Let’s focus on a camera topic that can make or break your photographs. The topic we are going to focus on is, well, your camera’s focus options.
There are two main reasons you should learn all about focus settings and focal points: you will be able to take super sharp photographs, and it will give you full artistic control over what you picture will look like.
First, let’s fully understand your camera’s two focus settings, Focus Area and Focus Mode. These two settings sound very similar, but it is important to understand the difference between them.
What is Focus Area?
Your Focus Area (or Area Focus/AF) is the setting on your camera that tells the camera where exactly to “look” and focus. When you look through your viewfinder and depress your trigger halfway, you will see red dots show up. These red dots are your focal points.
There are several different types of focus area modes, and depending on your camera they may look a slightly different so consult with your manual.
Single-point Area Focus (AF)
In single-point AF mode, there is one single focal point (red dot) and YOU will select where it is. You can move the focal point to where you want.
This mode is great for portraits and when you want to focus on specific elements in your photograph, as you can see in the below two pictures.
I prefer single-point AF to any other focus area mode because it gives you the most control.
Anytime you are in any type of AUTO mode on your camera, your camera is going to take the best guess as to what settings to use. In auto-area AF, you camera is going to guess where you want to focus.
Unfortunately, your camera is not an artist; it is a little computer. Here is an example in auto-area AF when the camera “guessed” wrong (see the red focal points). You can see how detrimental it was to the photograph.
In the first picture, you can see that auto-mode guessed wrong. Yes, that is a beautiful tree and shiny car in the background, but it is clearly not what the photographer intended.
In dynamic AF, you can select several different focal points. Think of it as ‘back-up’ focal points in case your subject moves. This option can be used if you are photographing a fast moving object.
What is Focus Mode?
We just reviewed that the area focus setting controls WHERE the camera is going to focus. The focus MODE controls the BEHAVIOR of the focal point. (As if the camera companies could have came up with a more confusing naming convention).
There are two basic types of focus modes:
In One-Shot AF (Canon)/AF-S (Nikon), when you press your trigger half way down, your camera will “lock” that focus point LOCATION. If you subject moves, it can essentially be out-of-focus
Continuous Focus Mode
In AI Servo AF (Canon)/AF-C (Nikon), when you press your trigger half way down, your camera will “lock” in the SUBJECT. If your subject moves, then your focal point will follow it.
I highly recommend this mode if you are photographing anything that moves, such as children!
Focus on Focus Tips
Now that you understand Focus Area (where you are focusing) and Focus Mode (how the focal point behaves), you can use theses settings to your advantage to take sharp portraits and creative lifestyle photographs. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind.
When taking portraits, always place the focus point on the eye of your subject because it is the most detailed part of the face. Also, even if the face is slightly turned so that one eye is closer to the camera, always focus on the closer eye for a sharper picture.
When taking lifestyle photographs, try to switch around your focal points to get different perspectives.
Practice using these settings to take sharp and beautiful photographs. I recommend using the following settings, especially if you are photographing a moving subject:
- Area focus: singe-point AF
- Focus mode: continuous focus mode
Take control of your focus settings, and tell YOUR story through your photographs!
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