Facebook Pixel Focusing Tips for Beginners – Ways to Achieve Spot-on Focus in Photography

Focusing Tips for Beginners – Ways to Achieve Spot-on Focus in Photography


Focus is vital. Capturing your subject in crisp, sharp focus requires skill and practice. You need to understand the various auto-focus controls on your camera. Here are some focusing tips for beginners to help you get sharp photos more consistently.

Focusing Tips for Beginners, Thai models

© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 105mm f/2.8, 1/400 sec., f/3.2, ISO 500

There’s no fixing an out-of-focus photo

Many digital photographers like to use the various sharpening options available in software. Don’t be tempted. I have never known an out-of-focus photo to be well improved with post-production manipulations.

Sharpening in post can, however, help images that are a little soft. This is often due to lens quality rather than poor focusing. Either your photos are in focus or they are not. Focusing tips for beginners are important to understand. There is no fixing an out of focus photo with your computer.

Focusing Tips for Beginners Asian Photographer

© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 35mm f/1.4, 1/400 sec., f/2, ISO 100

Focus on your subject

Pick your point and focus on it. Having the wrong part of your composition in focus will not result in a good photograph. You must decide what’s in your frame that’s most important and focus on it.

Focusing tips for beginners often contain information about operating your camera better. I will include these tips here also. But first, it’s important to know what you want to focus on. This is something I prefer not to let my camera choose for me.

As you are composing your photo, be mindful of your main subject. Consider it’s depth. Is most of your subject the same distance from your camera? Or is some of it closer to you than other parts?

Photographing a bicycle that’s side on to you, most of it is about the same distance from your camera. Taking a photo of the bike as it faces the camera will mean you need to choose whereabouts on it to focus. If you focus on the back wheel, the front wheel may be out of focus.

One rule of thumb I use most of the time is, if your subject has eyes, focus on them. If one eye is closer to your camera than the other, focus on the closest one. Subjects with eyes that are out of focus rarely look good in photos.

Young girl looking up at the camera

© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 35mm f1.4, 1/800 sec., f/1.4, ISO 400

Multi or single point auto-focus?

Digital cameras usually have various setting options for choosing your focus point. You can set your camera to only focus on a single point. Or you can set it to choose from multiple points. More advanced cameras allow you to set the area and number of focus points.

I prefer to have my camera set to single point auto-focus. This allows me to be precise and in control of what I focus on. Having your camera set to multi-point auto-focus means your camera chooses what part of your composition to focus on.

Some camera models allow you to move the single focus point to position it where you want in the frame. In other cameras, the single point for auto-focusing is central in the frame and you cannot move it. To use the single point on these cameras, you must shift your camera to focus where you want and then re-compose. I would find this frustrating. It will not always provide correct focus when you are using a very wide aperture setting.

Iron Bridge at night in Chiang Mai, Thailand

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Using a camera where you can precisely control the single point the camera will auto-focus on, gives you control. You can move the point to the portion of the frame where you want to focus easily. This may take some practice to become quick at it, but it’s worthwhile when you want to be in control.

About the only time I use multi-point auto-focusing, is when I am tracking a moving subject that is constant. The camera will often be able to lock on and keep with a subject unless the subject is moving erratically. Accuracy when using this mode can also depend on how fast your subject is moving. Your subject will be easier to track when it’s slow-moving.

Focusing Tips for Beginners Asian photogrpaher and her camera

© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D700, Lens 105mm f/2.8, 1/640, f/3. ISO 400

Continuous or single-servo auto-focus?

Choosing continuous or single-servo auto-focus is another important decision. When you choose continuous focus, your camera will always be refocusing while you have the focus button activated. With single-servo auto-focus, pressing the focus control, it will focus once and remain set on that point – even when your subject or camera moves.

Continuous-servo focusing is most useful when you have a moving subject, or you are moving with your camera. If I am using continuous-servo focus, I am often also using a multi-point setting. However, most of the time, I use single-servo focusing.

Focusing Tips for Beginners Tricycle taxis in Chiang Mai

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Back button focus

By default, cameras are configured to use the shutter release button to focus. You will half depress the shutter button to focus. Some cameras allow you to turn off focusing on the shutter button and assign the focus function to another button.

Many photographers like to change the focus function to be controlled by one of the buttons on the back of the camera. Hence the name, back button focus.

Doing this allows you to focus independently from taking a photo. Assigning a button other than the shutter release to control focus, gives you more flexibility. You can focus and take photos independently when different buttons control these functions.

Back button focus can take a little getting used to, but I have found it well worthwhile because it gives me more control of my focus.

There are many situations where you might want to take a photo without refocusing, and back-button focusing allows you to do this.

rice fields and blue sky

© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 55mm, 1/500, f/11, ISO 400

Using manual focus

Another of the focusing tips for beginners is manual focusing. Some may think that manual focusing is too slow or difficult, but it’s not if you practice it.

You can become proficient in a short space of time if you commit to learning. Once you know how you will be surprised at how often manual focus skills come in handy.

Auto-focus is a wonderful technology, but it’s not always perfect. When you find your lens searching for a focus point and struggling to find one, it pays to switch over to manual if you know what you are doing.

Manually controlling your focus in low light can often be faster and more precise than your camera’s auto-focus. Learning to focus manually is also a lot cheaper than upgrading to a higher quality camera that has better auto-focus.

Portrait of a Karen man in northern Thailand

© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, Lens 105mm f/2.8, 1/200 sec., f/6.3, ISO 400

Focus technique

I hope you have found these focusing tips for beginners useful. Remember, don’t leave it all to your camera. Getting well-focused images is not all about managing your camera’s auto-focus system. You need to work on your focus techniques and know what to do when you are photographing different subjects. This is particularly important when your subject is moving.

Sometimes you’ll want to track focus. At other times you’ll want to pre-focus and wait for your subject to enter your frame. When doing macro photography, it can be useful to set your focus and then move your camera or subject forwards or back a little to fine-tune.

Practice, as always, will make you sharper, and your images too.

Do you have any other focusing tips for beginners that you’d like to share? If so, please do so in the comments.

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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience that he loves to share with others.

Check out his website and his Buy Me a Coffee page.

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