Tips on focusing and how to take sharp images

Happy Friday friends!

Got a request to talk about how I focus my photos and I’ll breakdown my own version of how I do that. Not all photographers are the same an I’d love to hear different techniques to how you focus your photos. This isn’t a tutorial per-se but just about how I do things.

Alright, let’s get into it!


Here the center AF point is in her right eye. From there I focus and recompose.

Here the center AF point is in her right eye. From there I focus and recompose.

AUTO FOCUS

I use autofocus for all of my focusing. All of my lenses are on auto focus and it just is fast and easy. When I feel like my lens isn’t focusing as fast, I’ll switch it to manual.

But it’s super rare. I’d do it only if I can for sure get the focus right. It’s hard to make sure through the viewfinder.

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Also, I might put it in manual if I’m using the LCD screen to shoot something, but that’s hardly ever the case. I just use the viewfinder because I’m old school and habits are hard to break lol. Plus, I think it’s faster because the LCD screen shooting takes for ever, anyone got tips on how to make that focus faster?

METERING

I might get some gripe about metering but I mostly just leave it how the camera had it from the start. It’s in evaluative metering, mostly because I want to make sure that the metering is assessing the scene.

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Plus, since I shoot 90% in manual, I have full control of what I want to be lit, how I want it to be lit, and adjust my settings accordingly and so I don’t need the camera to meter for me.

Perhaps if I was doing more landscape or wildlife or nighttime photography I could see how other types of metering might come in handy.

AF POINT

I started on Canon back in 2006. Digital was still pretty new, however, focusing hasn’t always been the best feature on Canons, ha! Anyone who shoots with Canon can attest to that for sure, however, I learned pretty early on, with only 9 points, that the center AF point was the best for Canon.

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Rarely do I ever shift the focal point or move it away from center. Only if my camera is on tripod and I have an aperture like f/8 or higher and can be sure that my scene will have lots of depth of field in focus do I change the AF point.

Here I most likely put the center AF point on the mom’s left eye. From there, the focus is distributed.

Here I most likely put the center AF point on the mom’s left eye. From there, the focus is distributed.

I am pretty certain that even though I upgraded to the 6D, the center AF point continues to be the sharpest focal point.

FOCUS ON THE EYES

I photograph lots of portraits. Some are individuals, groups, large families, small families, wiggly children, any and all people!

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In order to get the best focus, I focus on the inside eye of the person in the center. Sometimes I’ll alternate on the eye just to make sure I have enough if I wanted to stack the focusing in post later.

When it’s just one person, focusing on the eye closet to the camera tends to work the best. I make sure to get a few frames of the same pose and same eye before switching the pose or focus onto another part of the body.

APERTURE

You can not talk about focusing without talking about aperture. Because aperture effects depth of field, you have to make sure that you’re using the correct aperture to begin with.

Aperture for this image is f/9.0.

Aperture for this image is f/9.0.

Might surprise many but I hardly ever shoot wide open. Unless it’s a detail shot, or for a specific reason. Most of my portraits are at f/2.8 or more. And very rarely are they at f/2.8 to begin with.

Aperture for this image is f/10.

Aperture for this image is f/10.

This is because I want to make sure that I have the face in focus. For that to happen, either the face has to be square to the camera, which isn’t a flattering pose for many people, or I have to have an aperture at at least f/4.0.

Aperture for this image is f/4.0.

Aperture for this image is f/4.0.

I’ve also learned, higher F numbers are sweet spots too. More in focus means more detail. Especially when we’re dealing with large families or wiggly children.

Aperture for this image is f/6.3.

Aperture for this image is f/6.3.

You get more in focus and this helps to get more people in focus both in depth and from the center out. When i have shot more open, I’ve regretted it because I can see that I get less in focus and it’s so disheartening when this happens, especially with big groups.

FOCUS AND RECOMPOSE

Okay, this might sound weird and super old school, but it’s how I do things and it’s usually the best way I’ve gotten my focusing down.

I focus on her eye with the center AF point and then recompose the composition so that their faces are in the upper right hand corner of the frame, not center. All while keeping my finger half way down on the shutter button. Takes practice to get it right each time and sometimes it’s off, which is why it’s good to get a few frames of each pose/expression.

I focus on her eye with the center AF point and then recompose the composition so that their faces are in the upper right hand corner of the frame, not center. All while keeping my finger half way down on the shutter button. Takes practice to get it right each time and sometimes it’s off, which is why it’s good to get a few frames of each pose/expression.

I am really selective when photographing anything or anyone. I make sure to take the photo after being certain that’s what I want. Which means, I never shoot in burst mode. I don’t shoot 50 photos of the same thing. Too much time in editing and finding the final images in 50 identical images, no thank you.

Which means, I don’t shoot as much in terms of frames. I average about 150 images per hour, which isn’t a lot especially for weddings. But I make sure that each photo I take, it’s what I want to take. And then I’ll take about 5-10 until I feel sure I have the shot.

You can see how many of each pose I shoot before changing it up or moving on. I’m super selective and therefore I take my time focusing, choosing my settings, and making sure I can get the shot. I also allow for natural posing after I get my sure shots.

You can see how many of each pose I shoot before changing it up or moving on. I’m super selective and therefore I take my time focusing, choosing my settings, and making sure I can get the shot. I also allow for natural posing after I get my sure shots.

So what is compose, focus, and recompose? It is where I compose the shot, make sure to focus with the center af point on say, the eyes, and then recompose the composition of the photo to how I want it to look in terms of rule of thirds without letting go of the focus.

For these you might wonder how I focus quickly. I don’t. I have my clients walk slow and enjoy the walk! Or sometimes I’ll have them take two or three steps and then freeze. Looks like they’re moving, but they’re not. Wind also helps create this effect on beaches ;).

For these you might wonder how I focus quickly. I don’t. I have my clients walk slow and enjoy the walk! Or sometimes I’ll have them take two or three steps and then freeze. Looks like they’re moving, but they’re not. Wind also helps create this effect on beaches ;).

I am careful to move only in the x and y axis of my focus. Which means that once I focus, I can only move directly up or down, or side to side. If I move forward or backward, I’d have to refocus and recompose because the original focus would be off.

Seems like a lot of work and it’s really not. It’s just because I got used to Canon having the center AF point being the strongest and sharpest, I had to do it this way. Since my Rebel days.

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I have tried back button focusing, which locks focus so you don’t have to keep your finger on the shutter to hold the focus, but i feel like I don’t have full control over the focus. So I stopped doing that.

I may refocus more than most photographers just to make sure but this is what works for me.

AI SERVO / AI FOCUS

Given some circumstances, I’ll use those two focusing modes but only if there is a lot of movement or I’m moving a lot.

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I don’t normally like using these because it can throw my composition off and I like having my photos as close to the final image that I can and so composition is so second hand to me that if I were to use these, leave my focus in the center, most of the compositions would be centered.

And truthfully? I haven’t mastered these metering modes to work for me and so I do what I know and focus how it’s worked for me in the past.

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Because I tend to direct and pose a lot in my photography, I don’t need these all too much. Perhaps for walking down the aisle they work best.

Or children who move too much. Personally, refocusing and recomposing has worked for me. However, I should practice these two just to get them down in case I need them.


That’s it friends! That’s how I focus and what I use and just like any other photographer out there, I’m constantly learning too! Even after 12 years because there are always new things to learn. That’s what makes photography so interesting!

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