Understand Focus in Photography Easy Way

Focus in photography phodus

Focus is photography plays a vital role that cannot be ignored. This is so natural in use that it is left unnoticed to discuss. This is the basic which comes to us unknowingly. When you click a picture. It’s visible and you like it. But if it’s not clear or visible you know that’s not the way a picture should look.

This is the basic we all know but rarely discuss on any platform. But the focus in digital photography is deep.

There are many more things we need to know as a photographer. Here in this article, I will talk about it and what are the different focus modes available in this camera. Also how it affects your photographs.

So let’s Dive in.

What is Focus?

Focus is what you see in the image is more visible than any other part of it. It is the result of the light and the aperture. The area in the picture which you want to look more clear is the focus. Let me break it down.

You take a picture and you know what the subject is. The basic concept of photography is to capture the light with correct exposure. To present the scene as it is or as you want it to see. What if the scene is not visible or the subject is blurry. 

Here comes the role of focus means detailing the main part of your scene to form the picture.

Focus is the portion in your image which is detail and visible to see.

Final words:

“Anything in the frame which is not blurred is in focus”

“The area in the scene which is sharper or clear is the focus”

The sharpness tells you whether the subject is in focus or not. The result of light and the lens aperture controls the focus.

Depth of field is a result of focus. Which is the effect of the Aperture?

Large apertures(Small in no.) like f/1.4 or f/1.8 create a shallow depth of field.

Small apertures(large in no.) like f/11 or f/22 creates a wider depth of field.

Depth of field means “ the amount of area in focus in front and back of the subject”.

Check out this for better understanding:

Focus Modes

The parameter that controls the focus is the focus mode in your camera. There are generally two types of focus modes in your camera. 

  • Autofocus Modes
  • Manual Mode

Autofocus modes

In this mode, the camera selects the focus automatically. You need to set a particular limitation. There are many autofocus modes but the major ones most DSLR and mirrorless camera have are:

  • AF-S Single Shot
  • AF-C Continuous Shot

AF-S Single Shot/OneShot

In this mode, you can lock focus on the subject and can reframe the scene. The autofocus will do its job. 

This mode is best suitable for situations where you have time to recompose your shot. Or have enough time between the next shot.

Best for capturing isolated subjects that are easy to identify in the scene. Like capturing statics subjects or slow-moving subjects. Every time you recompose the camera will detect the subject and focus it automatically. 

Best for portraits photography and street photography. In these types of photography, the subject is still and the camera gets enough time to focus.

This is not good for fast-moving subjects. Once you lock the focus in the next shot you may miss the focus because of the speed of the subject.

To solve these issues there is AF-C.

AF- C Continuous Mode/AI Servo

In this mode, the camera keeps the focus on moving subjects continuously. As long as you press the shutter button halfway. This mode is best for fast-moving subjects. Every time the subject moves it refocuses on the subject.

This mode is best suitable for photography like:

  • Sports photography
  • Wildlife photography

You don’t have to worry about the focus. The camera will do its job automatically. The focus area of the subject will be sharper.

Use this mode while capturing a bird in flight or a dog playing around. 

So these were the two types of autofocus modes now let’s check the Manual mode.

Manual mode

In manual mode, controls are in your hand. You have to decide on the subject and focus on it. In this, the focus is controlled through the lens ring. You have to rotate the ring to focus on the subject.

This mode is not for fast-moving subjects and even for slow-moving subjects. You don’t have enough time to focus on the subject as it is too fast. It will run away from the frame within a second.

Just imagine wedding photography, motorsports photography with manual focus. It’s never possible. 

The mode is best for static shots. Where the subject is not moving and you have enough time to frame and focus your scene. Until the next shot.

The best example would be:

  • Landscape photography
  • Architecture photography
  • Product photography
  • Macro Photography
  • Portraits Photography

In the above-mentioned list, things are static so you can do the focus manually. In landscape photography. You want a wider depth of field to make everything visible. For that purpose, you have to keep a fast aperture. Then rotate the lens ring for focus.

In portraits photography, this mode is best only when the subject is in your command. Like in street portraits shots the subject might move. So in such a case, this mode will not work.

In product photography, everything is in your command. So this mode is best for such shoots. Also in commercial and advertisement photography. Where you need detailed images for banners and display.

Manual mode is best for creating sharp images.

Autofocus Area modes

In autofocus modes, the camera provides various autofocus areas to decide the focus point of your subject. If you got that artistic side in you. There are many autofocus areas modes in the latest DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. But you may not find all of these in your camera. As it depends on the companies. 

Here I have mentioned the most common one found on Canon and Nikon.

  • Single-point AF
  • Dynamic Autofocus
  • Auto Area AF
  • Group Area Autofocus
  • 3D – Tracking Autofocus

Single-point AF

In the provided focus area in your camera viewfinder. You can select a single spot of focus point as per your subject or wish. Out of many rectangular shapes, you can select one of them. That will be indicated by a red rectangular.

You can change the position of the focus point by rotating the wheel dial in the camera body. Or by using the joystick if it is available in your camera. High-end cameras usually have such control.

This mode is for focusing on the small portion of the scene. Let it be anywhere on the radar of the focus area.

For example, focus on the eyes of the subject in street photography or portraits photography. Also when the bird is in flight. It covers the very small portion of the frame. You can spot the bird by single-point AF.

Group Area Autofocus

In this area mode, the focus point is active in more than one place. When you will see the viewfinder you will see multiple focus points selected in the focus area, at the same time. The focus point is selected automatically by the autofocus technologies.

The focus points depend upon camera to camera. Some give the option of 8 points and some give 21 focus points and so on.

This area mode is best for capturing wide-angle shots or bigger subjects. Where you want a large part of the subject to be visible.

The best example would be landscape photography. As you want a large part to be in focus. This is also good for fast-moving subjects as you don’t want to miss the subject to be in focus.

Auto-Area Autofocus

In this area mode, the camera selects the focus point automatically. The best part of this mode is it not only selects the focus point but also, where to focus in the scene.

This mode is best for fast-moving subjects. Where you don’t have time to focus and decide the focus point every time you shoot. So this mode works pretty well but only in good lighting conditions.

The drawback of this mode is. It fails in low light situations. Your camera couldn’t detect what to focus on. It also fails in low contrast scenes. Where there is less difference in the subject and the background. Your camera may have a problem selecting the right focus point.

This mode is for good lighting conditions. Though there are exceptions to this like city night photography. where the focus points are on the light. And create beautiful night images.

The auto area mode is not good for static subjects. As it may focus on the place where you don’t want. So it’s good to use single-point AF.

Dynamic Area Autofocus

This area mode is similar to the single point autofocus mode. But it has a dynamic feature, extra features added to it. When you select the focus point it will change the focus point if the subject moves.

This mode is best for fast-moving subjects. Where it focuses on the subject every time it moves. This is done automatically by your camera. You just have to press the shutter button halfway.

Best for wildlife photography as the animals can move anytime while capturing them.

3D tracking Autofocus

You can say this mode is similar to Dynamic mode. But it’s not as good as that. It is also not fast and accurate as Dynamic mode. 

In this mode, the camera focuses on the subject as it moves within the focus zone. You don’t have to pan the camera along the subject to keep it close to the focus point.

This is also best for wildlife photography. As the subject keeps on moving every time.

Don’t get bewildered if you don’t find all these options on your camera. All cameras don’t have all of these options. It depends upon the camera to the camera. Whereas some have additional modes as well like for video autofocus.

Phase detection and Contrast Detection

These are the benefits of advanced technologies available these days in DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. Though the companies are in huge competition to improve their detection technologies. To make it a better experience when it comes to focusing.

These are the two main autofocus systems in your camera. Phase detection and contrast detection.

Phase Detection

This system works very fast compared to contrast detection. This is good for fast-moving subjects. Though sometimes it fails to get the correct focus and may mislead to unwanted focus.

The companies are gradually improving in phase-detection technologies. Like eye detection, face detection also animals eye detection.

This phase helps in capturing wildlife photography and many other photographs.

Contrast Detection

This system of focus is not as fast as Phase Detection. In contrast detection. The camera detects the difference between the main subjects and the background. And makes the focus according to that.

Everything you capture doesn’t have eyes or it has other parts also to get focus. So this system detects the difference and makes the focus automatically.

This system is not good at tracking moving subjects. As it takes more data to process and takes longer time to lock the focus.

This is good when your subject isn’t moving. Like landscape photography, product photography, etc.

The question is how does it work in your camera. The phase-detection works when you look through the viewfinder.

On the other hand, the contrast detection works when you view the scene through your LCD screen in live view.

Phase detection works more quickly but the contrast-detection works more accurately. And it is best for non-moving subjects.

Focus Stacking

As a beginner, you must have not heard. Let’s see what it means and how to process it in your photography.

It is always not possible to focus on every part of the frame. While photographing a few portions which you want to be focused but might be unfocused. In such a situation focus stacking plays its role.

In this method, you take multiple photos at different focus points and later combine them all in to make one image. This process is done through post-production software like Adobe Photoshop.

This method is best for situations when you want a large part of the scene to be visible and sharp. Like landscape photography and architecture photography.

This type of method is not used frequently. It should be used only when it’s necessary. 

The issue with focus stacking is that it is time taking and needs editing skills to get the best result.

This method will not work if anything in the frame is moving. So it’s not possible with fast-moving subjects.

AF-ON Button/Back Button Focus

You might have not noticed or not bothered about it. There is an AF-On button on the back of the camera body, near the viewfinder. This is also known as the “Back button focus”.

How do you focus on your subject? By pressing the shutter button halfway and pressing it furthermore clicks the picture. This is the default focusing button for autofocus.

The AF-On button is similar to the shutter button. The purpose of this button is to focus on it. But the difference is it’s just used for focusing not for capturing the image.

There are many situations when you want to recompose your scene to focus on a different area of the frame. In such a situation the back focus button plays a pretty drastic role.

This is an amazing feature you should try and use in your photography life.

How to use focus in different types of photography?

The same focus mode cannot be used in all types of photography. So let’s see how it goes with different types of photography.

  • Landscape Photography
  • Sports Photography
  • Portraits Photography
  • Wildlife Photography

Landscape Photography

In landscape photography you want your viewers to see a wider depth of field. Almost everything is visible and clear in the picture. 

It’s static photography where the subjects are not moving. So you have time to focus on the subjects.

So in landscape photography use manual mode or AF-S.

Sports Photography

In Sports Photography there are fast-moving subjects. So it’s impossible to use manual mode in this case. 

In such situations use Autofocus and in this use AF-C continuous autofocus mode. And when it comes to choosing the autofocus area go for “Auto-area autofocus”. You can also choose the dynamic area autofocus.

Portraits Photography

When you capture portraits I assume the subject is in your control. So in such cases, you can use manual mode but it takes a lot of practice to use this very frequently. I will only prefer mode if you require very high-quality images.

The manual mode might be time taking for you. So in such cases use AF-S mode. As the subject will be static and you will get better results.

Wildlife Photography

Manual mode is not possible in Wildlife photography as the subject will be in movement. In these types of photography use AF-C modes. And for focus point use Auto-area autofocus or dynamic Area autofocus.

It’s up to the situation and your requirement for the image you are looking for.

Where To focus?

Oh, what a silly question. Yes, but sometimes you might get confused like where to focus. You probably know where to focus while capturing portraits shot.

You will say we focus on the eyes or the face. Yes, correct but its always not true. Because to add some creativity or to give some message to the viewer. Photographers tend to focus on other things too.

Like in portraits the model is holding a message board, so the focus will be on the message board with her face as a background.

So the main point here is what message you want to convey through your picture. Put your focus point according to that. 

Many photographers add creativity to their images. By blurring the foreground and focus on the background like in landscape photography.

So use your common sense as well as your artistic view while deciding the focus point.

Conclusion

Focus in Photography is easy to understand. And so now you know how the focus system works in your camera. It’s your time to practice the above-mentioned topic with your camera. Go grab your camera and press the shutter button.

Point to be noted: Once you miss the focus it cannot be fixed in the post production. So make sure while capturing pictures. if it is not in focus take another shot and fix it.

If still you have any doubt or question in your mind. You can comment below. I would love to hear it from you.

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