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How to Focus Accurately

focus accuratly with dslr

This simple technique is one of THE ‘ah-hah’ moments that our students rave about during our courses as really changing their images!

Now who hasn’t been in this situation before…

You spot a photo worthy moment, you run for the camera, frame the shot…and the camera keeps attempting to focus on something other than what YOU want to focus on.



The camera insists on focussing on the same thing – the wrong thing – every single time.

It’s so frustrating! (See above for perfect example I prepared earlier!!)

The problem lies in the fact the focus point system is set to auto select… which means the camera will decide where to focus based what’s in the frame.

But you have the ability to select your focus point, so that YOU can select which object you’d like in focus.

Most cameras offer a range of focus points in an arrangement similar to this.  Some cameras have more, or less.. but essentially you can use one of those single points rather than just the centre point, or rather than letting the camera choose.

Screen shot 2014-07-14 at 12.15.06 PM

So how do change focus points?

Firstly you can’t select your AF Focus Point when you’re shooting in Auto.. so select either TV/AV or Manual mode to start with.

Related: Semi-Auto Shooting Modes 

Then you want to select Single Point AF or One-Shot, and then ‘Manual Select’.


manual focusing

The dial that controls this how you toggle to the exact point is usually the scroll dial, or the control circle on the back of your camera (the arrows up/down etc) but if you can’t find where to access the AF

Once you’ve located the button and dial that controls the AF points on your camera, press the button, and you will see the grid of AF selection points appear on the LCD screen and through the viewfinder.

You can then scroll through those points either on the LCD screen, or whilst you’re looking through the viewfinder!

AF Focus Points


This does take practice.  

Don’t get frustrated if you don’t master it straight away, but spend a few minutes playing and becoming familiar with ow it works, because once you are able to do this you’ll find you have a lot more creative control over your compositions AND you won’t be missing shots because you can’t find the focus you want!

It will initially be set to auto point selection, and all focus points will be lit up.

So use the relevant dial to scroll through each of the points, stopping when only your preferred focus point is lit up.

You should choose the focus point that is on or nearest to the point in your frame you want to focus on.

Once you get used to how to change it, you’ll be able to do it quickly as you shoot with your eyes closed. Or preferably, with your one eye open and looking through the viewfinder as you frame your subject, choose your AF point, and shoot!


AF Drive Modes

You may have noticed your camera offering a choice of Auto Focus Drive Modes, these are simply different ways the camera obtains focus.

One Shot: One Shot (Canon) or Single Servo (Nikon) This drive mode is best suited for subjects that are stationary. When you press the shutter button halfway, the camera locks focus and the focus point will light up and beep. You can use this AF mode to focus and recompose (See below).  This is the setting I leave my camera on?  Simply because I don’t like to adjust my camera very often, and I’m comfortable using this mode to achieve the shots I want!

AI Servo: AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous Servo (Nikon) This drive mode is used for shooting fast moving subjects when the distance between lens and subject keeps changing. Whilst pressing the shutter button halfway, as long as your subject remains covered by a focus point, the camera will continuously work to bring your subject into focus as it moves in and out of focus. When using this mode, you will not see a focus point light up or hear a confirmation beep.

AI Focus:  AI Focus (Canon – Nikon doesn’t have this) This drive mode is best suited for subjects that may move a little. Once you focus on your subject, if it moves toward you or further away from you, the movement will be detected and AI Servo will kick in. You will hear a low continuous beeping as the camera attempts to refocus. The focus confirmation point will not light up again once focus is achieved. When this occurs be sure to check focus has locked on your subject and not elsewhere.



Another alternative, and one that I use myself quite a bit, is called Focus-Recompose, for shots where the subject is not moving a great deal.

To achieve this you simply use your focus point and point it at the subject.  Press the shutter half down, until you hear the focus ‘beep’ then re-compose your image to how ever you’d like to frame your shot, and then press the shutter all the way down to take the shot.

Regardless of where your focus points are now, your image will still be focused on the subject you originally half-pressed your shutter on.

Or you can try back-button focusing, which is similar to focus-recompose, but allows you to use a button on your camera to lock your focus point and then shoot as you like.

Related: Back Button Focusing

If you have any other focusing tips, let us know in the comments below – and if you found this helpful please share the article with others who might enjoy improving their photography!



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