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

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,ย  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 openย 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.ย 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. September 21, 2010 at 9:06 am — Reply

    Thank you for this!! I have just started learning about my camera and am getting comfortable in manual mode but my focus was never what I wanted. I am going to look into this and figure out how to use it on my camera. Thanks again!!

  2. September 21, 2010 at 9:16 am — Reply

    I love back button focusing. I could never go back. I only too a few days to get used to but since then it is the only way I an do it. I tried recently to use a friends camera which is not set to back button focus and I became sooo frustrated. Of course anyone you try to explain this to gets super confused it really is a matter of getting out the manual and doing to understand. You can’t just read it and get it you, have to do this one.

  3. C
    September 21, 2010 at 9:28 am — Reply

    This article seems to conflate toggle focus and back button focus, which are two different things. You can toggle focus and still use the shutter button to autofocus, or you can let the camera select and use the back button to focus.

  4. September 21, 2010 at 9:30 am — Reply

    Great post – thanks! Unfortunately, my manuals for D60 and D5000 have no reference to ‘back button focus.’ Any advice for more info for these cameras? I shoot on Aperture priority / manual focus unless the situation demands otherwise.

  5. September 21, 2010 at 9:43 am — Reply

    While I like the idea of your post I feel it’s really lacking for instruction. I picked up my manual for my D700 and there is no reference to this “back button focusing”. Maybe you could say something like, “on my brand X camera this is how I do this procedure”. Not trying to be rude but I feel like I’m left in the dark here.

  6. September 21, 2010 at 9:53 am — Reply

    Thanks Haleigh. I recently started doing some research on getting accurate, sharp focus to get more knowledge on how to gain control over the camera. This technique will be helpful I think.

  7. September 21, 2010 at 9:56 am — Reply

    All I can think of is that you are referring to Single point AF or Dynamic area AF. A little more info perhaps?

  8. September 21, 2010 at 10:01 am — Reply

    Ahh I’ve been doing this for ages, didn’t realise that’s what back button focus was, I thought I was missing out! LOL ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. September 21, 2010 at 10:05 am — Reply

    i used this website as a reference with my canon rebel: http://www.usa.canon.com/dlc/controller?act=GetArticleAct&articleID=2286
    i hope that helps for the canon users..as for nikon I found this link from a fellow photog:http://simplyknotphotography.com/blog/2010/02/back-button-focus-for-nikon/

  10. Carol
    September 21, 2010 at 10:12 am — Reply

    can someone explain this to me. I have D90 and I have no idea where is the back button. I’ve googled it and it shows all article about AF.

  11. wendy
    September 21, 2010 at 10:54 am — Reply

    I think choosing your focal point is different than back button focusing. Maybe I read this wrong or I am just incorrect????

  12. Amy
    September 21, 2010 at 11:00 am — Reply

    What she is talking about here is toggling your focal points. On your slr you should have a four point (kind of cross like) button on the back. You push different sides to move your focus point (to toggle it). True back button focusing requires going into your menu and telling your camera to tie focus to the custom button on the back. You then use your shutter button to just control shutter and you use the back button for focus. I toggle. I don’t back button focus.

  13. September 21, 2010 at 11:19 am — Reply

    While I normally love the information on your blog, this article contains inaccurate information. I totally agree, allowing my camera to select my focual points is a recipe for disappointment. Back Button Focus and selecting focal points are not the same thing. I can and do select my focal points but do not use back button focus. This article is going to leave the individuals that need it most confused.

  14. Cally
    September 21, 2010 at 11:19 am — Reply

    This is the most helpful post I have read in ages! WOW I have been wondering exactly this! I love having a blurred background but struggle with that DOF getting the noise in focus verse the eyes! EXACTLY the answer I needed. I am going to go practice this very weekend!
    Thank you thank you thank you!

  15. Cindi
    September 21, 2010 at 11:33 am — Reply

    I agree with Kimberly’s comment — this post does not explain Back Button Focusing. It explains how to move your focal point by using the toggle button on the back of the camera to place it over what you want to be sure is in focus, but Back Button Focusing uses another button completely. It involves going into the Custom Setting menu and turning on the item that allows you to lock focus with usually the CENTER focus point by pushing an AF button, then reframe without losing focus and then push the shutter button. The shutter button WILL NOT prefocus when you partly push it when that setting is chosen.

  16. Tina
    September 21, 2010 at 11:39 am — Reply

    Thank you for this article; I’ve been struggling the last couple of shoots with focusing and I couldn’t figure out why….I am excited to go home and test this out; thanks again!!!

  17. Deann
    September 21, 2010 at 11:45 am — Reply

    I have to agree with other commenters.. this post is more about toggling focus points than using back button focus. Both I find very helpful, but they are different things.

  18. lisa
    September 21, 2010 at 11:47 am — Reply

    For Nikons, it isn’t called back button focusing, it is under your manual for AE-AF – you can essentially turn off the AE function and just use the AF or you can use both.

    Also, with bbf, you have the ability to choose your focal point, so in the article above, I don’t know why there is reference to having a camera choose it for you. I choose the focal point on my d700, hit the AF button and this focuses some of my lenses faster than hitting the shutter release half way down to focus.

  19. September 21, 2010 at 11:49 am — Reply

    Here’s a good article on locating it on Canon cameras

  20. Cindi
    September 21, 2010 at 11:49 am — Reply
  21. Doni B
    September 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm — Reply

    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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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

    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.

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

    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).

  24. September 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm — Reply

    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

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

    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 — Reply

      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.

  26. September 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm — Reply

    I love these ideas – great tips!

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

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

  28. […] be taught in a classroom. You can learn what aperture is, how to shoot manual, and even a bit about focusing. But all the instruction in the world will not replace the #1 more important way to become a better […]

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

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

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

    I do almost all my shooting in manual and some of my lenses only do manual ๐Ÿ™ 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