Photography revolves around focus setting, figuratively and literally. The creation of an image starts with the photographer choosing a focus setting along with the composition. Similarly, the photographer chooses what to blur. While that seems simple in concept, focus is a topic that could be discussed among a group of photographers for hours upon hours. If you’re making the jump into photography, mastering focus setting is one of the best places to start.
There are three basic ways to focus with your camera. A common beginner method is to half press the shutter button to focus. Then, the photographer presses the shutter button all the way down to take the photo. The second method is to use back button focusing. Back button focusing is using a button on the back of your camera, such as the AF-ON button, to set the focus. Separating the focusing and the shutter release into two separate buttons offers better precision for the photographer. The photographer can review focus prior to taking the photograph. Manual focusing is the third method, where the photographer rotates the focusing ring on the barrel of the camera until the subject is sharp.
While those three methods listed above are the common ways to engage focus, there are multiple focus modes that the photographer can utilize for specific scenarios. Focus modes common to most camera systems include single-shot, continuous, and automatic focus. Single-shot focus (One-shot AF or AF-S) is just that, the camera focuses once when the focusing button is engaged and stays focused on that focal plane. On the other hand, Continuous focus mode (AF-C or Al Servo) is where the camera tracks the subject. Then, it continuously refocuses as the subject moves through the frame. Continuous autofocus tracking mode is great for wildlife and bird photography. It works best to help capture birds in flight or other animals whose movements are unpredictable. Automatic Autofocus Mode (AI Focus AF or AF-A) is where the camera’s focusing jumps back and forth between single-focus focus and continuous focus mode depending on the situation.
Focus Setting Techniques
This is just the tip of the focus iceberg. Beyond focus modes, there are a multitude of best practices and techniques to ensure sharp focus. A few examples are focusing depth of field, mirror lockup for DSLRs, timed delay, and focus stacking. Although, discovering the best methods for sharp focus is often experimentation in trial and error. However, the Visual Wilderness team has put together a course summarizing year of knowledge gained from their experience. Visual Wilderness’s In Sharp Focus course teaches how to handle difficult focusing situations with on-location case studies that guide you from through the entire process in the field. Afterwards, you’ll have the confidence to know that you will achieve sharp focus with your images, every time.
Nature and landscape photographers use manual focusing a lot. For example, photographers frequently rely on manual focusing with astrophotography as well as macro photography. Furthermore, hyperfocal distance becomes a common technique used by many landscape photographers. Hyperfocal distance is the distance between the camera lens and the closest object which is in focus when the lens is focused at infinity. When landscape photographers use wide-angle lenses, hyperfocal distance is what they use to get everything in focus from foreground details all the way to the distant horizon. While it may seem like a difficult concept, it does not have to be hard in practice. Our Hyperfocal Distance tutorial simplifies the concepts into straight-forward, understandable, and easy to follow steps. This is one of the courses that will change your landscape photography.