You're Smarter Than Your Camera - Focus - Making Choices

April 17, 2015  •  Leave a Comment
You're Smarter Than Your Camera - Focus - Making Choices
Good morning and welcome to the 8th blog on 'You're Smarter Than Your Camera'.  This week we continue through the focus topic and take a look at a few of the options of autofocus that a lot of cameras offer and when we can use them.  I also go through the focus and recompose technique and touch on one of the pitfalls of the method.

Thanks for reading and enjoy this week and I do hope you feel like you are on your way to getting better images,

Tracey
Ok, So we have quite a few Autofocus Options - When do we Choose Which One??

Here are a few tips I have gleaned from Nikon - 

- Certainly in good lighting conditions and with a subject that isn't moving, the single point focus will ensure that the most important element in the composition is correctly focused.
- The nine point autofocus is useful when trying to focus on erratically moving subjects with greater accuracy
- For subjects where the contrast is low, camera's find it difficult to focus and sometimes the 21 or 51 point focus can help
- If you are lucky enough to have a camera with a 3D autofocus tracking, this uses the color information from the RGB sensor to automatically follow moving subjects across the autofocus points.

That said, I use the single point autofocus for practically everything as I feel that I know what I am getting when I use it!  Even for action, there are workarounds that mean you can stick with it.
Portraits - What to Focus On?
Well the person of course....right?  Well, sort of!  Remember back in previous blogs when we were trying to throw the background out of focus and have the subject stand out through our choice of aperture.  This is the second key to getting that lovely shot.   Always, always focus on the eyes.  And if there is an option, like the subject is at an angle to the camera, always focus on the closest eye.
Focus Then Recompose
There is one very important element to making a lot of use of the single point autofocus.  Yes, you can move that single point around in the frame in a limited way.  But very often you don't want to have the focus point in the position that the camera delivers it.

The image above has the single point of autofocus central in the frame.  You can immediately see that the image isn't going to be a good one.  So apart from moving away from the subject, the photographer really needs to 'recompose' the image so that they get all of the important aspects of the subject in the frame.

This is very easy and involves two steps.

1. Focus on the desired aspect of the subject (the eye) by pressing down the shutter release button half way.
2. Then whilst keeping the shutter release button half way pressed, adjust the angle of the camera so that you are happy with the composition.

I am not going to go into composition in much detail in this blog (perhaps one for 2016) as it is really outside the scope of 'You're Smarter Than Your Camera', but if you are interested, it is really worth following up to improve on your composition.

Of course with every great technique, there are some pitfalls to be aware of.  With the aperture blogs we began to understand that there is a 'plane of focus' for the camera.  If you have a large aperture, the plane of focus is pretty narrow and during a focus and recompose shot, it is possible to remove the subject from the plane of focus.  This wouldn't stop me from using this technique and during action photos you can reduce the aperture to allow a little more room for error, but it is important to be aware of the problem.  I wont go into it anymore right now, but if you would like to read more, there is a great article here which describes it perfectly - 
http://www.discoverdigitalphotography.com/2012/how-to-take-tack-sharp-photos/
When to Use Manual Focus?
We looked at the settings for manual focus last week, but when should we use it?
There are several occasions when manual focus is necessary and then others where is can be a desirable option.  Below are some options - 

- Macro photography almost always needs a manual focus setting.  The image of the ladybird below was taken with an aperture of f1.4 with manual focus and a tripod.
- Low light - shooting in low light can be very challenging and you can tell this is happening, when the lens makes the whirring sound from one end of its focus options to the other.
- Shooting through glass - the image below the ladybird is through the glass on an airplane coming into New York.  The camera doesn't focus well, it has the same problem as in low light and so manual focus was necessary.
Scenarios Where Manual Focus May be Useful
- Action - sometimes you can select a spot (focal plane) that you know the athletes will go through and then set the focus accurately on that spot using manual focus.  The image below fits into this example.
- Portraits - if the subject is stationary, it is sometimes useful to switch to manual focus to get the image you want.
Your Challenge

If you have never tried the focus and recompose method of photographing a subject, have a go.  If you are still new to all this, it helps to allow yourself to only work on one technique and leave everything else to the camera, so don't worry about having the aperture and shutter speed on auto and then concentrating on focus only for this week.  

If you are familiar with this technique, I would suggest that you give a go to discovering when the technique doesn't work i.e. try to focus, recompose so that the image doesn't work - this will help with avoiding that pitfall, when you want to make sure you get that shot!

I would love to hear stories of you finding some creative options that I haven't mentioned here.
Next Time

Next week we will look at another focus technique - 'back button' focus as well as a bit of fun with' racking the lens'....shouldn't be too hazardous!

We will also look into the technicalities behind how a camera actually does it's focusing so that you can better understand what the camera is 'thinking' on this subject.

Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy your photography :-)
As always, I would love to hear any comments or questions you have.
Thanks again,
Tracey
 
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References
 
www.wikipedia.org
Complete Guide to Digitial Photography by Rick Sammon
www.cambridgeincolour.com
www.imagemaven.com
www.luminous-landscape.com
www.nikonusa.com 
www.digital-photography-school.com
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