Let's Focus

I often get the question from photographers ‘Why are my photos out of focus?’ Which leads to … ‘Is there something wrong with my camera?’

I tell people, it is all about balance.

So, how do you find this elusive balance?

More often than not, the photos aren’t out of focus, so much as they are blurry from movement (either of the object or camera shake from the movement of your hands while you take the photo). There is a difference between a focusing problem and a motion blur problem, but they can look very similar! Out of focus means that you (or the camera) did not focus on a specific spot. Sometimes you can actually find that the camera chose to focus on a different spot than you would have liked it to. There are several factors that play into this:

If you are using autofocus, your camera usually focuses on either the brightest object in the frame, or the closest object in the frame. There are ways to override this, but each camera is different. Here are a few of the options you might want to consider and look into in your manual.

1. Can you change the focus point of your camera? There may be options to focus on the centre, the entire scene or to choose a specific area to focus on. What is your camera currently set to focus on and how do you change it?

2. On my camera, I use automatic / centre focusing. I put my centre point on the part of the picture that I want in focus, hold my shutter release half way to lock focus and then reframe my photo before pressing the shutter release all the way. Not all cameras allow you to do this, but many do.

3. Can you choose to shoot on manual focus and trust your eyes to tell you when the subject of your photo is in focus? This is the tried and true way, but it does count on you having good eyesight and your subject being stationary. It does not work as well with moving objects.

4. Want to make sure that your entire photo (or as close as possible) is in focus? Try shooting with an aperature of F16 – F32. This gives the greatest depth of field. If you focus on something mid-distance from the camera, most of what is closer to the camera and further away should also be in focus. Of course, there are exceptions to this, such as if something is extremely close to the lens, it may still not be fully in focus. But, this is a trick that can help you in a lot of situations.

5. Want to make sure that only one part of your photo is in focus? Try shooting with F2.8 – F5.6. Focus on the subject of your photo and then reframe to line it up the way you’d like. Your subject will be in sharp focus, but you’ll see that everything else quickly becomes out of focus. Tried this but it looks like nothing is in focus? Try once more and focus manually on your subject. If it still doesn’t work, change your aperature from F4 to F5.6 or F2.8 to F4. Don’t forget to adjust your shutter speed or iso to compensate so that you still get a properly lit photo.

6. If you are seeing ‘ghosting’ in your photos where the image looks like it has a bit of a shadow, this is likely due to either the movement of your hands when you are taking the photo, or the movement of the object itself. This happens when your shutter speed is too slow. Most people can hand hold their camera at about 1/60th of a second, depending on the length and weight of the lens they are using. When I use my 70 – 200 lens, I can only hand-hold at 1/200th of a second. If you are getting ghosting, you need to increase the shutter speed. For example, if you are at 1/10th, change it to 1/125th. This will also mean you will have to adjust your iso and / or aperture accordingly to still get the proper lighting for your shot. Or, keep the 1/10th of a second, but put your camera on a tripod to reduce camera shake. This will only help if the ghosting was caused by your own movement. If the object is blowing in the wind, you will still see movement of the object at 1/10th of a second.

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