We’ve all had this happen, right? Your camera focuses on the background and leave you all blurry. Figuring out my camera focus has dramatically changed my pictures this year, so I wanted to share a bit of what I’ve learned, and experiment with other options!
First of all, most DSLRs have three focus modes. One focuses on still objects, using a single focus point… one continually refocuses on a moving object in focus until you are ready to take the pictures… and one automatically chooses between the two other options. Here’s some more technical descriptions, if you prefer: 1, 2.
The problem is, I could never figure out which one made the most sense for blogging! I use a tripod, so there is no photographer half-pressing the button to manually trigger the focus… I need the camera to find me in the picture, and focus all on it’s own. Time for a Better Picture Project experiment!
First up, Single Area focus mode, which focuses on a still object with focus based on a single focus point. (Or so I understand, at least. Correct me if I’m wrong on any of this!) It did put me in focus most of the time, but notice how in the second pic it focused sharply on my dress and cowl, but my head is a bit out of focus? In the third pic, I was off to the side and the tree in in focus, not me.
Verdict: Ok, but doesn’t seem the most reliable. I want to be in focus all the time!
Next: Dynamic Area focus mode. As I understand it, this mode uses multiple points of focus to keep a moving object in focus. However it works, it got all of my pictures sharply in focus as I walked away from the camera.
Verdict: No complaints! It worked well following me as I moved.
Finally, Auto Area focus mode. This one is supposed to automatically which of the two settings above are best for the shot. According to the Nikon website, this setting also is programmed to focus on faces, though I’m not sure if my camera is too old for that feature. This is the default setting for the camera.
Verdict: In focus all the time!
Which is my favourite? Drumroll, please… They all worked better than I expected! I thought there’s be a clear winner, but there was very little difference. The Single Area focus mode seemed the least reliable, but it did give me some great photos. I think I’ll keep the camera on Auto Area focus or Dynamic for now.
So why do my photos sometimes turn out blurry? It turns out the answer isn’t actually focus mode… it’s me!
When do I get blurry pictures? When I interfere with the camera, of course! Above, I’d used the shutter button to focus on a some footprints in the snow… and below, I’d focused on the left-hand tree branches. Notice how the focus is locked and it’s not refocusing as I move backwards and forward?
This is how I used to take pictures all the time, until this summer! I’d focus on something, go stand where I thought I’d focused, and dance back and forth trying to get in the sweet spot. It’s a bit mind-boggling that if I’d just turned the camera on and stepped in front, I would have had much better pictures!
As proof, I turned the camera off and back on, and took these without changing a single setting:
BAM! All perfectly in focus. Learn from my mistakes people, and trust the camera to do it’s thing.
Yes, this is a long post that basically says “Leave your camera on full auto”, which is never what a good photographer would tell you… but if I was unconsciously making my life harder, than I’m sure some of you are too. And when there is no photographer being fancy behind the camera, I think it’s important to figure out how to make photography quick and easy!
Does your camera focus automatically, or is it something you struggle with? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks, and what you do to get in-focus shots!