I’m going to share my autofocus tips in this blog for people who are using phone cameras, DSLRs on auto mode or any other camera on auto mode. All cameras have focus points and they can be used creatively.
Like me, you want to take better photos (does that feeling ever go?) but I’m not going to launch straight in on a lecture about aperture/shutter speed/ISO. The technical waffle can wait. Instead I want to help you point and shoot better, as a first step. I think that if you get some quick wins, that you’ll feel more confident and enthusiastic. Then you’ll be happier to learn more detail later.
In the previous blog we started with holding your camera right. It’s much more important than you think, and this applies to DSLRs, phones and every camera in between. My favourite tip from last week is to hold the camera lower, at waist or chest level for a more interesting shot.
Easy Focus shouldn’t mean Sloppy Focus
Focusing may seem obvious but so many people miss it. In fact it’s becoming a real problem on BBC news where they often focus on the building behind the person who is talking. It’s distracting.
Smartphone camera focus
If you don’t know already, then on a phone you just need to tap the screen on the point where you want it to focus. As soon as the sun comes out, Instagram is full of ice cream cones being held up with a view behind. I’ve done it myself! You want the ice cream to be in focus, and the background can be blurry. So get your thumb to tap the ice cream on the screen before you shoot.
Central focus points and half button press
With a DSLR or other camera you have more options. Use the focus points that you can see on the screen or through the viewfinder. This is usually a square, cross or some dots in the centre of the image. Your shutter button can be pressed half way down, and it will focus on those centre points. If you’ve never tried pressing the shutter button half way and holding it before, then practice this as it’s so useful. It doesn’t take a picture until you press it all the way down.
Here’s the trick you want to use: Put the focus points over the person or object that you most want to be in sharp focus, press the shutter button half way down, hold it, and move the camera slightly to re-frame your image. Then press the button harder and it takes the shot.
In the example with the tea set (pictured) the camera naturally wants to focus in the middle which is the distant fence and not the tea set itself. So I point the camera at the teapot, press the button halfway, hold it, move the camera back into position and finish pressing the button.
Intelligent Auto Focus
Many cameras in auto mode have facial recognition and intelligent focus. The camera may figure out for itself that you don’t want to focus on the fence in the background. It will draw a box or a cross over the area where it thinks you want to focus. That is great as long as it gets it right. Watch to see where it highlights for a focus area each time. This will help you learn how your camera is “thinking”.
In my family we have a number of photography enthusiasts and several very different cameras between us. When I swap with someone else I always have to re-think what I am doing. The only way I can get consistent results with different cameras is by developing a good personal discipline of always watching the detail on the camera display. It’s a good habit to start. In auto mode your camera is making a lot of clever guesses. When you regularly don’t get what you want in auto mode, then you’re ready to learn something new.
Do you often get the wrong part of your shot in focus? Let me know how you get on with these tips.