- Allow the camera to decide
- Select the active point yourself
- Look for an "AF-MF" switch on your lens and move it to the MF setting.
- Rotate the focus ring on your lens until you see the subject is sharp.
- Using Live View, zoom in on your subject to inspect it for sharpness. Adjust as necessary using the focus ring.
- Focus one-third up from the bottom of the frame. Because depth of field extends about twice as far behind the focal point as it does in front, focusing at the one-third point will help you maximize depth of field.
- Use a smartphone app like HyperFocal Pro for Android (shown above) or Digital DOF for iOS devices, that way you don't have to do any math!
When you're just starting out in photography, there are plenty of obstacles you have to overcome in order to create the most impactful image.
One of those challenges is to ensure that your photos are tack-sharp - something that sounds really simple and easy, but that in practice can be a little more difficult to do.
On the one hand, there are a lot of ways to get a photo that's in focus. That can get a little confusing for beginners because you might not know which method is best, or even how to utilize each method to achieve the results you want.
On the other hand, having a selection of solutions to out-of-focus photos means you have something you can use to overcome that problem in any shooting situation.
Let's have a look at some of the most common - and effective - ways to focus your camera.
Single Shot Autofocus
One of the easiest ways to focus your camera is to use single shot autofocus, which, in most cases, is the default setting, and is one of the most effective ways to avoid a blurry photo.
In single shot mode, you simply aim the camera at the subject and press the shutter button halfway.
This locks the focus on the subject, allowing you to recompose the image if need be without losing focus. This is a technique called focus and recompose.
For example, in the image above, you'd want the bridge in sharp focus, so you would position the center autofocus point on the bridge, and depress the shutter button halfway.
Then you'd recompose the shot as you see above and press the shutter button all the way down to take the photo.
The result will be a subject that's in focus, even though you've recomposed the photo.
This is a good option for landscapes and other subjects that aren't moving.
Obviously, every subject isn't perfectly still, so you need a focusing tool that allows you to track moving subjects while keeping them in focus.
Continuous autofocus gives you that ability. All you have to do is acquire the subject in your viewfinder, depress the shutter button halfway, and track the subject as it moves while keeping the shutter button half-pressed.
Doing so means the lens continuously adjusts its focus (thus, the name).
Most entry-level cameras require that you use the center autofocus point for continuous autofocus, but if you have a higher-end camera, you might be able to determine which autofocus point is used to track a moving subject.
Naturally, this type of focusing is best for things like wildlife, bird, or sports photography in which you need the camera to adjust its focus quickly.
See these autofocus methods in action in the video below by Tony and Chelsea Northrup:
Face Detection Autofocus
Not all cameras have face detection autofocus, but if yours does, it's a valuable tool for getting the focus just right for portraiture.
Basically, face detection autofocus uses algorithms to recognize shapes that resemble faces.
Once the camera recognizes a face, it prioritizes its focus on that shape.
In Live View, you can see face detection autofocus at work because it will surround a person's face with a box.
All you have to do is press the shutter button halfway to tell the camera to bring the face into focus and then press the shutter button fully to take the shot.
Select the Focus Point
No matter which autofocus mode you use, the key is to have the active autofocus point over your subject. If you don't, you won't have a subject that's sharp.
Generally, there are two methods of selecting which autofocus point is the active one:
Now, most cameras will do a pretty good job of selecting the appropriate autofocus point in most situations. But they aren't perfect...
That's why understanding how to manually select the active autofocus point is so important.
In situations in which time isn't of the essence - portraiture and landscapes among them - try selecting the autofocus point yourself. Check your camera's owner's manual if you aren't sure how to do that.
But, here's a disclaimer: your lens will focus the best when using the center autofocus point. If you use another point to acquire focus, the image might not be as sharp.
As noted earlier, pressing the shutter button halfway allows your lens to acquire focus.
Another way to acquire focus is to use what's called back-button focusing, which is explained in the video above by Jeff Cable.
Depending on our camera, you might have an autofocus button on the back of the body that allows you to fully press it to get your focus.
This is advantageous for a number of reasons, including that it prevents you from accidentally pressing the shutter button beyond halfway and taking photos before you (or the camera) are ready.
Using back-button focusing is also beneficial because you get to see the scene nice and sharp in the viewfinder, that way you don't take the photo until the subject is in focus.
When photographing moving subjects or multiple subjects, back-button focus also allows you to maintain focus on your primary subject. In other words, by releasing the autofocus button, you prevent the camera from adjusting the focus to a new subject, but you can still take photos that are focused on your primary subject.
The go-to setting on all modern cameras and lenses is automatic focus.
However, there's always a second option that gives you more control over how the focus is obtained - that's manual focus.
Though manual focusing sounds complicated, it's really not.
The process might be a bit different from one camera or lens to the next, but the following steps are pretty standard for manually focusing:
Manual focus might take a bit longer than automatic focus, but it performs better in a variety of situations, namely macro photography, when you shoot through something (i.e. using a plant in the foreground to frame a subject in the background), crowded areas like street scenes, and low-light situations.
In other words, in situations in which automatic focus struggles, don't be afraid to switch to manual focus.
A more involved and technical method of acquiring focus is to calculate the hyperfocal distance.
Basically, using hyperfocal distance requires you to use the depth of field calculations for the lens you're using to find the nearest point in the scene where you still get acceptable sharpness.
Finding this point allows you to focus at that spot, which gets you the best depth of field and maximizes the area of sharpness in the photo.
There are a number of ways to determine hyperfocal distance, but the easiest among them are:
If you're a landscape photographer, using hyperfocal distance will help you get the sharpest results.
A final method for getting perfect focus in your photos is to use focus stacking, which is achieved in post-processing.
Essentially, you take several different photos, each with a different focus point (i.e. foreground, midground, and background) and combine them together into a single image in post-processing. The resulting composite photo will be sharp from foreground to background.
This type of focusing is particularly useful for macro photography and still life subjects in which you might have a very shallow depth of field due to how close your lens is to the subject. It can also be used for landscape photography with great success.
The caveat with focus stacking is that there can't be any movement in the shot.
That's because you're taking several exposures at different times, so if something in the frame is moving (i.e. a tree moving in the wind) it will cause ghosting in the shot. In other words, whatever is moving will be blurry.
The other difficulty with using focus stacking is that you have to adjust the focus for each shot without disturbing the position of the camera. Again, if each image isn't framed and composed exactly alike, they won't combine together perfectly in post-processing.
See how to focus stack in Photoshop in the video below by PHLEARN:
With that, you have a number of techniques at your disposal to ensure you've got the focus in your shots nailed down. As with anything in photography, it will take time to master these methods.
However, once you have them down pat, you'll enjoy photos that are focused well with subjects that are tack-sharp.