My Adventures In Photography

A while back I started a photography column for my hometown's local newspaper — you'll find all of my columns from those pages here as well as new ones that I write.

To see all of my blog posts to date, click here.

An issue of focus

 FORCING FOCUS: Sometimes cameras can focus on the background instead of your subject. A good way to fix that problem is to force your autofocus points to look at your subject. One simple fix is to just enable one autofocus point and align it with your subject. Problem solved. 

FORCING FOCUS: Sometimes cameras can focus on the background instead of your subject. A good way to fix that problem is to force your autofocus points to look at your subject. One simple fix is to just enable one autofocus point and align it with your subject. Problem solved. 

A continuing problem I've seen friends and colleagues encounter with photography has prompted me to write this post. Their photos are out of focus.

Now, it's not for a lack of trying — sometimes the camera can just goof up and grab the wrong thing. Suddenly, you're looking at a photo where the main subject in front of you is a gigantic blob of blur and the background (the part that you don't care about as much) is crisp and clear.

I've touched on this issue in previous posts, but I thought that this post would be a good medium to tackle the issue once and for all.

First, in order to fix the problem you need to understand it.

The problem stems from something called depth of field. The "field," or area that is in focus in your photo, is what draws the viewer's attention.

Between you and the background lies your subject and, depending on where the focus ring has been set on your camera's lens (or any camera for that matter, point-and-shoots/phones suffer from this too) your subject can either be in focus or drastically out of focus.

 In the photo above, I included the autofocus points to show you where the camera focused. Obviously... it didn't focus where I wanted it to.

In the photo above, I included the autofocus points to show you where the camera focused. Obviously... it didn't focus where I wanted it to.

When a photo is taken with the subject in focus, the blurred background is referred to as "bokeh." How much bokeh is in your photo is determined by your camera's aperture settings (see my aperture post by clicking here).

Aperture controls how wide your depth of field is and contributes to how much of your photo is in focus.

I usually prefer to use a wide-open aperture because it creates a beautiful bokeh.

So, with that (briefly) explained, here's the root of the problem: your camera's autofocus points are choosing to have the background in focus instead of the subject you want.

The fix? Tell your camera to focus on your subject by forcing your autofocus points to look where you want them to. For phones, it's as easy as tapping on the person on the screen. For fancier cameras, you'll have to look at your manual or play around with the buttons to enable or disable the autofocus points.

Some cameras have as little as six autofocus points, more advanced Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras have as many as 61. 

That's a lot of room for error, but it's also a lot of room for possibilities as camera technology has really come a far way as fixing the problem that this post is addressing.

My camera for instance, the Canon 5D Mark iii (released in 2013) has a bunch of autofocus modes in the menu that can customize how the camera sees a scene. For instance, I can change it to a mode where the subject quickly moves into the scene and the camera will look for that. Very handy.

A good catch-all to fix this issue is sometimes to turn off all of the autofocus points but one (usually the point in the center of the frame). This will force only that autofocus point to work and whenever you align your subject with that point it will always, ALWAYS focus there. No more accidental background shots that leave your subject blurred.

Another fix is to forgo autofocus altogether and just use manual focus. If you have a subject that isn't moving, it's sometimes easier to just eyeball it.

In the example attached to this post, I used my feline friend, Jett, as an example.

I included where the autofocus points were on each photo so you can see where the camera grabbed focus from. As you can see, the autofocus points in the second photo completely ignored my cat, to his and my dismay.

So, the fix? Well, other than manually focusing, I could just go into my settings on the camera and enable only the autofocus points I wanted to use so there was no confusion. Problem solved.

I hope this post helped expand your understanding of how to fix this focusing issue. Be sure to read your manual about how to change the autofocus points on your specific model of camera and have fun shooting!