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How to Use Focal Lock

how to use focal lock

At a recent wedding I handed my camera over to a friend to take a shot of my little family and I. We posed for a few shots, looking forward to getting home to see how they turned out (it’s amazing how few shots we have with the three of us all in them).

I didn’t think to check how they came out on the LCD after my friend took the shots and it wasn’t until I got home and downloaded them on my computer that I realised we’d been victims to the old ‘focus between the heads on the background’ mistake.

You can see what’s happened immediately when you look at the images – my friend quickly raised the camera to his eye – put us in the middle of the frame assuming that the camera would know where to focus and took the image.

The camera unfortunately didn’t know where to focus and decided that the it would focus upon the garden behind us. As a result we were treated as the foreground and thrown out of focus.

This is a common mistake that many digital camera owners make (I’m sure we’ve all done it). Digital Camera manufacturers are now making cameras with ‘face recognition’ technology to overcome it (where the cameras look for faces and make sure that they are the focal point) but most of us are stuck with cameras that don’t have this yet and need to learn about ‘focal lock’.

It’s a very simple technique and something that virtually every digital camera (and most film cameras) have the ability to do. Here’s what you do:

  • Pose your subject.
  • When framing your subject put the central point of your frame on the point that you want to focus upon (the face of a person is generally the best point).
  • With the subject’s face in the centre of your image half press down on the shutter button (not fully). This will tell the camera to focus on that point.
  • Without letting go of the shutter (it should still be half depressed) move your camera to frame your shot as you want it (ie the person’s face doesn’t need to be centred now).
  • Once you’ve got the framing right press the shutter the rest of the way and the shot will be taken with the right focussing even though the centre of your image might not be the person’s face.

This technique is not just useful for taking photos of people when they’re not central in your shots but can also be used in many other types of photography. For example in Macro shots when you want to place the insect or flower that you’re photographing off centre (using the rule of thirds) you might want to use focal lock. Similarly if you were taking a landscape shot but wanted to focus upon a house in the foreground that was off centre rather than the horizon you’d use this technique.

This technique is one that most people know but it’s something that beginners should master in the early days of their photography as it’s something you’ll use constantly. It might take a little practice but after a while it will become second nature to you.

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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