Focusing Techniques

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We’ve examined a migraine’s worth of information over the last few chapters, but now it’s time for some fun. In this section, the rubber meets the road (or the viewfinder meets the subject) and we’ll go over even more ways to get the most out of your AF system with some practical field advice. So, in no particular order…

Compose With AF Points

If you had to guess which AF point gets the most love inside the average photographer’s viewfinder, which one would get your pick? If you said the center point, you just won a subscription to my free e-mail newsletter!

Seriously though, while there are advantages to using the center AF point (as discussed earlier), under normal conditions it’s far better to use an AF point that’s in the best location for your composition.

The first drawback with using the center AF point for everything is that most photographers tend to compose their images around the focus point – especially with action. And, as every student of composition learns on the first day, the center isn’t always the best place for your main point of interest in the image.

Of course, there’s always focus and recompose, and while that’s certainly a valid technique, it’s not always ideal. First, it takes an extra moment, and when the action is hotter than a Florida blacktop in July, you’re going to miss the shot.

The second reason is when you need critical focus with very shallow depth of field, such as a close portrait with an 85mm lens at F/1.4. Moving the camera position to recompose can subtly change the focal plane and is sometimes enough to knock the eye slightly out of focus.

So, if you need the capabilities of the center AF point in a tough-to-focus scenario, sure that’s fine, and yes, I do it all the time. However, when you can, it’s better to use the correct AF point.

Here’s how I do it:

I start with the composition I want in the viewfinder, ignoring the AF area. Once I have that established, it’s only then that I move the AF point to an appropriate location. For my wildlife work, that’s the eye or as close as possible to the eye (to minimize the amount of movement required when I focus and recompose). In many cases, I can frame the shot so one of my AF points lands smack-dab on that sucker – and that’s by far my favorite scenario.

For landscapes, I decide where I want the focal point and move my AF point to the proper location (often via Live View). Otherwise, I just pick an AF point that’s close and then focus and recompose if needed.

As you can imagine, becoming an expert on this technique for static subjects takes less time than losing a toupee in a hurricane. Although once you get stationary subjects down, it’s time to crank it up a notch and apply it to tracking a moving target. Speaking of which…


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