus In Every Photo? Learn To Use Selective Focus

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Want Guaranteed Perfect Focus In Every Photo? Learn To Use Selective Focus

Do You Want Guaranteed Perfect Focus In Every Photo? Learn To Use Selective Focus

Focus and exposure are the two most important elements in photography. Exposure is discussed a lot, but with technological advances, and the creation of auto focus mode, many people have gone to trusting the camera to do the focusing for you. Nine times out of ten, it is OK for you to do this, but if you would like to achieve accurate results 100% of the time, you need to learn how to use the selective focus mechanism on your camera by toggling your focus points on the back of your camera.

Have you ever wondered how to achieve those amazingly beautiful tack-sharp eyes that professional photographers achieve? Of course Photoshop actions like the Eye Doctor, can help – but nothing gets sharp eyes better than proper focus in camera.

The photo below is straight out of camera…

Or, has this ever happened…

When you meant for this to happen?

There is a way to GUARANTEE the results that you would like to achieve 100% of the time. You can choose the point at which your camera will focus. This technique, called selective focus,  is on all SLR cameras (and a lot of point and shoots too) and allows you to separate focus and exposure. This way you have to take the time to think about each step individually, and you can more accurately achieve both exposure and focus. Back Button-AF may seem like a very obvious technique that all photographers should be using… but I have had plenty of conversations with professional photographers that do not use this option on their camera. Using selective focus is especially helpful when you are shooting with a wide open aperture with the end result being a very narrow depth of field. If your camera chooses to focus on the beautiful, but distracting, trees in the background, instead of your subject, your subject will end up out of focus, like in the examples above. If you have always left it up to your camera to choose your focus point, just grab your camera’s manual, or find it online, and find out how to use this option on your camera. Make sure that your lens is in AF mode, as this option will only work when your camera is auto focusing.

Once you learn how to use this function on your particular camera, the next thing that you need to know is where your focus should fall. It takes a bit of practice to toggle with each shot to the focus point that you want on your photo, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. When choosing your focal point in portraits, you should choose the eyes on a close up or head shot, or the head on a 3/4 or full length body shot. When taking a picture of a large group of people, you will need to be sure that your aperture opening is larger, meaning that the opening in your lens is smaller. This will allow your camera to keep a greater depth in focus. You will then need to choose a focus point at an equal distance to the majority of the people in your photo and fire away.

Maybe it’s just me, and I’m too much of a control freak when it comes to my camera, but I personally can’t trust a machine to choose the point at which it would like to focus. Some photographers feel as though they don’t want to break out of the mold from which they have been shooting to learn something new. It will take some practice, and will feel a bit uncomfortable to photographers that really don’t even have to think to shoot in manual anymore, but I promise you that it is worth the work. For the first year that I was portfolio building in my business, I allowed my camera to choose my focal point, and in doing so, I missed a lot of shots that could have been fantastic. So, educate yourself on how this option works on your camera and play a little. You’ll be amazed what you can come up with.

ETA: There will be a more in depth article to come regarding a more custom option called back button focus.

For other great information about Aperture and Depth of Field check out the following articles…

A Depth of Field Lesson from Finger Puppets at a Baseball Game

All You Ever Wanted to Know about Depth of Field (DOF)

Haleigh Rohner is a photographer in Gilbert, Arizona. She specializes in families, seniors and children. She also enjoys mentoring beginning photographers and teaching them the ropes on how to establish their own photography business. Check out more of her work on her site or Facebook Page.

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  1. Doni B
    September 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm —

    Hmmm…not sure what back button focusing has to do with toggle focusing? Did I miss something? These are two distinctly different things. I do not back button focus but I do toggle focus and when I am shooting wide open even toggle focus does not work 100% of the time. I wish it worked that way. 🙂

  2. Tommy Botello
    September 21, 2010 at 12:27 pm —

    What works best for me (Nikon user) is working in single servo AF mode, having my focal point locked to center, focus on my desired point, recompose, and then shoot. This way you don’t have to worry about getting that spur of the moment shot only to worry about where you last set your focal point.

  3. Mara
    September 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm —

    I agree with some of the previous posters…I found this confusing as this article seems to be refering to toggling focus points and not back button focusing. Also, there is no way to guarantee 100% results even with toggling – I both toggle my focus points and use back button focus, and while my results are overall very good using this technique, there are definitely times that the camera picks up a different point for a variety of reasons (another point nearby has more contrast, I recomposed which sometimes can make focus move, etc).

  4. September 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm —

    Wow! I’m so sorry everyone! Such a dork! I used the wrong term and didn’t even notice it when I wrote the article. I will cover back button focus in more depth in another article in the weeks to come. The basic idea of the article was to get people to start remembering to think about focus and not allowing the camera to do that for you. Sorry for the confusion… The discussion on it has been great!

    Haleigh Rohner

  5. Elicia
    September 21, 2010 at 2:55 pm —

    I see that this article has been tweaked a bit and I’m glad. I thought it was going to be about back button focusing because that’s what the title indicated, when really it was about using your focus points. I’m sure it was very confusing to people who don’t know anything about either of these things!

    • September 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm —

      The guest blogger Haleigh, has written some amazing articles for MCP Actions. Thank you for pointing out her error in terminology of Back Button Focus versus selecting focus points. She has adjusted the article so it reads correctly and she is sorry for the error.

      I personally pick selection points but do not back button focus.

  6. September 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm —

    I love these ideas – great tips!

  7. Christina
    September 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm —

    I can’t live without these training posts! I’m so glad I found you!! These are great!

  8. vanessa
    August 1, 2011 at 8:19 am —

    Thanks so much for the awesome blogs and advise, I have been struggling with the same issue..
    Love your actions!

  9. Justina
    September 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm —

    I do almost all my shooting in manual and some of my lenses only do manual 🙁 I will have to try this for weddings though, the two main lenses I use for that allow AF. I bet it would make some things quicker.

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Want Guaranteed Perfect Focus In Every Photo? Learn To Use Selective Focus