There are many things that are claimed as the “most important” when it comes to photography and I’m not even going to try to pretend that what I share down below today is the absolute most important aspect. I will, however, claim that having sharp photos is important. Probably even very important. I suppose it depends on how sharp we’re talking here. Merely identifiable objects? Crazy wicked sharp so the nose hair on a mosquito is as clear as day? Somewhere in between?
The goal is to capture sharp images and there are a few tricks you can employ to do so. All of the necessary settings are readily available on your camera, so this should be a snap.
Okay, let’s talk about which focus mode to use. I tend to lean towards single point auto focus because that setting gives me the most control over what I’m focusing on. If you think about what focusing actually is, you can consider it the area in which there’s the most contrast between pixels. Your camera uses a focusing plane to choose where exactly it will find this contrast. If you pretend that you’re standing someplace with your camera pointed at something and you have two dudes holding a large piece of glass that’s perpendicular to you, you can consider that piece of glass the focus plane. Depending on your distance from the subject and your aperture setting, the piece of glass can be thin, thick or somewhere in between.
When you choose multi-point auto focus, even though there are many points the camera uses to find focus, it’s still only focusing on one measurement of distance between the camera and the object. So while it feels fancy to take advantage of having little boxes locating a point of focus, you can get the same exact focus result from just one point and that point is completely under your own control.
Now, what I’m saying above is great for subjects that aren’t moving. If you’re tracking a soccer player who’s running across the soccer field, then, yes, by all means, take advantage of all the tracking and focusing technology your camera offers. If you’re taking photos of a person’s face or a cluster of flowers in your back yard though, single point AF is fine.
Think about it like this. Say you’re using single point AF and your subject is a person who is sitting still on a chair. You’ve got a fairly shallow depth of field and it makes a big difference whether you focus on your subject’s nose or eye. Everyone knows that the eyes are the most important objects to focus on in photography, so that’s what you’re concentrating on. With single point auto focus, you can move your focal point directly to the eye and take your shot. If you were to take advantage of the multi-point auto focus technology, your camera wouldn’t necessarily know what the most important attribute of the person was. The camera might find the face in general and focus on it. With a shallow depth of field, this can cause issues. It’s common knowledge that cameras love to focus on the closest object to it. In this case, that’s probably going to be the nose and the chin, not the eye. The name of the game here is control and accuracy.
When it comes to composing your shot, you’ll need to figure out a way to focus on your subject without your camera refocusing on something else if you were to move it in some way. I have my own camera set up to use what’s referred to as back-button auto focus and I really like that. It’s a simple settings change and it allows me to place my focus point on my subject and then press a button on the back of the camera to lock that focus in. Then, I can move the camera where ever I want and that focus distance won’t change. If I were to try this with the regular shutter button, without the focus being locked, the focal distance would change if I moved the camera.
If you’re working with a tripod and you’re taking pictures of a stationary object, a great idea is to compose your photo and then move the focus point to precisely the spot you want to be in the most focus. If you’re in live view mode, this is easy enough to accomplish. Just use your arrow buttons that are on the back of your camera to move the small box that’s most likely at the center of your screen.
As I mentioned above, I like to use back-button auto focus. An equivalent method is to simply point your camera directly at the spot on your subject that you would like in focus and then to press your shutter button down half way. This will lock your focus in and then you can move your camera slightly to recompose your image and then take your shot. Just remember what I said about focus being on a plane that’s a very specific distance from you. If you focus on something and then move your camera either forward or backward, towards or away from your subject, you’ll lose your focus. Slightly side to side is okay, but not back and forth. Unless or course you’ve got some good distance between you and your subject or you’re using a smaller aperture.
A good way to maintain your setup is to focus and then quickly take your shot. A lot can happen between these two events, so it’s a good idea to minimize the time between them. Also, it’s a good idea to capture multiple photos of each subject. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought I had the money shot and it came out terribly. The more photos taken, the more of a chance there is to get a nice image.
Really, the best thing to do is to experiment focusing on things with your camera. A tripod is great for this and taking pictures of stationary objects can truly get you used to your camera’s settings. Set up the tripod and choose a flower, bush or plant around your house or a nearby park. Practice with different focus modes and get used to moving your focus point. Also practice focusing on something by pushing the shutter button half way down and then moving your camera to recompose the shot. After a half hour or so, you’ll be so used to what you’re doing that you’ll feel like a pro.
Whatever you decide to practice on, just be sure it’s got some depth to it. Focusing on a flat wall isn’t going to help you too much. This is why I suggested a plant or flower above. There’s always going to be some depth to the leaves and it’s pretty obvious what’s going to be in focus after you set your camera up. Also, you can experiment with your aperture settings as well. Wider apertures create shallow depths of field and narrow apertures create deeper ones. With the smaller aperture, you’ll be able to get much more in focus with minimal effort, so it’s wise to get used to this feature as well.
I hope this article helped you out. After you practice a bit, come back here and let me know your results. Also, if you have any questions, please ask below. Thanks for reading.