Autofocus vs manual: how to take control of focus in problem foregrounds

How to take control of autofocus: step 2

How to take control of autofocus

How to take control of autofocus: step 1

01 Let the camera choose
The auto-area AF mode on our Nikon D-SLR copes perfectly well with this shot, because Sarah is more or less in the middle of the frame and there’s nothing in the foreground to confuse the autofocus system. But if we get lower down to shoot, it’s another story…


How to take control of autofocus: step 2

02 Problem foregrounds
Auto-area AF mode will automatically focus on objects nearest the camera, and here it’s picked out some blooms lower in the frame, leaving Sarah out of focus. That’s the problem with automatic focus point selection: it doesn’t always focus on what you want it to.


How to take control of autofocus: step 3

03 Single-shot mode
There are two steps you need to take to gain control of your autofocus. First, set your camera to single-shot AF mode. This means it focuses once when you half-press the shutter button, and stays focused on that point until you press it the rest of the way to take the picture.


How to take control of autofocus: step 4

04 Single-point AF
You now control when the camera focuses, and the next step is to take control of what it focuses on. For this you need to set it to single-point AF mode. The camera no longer chooses the AF point automatically. Instead, you’re forcing it to use the focus point you’ve selected.


How to take control of autofocus: step 5

05 Focus lock
There are two ways to use single-point AF mode. The quick way is to stick to the centre AF point, place your subject in the centre, half-press the shutter release to lock the focus, then reframe the shot and press the shutter button the rest of the way to take the picture.


How to take control of autofocus: step 6

06 Set your AF point
The other way is to compose your shot, then use the multi-selector on the back of the camera to position the focus point over the critical part. In this shot it’s our model’s eye – the most important thing in a portrait. This is the best method when you’re using a tripod.

PAGE 1: Autofocus vs manual: why not focus manually?
PAGE 2: How to take control of autofocus
PAGE 3: Taking control of AF video tutorial
PAGE 4: Spot metering and AF


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  • Bert Baumann

    I’m a little unclear as to these two focus lock methods. How would objects outside of the center appear after recomposing the shot and locking focus in the center? In other words, would the subject still be in-focus as beforehand, when you had it in the center? It seems more likely you would lock on a specific point outside the center first. Should you recompose, it will be for the purpose of metering an area other than where you want the camera to focus, tripod or not.