Focus where you want.

…where you want, I mean. Not where the camera wants. So as a tip for beginners and reminder for others, a few words about how to focus.

When you look through your viewfinder, you see focus areas, also known as focus points. Depending on your camera there are three, five, seven, nine, or even 11 of 45 of them.

When you press the shutter button half way, the camera indicates one or more of these by flashing them; then it beeps. As long as you hold your finger on the shutter button, these selected focus points stay active. Meaning that when you press down, that’s where the camera will focus.

How does it select which points to use?

It looks at all the focus points, and selects those that are on the closest subject. That’s how. So you’ll get this:

And therein lies the problem. What if you want not my hands in focus, but my face? Or what if you are shooting a relative in the forest and you keep getting that closest branch in focus rather than the relative?

That’s why you can disable this automatic selection of focus points.  And most people do most of the time. Ask a pro how many focus points he or she is using and the answer is almost always “one”.

Then you can:

  1. Select a suitable focus point
  2. Aim that one point at your subject
  3. Press half way down until your focus points locks and the camera beeps
  4. Hold your finger on the shutter, do not let go
  5. Recompose if necessary
  6. Press down and take the picture.

Q: In a portrait, what really needs to be sharp?

A: The subject’s closest eye. The rest is optional.

My student yesterday in a Henry’s Canon 7D class, taken with the 7D with 35mm f/1.4 lens using available light and, um, a TV:

Advanced users, did you know the following:

  • Focus selection is done in areas that are actually wider than the indicated focus spots.
  • The centre spot is the most sensitive.
  • The faster your lens (low F-number), the better it works.
  • Focus squares detect lines. The centre spot is sensitive to horizontal and vertical lines. Others can usually detect only horizontal or only vertical lines!

Well, now you do.

And if you are new to this, here is your assignment: reproduce this photo. Hand sharp in the very corner of your photo.

(Use aperture mode with a low “F-number”, or use program mode and get close).

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