Photography Tip #5:
How to Use the "Auto-Focus" Feature on Your Camera
How to Use the "Auto-Focus" Feature on Your Camera
It's true that most of today's digital cameras have automatic focus systems that do an outstanding job of finding and fixing on the exact distance between a subject and the camera lens. Used properly, the auto focus feature on expensive D-SLR cameras and inexpensive point and shoot cameras alike can deliver crystal clarity.
However, the catch is that you need to know HOW to operate the auto focus feature. First of all, it does not work the way most camera owners think it does. They point their camera in the direction of their subject, press the shutter and they think that the lens has somehow magically focused on their desired focal point.
Not quite. Here's what you really need to do:
HOW TO FOCUS PROPERLY IN AUTO MODE
1. Center your object or subject (subject’s face) inside the rectangle or bracket
that appears at the middle of the viewfinder.
2. Push and hold the shutter button half way until the camera indicates that the
subject is in focus. In most cameras, the sign that focus has "locked" onto your
target is that the middle bracket or rectangle changes color and/or camera will
emit a beep.
3. DON'T LET GO! CONTINUE DEPRESSING THE SHUTTER HALF WAY as you
reposition the framing or your desired shot and then push the shutter all the
way when you are ready to shoot.
(If you take your finger off the shutter button or release the pressure after pushing half way and focusing, the lens will immediately lose its focus and you’ll certainly get a blurry image.)
Single Point or Multi-Point Focus?
Many of today's point & shoot cameras boast multi-point focus systems, along with face recognition, that do a lot of the focus work for you. The whole idea of a multi-point focus system is to free the photographer from having to place the focal point (the main subject or the part of the frame that you wish to be in focus) in the middle of the frame in order to focus. (As you will learn in Quick Tip #11 and in the comprehensive lesson on Composition, the middle of the frame is usually NOT a good place to put your focal point.)
However, there are drawbacks of the multi-point focus system that must be addressed. Most importantly, regardless of whether your camera does a decent job of recognizing one or more faces in a frame, the question is one of control over what YOU, the photographer, intends to be in sharpest focus. Allowing the camera to decide on what to focus and, perhaps, increase the depth of field in order that everything in the frame is in focus, the creative photographer may wish to make his or her own decisions, understanding that the camera is programmed with algorythms that respond in an average manner to average situations. Your particular photographic situation may or may not be average.
Beyond this, multi-point focus systems tend to favor long depth of field (things are focused both close to and farther from the lens) when there are no faces to recognize, but there are multiple elements on which to focus. You may rather prefer that only one element at a certain depth be in focus while the others either in the foreground or background be blurry, thus emphasizing the focused element.
If you would like to have more control over focusing, it is recommended that you bypass the multi-point focus system and either shoot on manual focus (if you have a DSLR) or set the auto-focus system to a single center point. Using a signle, centre-weighted focus will allow you to place the center rectangle over top of your desired focal point, push the shutter button half way until focus becomes clear and locked, then without letting go of the shutter button's half push pressure, reframe the image so that your focal point is no longer in the middle of the frame. When you've got elements where you want them, continue pushing the shutter button the full way in order to get your masterpiece!
If you are photographing multiple images and, because of fast moving events, are not able to focus manually or use the technique mentioned in the paragraph above, then perhaps the multi-point focus system is the way to go.
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