Be Focused – Top 8 tips for Perfect Focus.

Something that is often asked of me is “Why am I having issues with my focusing?”

It’s something that can ruin the perfect shot, you look at the back of the camera, it looks amazing, but when you download it and check it out the focus is not quite right!! So let’s have a look at what might be causing this really annoying problem.

1. Focus not quite in the right spot! When you use autofocus you leave it up to the camera to find the focus for you. The camera will try to find the edges of the subject so it’s looking for that contrast to grab on to. If it can’t find that edge contrast it will keep trying and trying until it does. So we need to make sure we put the autofocus point on something with an edge contrast. The autofocus point can sometimes not grab the spot that we want as that point can include many part of the image eg. You want to focus on the eyes but the camera focuses on the nose or forehead instead. This problem will be more often found when using smaller apertures. . If you use the central autofocus point and focus then recompose you might also have a problem at shallow depth of field because the plane shifts.  

Solution: Learn to manual focus or learn to toggle the autofocus points. For the focus recompose method try focusing them keeping the camera straight while moving it rather than swivelling or tilting the camera.


2. Camera Shake / Camera Blur – Getting a bit excited about a shot and pressing down hard on the button while using a slower shutter speed is often the reason for this! Basically what has happened here is that the camera has moved while the shutter is open, the longer the shutter is open the more chance you have of the camera moving. Our hands shake, it’s imposable to hold them perfectly steady. Most photographers can train themselves to be steadier but at some stage, the shutter will be to slow for this not to happen.

Solution: A good rule is to try to stay above 1/100. Most photographers can hold a camera reasonably steady at that speed. Some lens’s come with image stabilization or vibration reduction which can also help reduce particularly camera shake. The longer the lens to faster the shutter speed should be if you want to avoid this problem. If you are using a tripod and have this problem with slow shutter speed images it could be the wind bashing against your camera so try to create a wind break for your camera if you can.


3. Crappy lens’s – We are all tempted to buy crappy lenses when we start out. The good glass is sometimes out of our price range when we are first practicing our craft. If you have a cheap lens the best advice is don’t push it. What I mean by that is don’t push it to its limits aperture wise, go for the middle of the range of its aperture. The same goes for zoom lenses, try not to use the extremes of the focal length and you should find that this helps.

Solution: if you know your glass isn’t the best then don’t push it to its limits.

4. To shallow a DOF – my pet hate, using such a shallow depth of field that you focus on the wrong part of the image. A great example of this is when you photograph a face and one eye is in focus and the other eye is not.

Solution: be mindful of the shallowness of the DOF  with small apertures, zoom in on your area of interest to make sure you are not missing the focus.

5. Diopter issues – the dioptre is the little wheel that is usually located next to the viewfinder on almost all DSLR’s. it allows you to adjust the viewfinder so you can see the images clearly. If you can’t see the image clearly you won’t be able to see if it’s in focus. I have hear of newbies that complain that they can’t see through viewfinders clearly and they use the live view screens on the back of the camera to compose images – and the issues is often that the Diopter has been moved and makes it look out of focus.

Solution: Check the Diopter is focused for you and your eyesight before you start.

6. Motion or movement of the subject – so everything is in focus except for what I am trying to take a picture of? That means your subject is moving faster than the shutter can catch it.

Solution: Use a faster shutter speed or use panning techniques to follow the subject and its movement. Panning makes the subject you are following with your camera in focus and the environment that are traveling through blurred. It’s a tricky one to use when you first try it but well worth the practice.

7. Not applying sharpening to digital files. – If you are shooting raw images then you need to apply some sharpening when you process the images. Even Jpgs need the camera to apply some sharpening for you.

Solution: learn to sharpen your images as you edit them (be careful that you don’t over sharpen them 0 another pet hate of mine ;-))

8. Clean the lens – this sounds like such an obvious one but please please please give your lens a clean every now and then. Looking after your equipment is so important, and finger prints can easily leave oils and dirt on the lens. Of course if you’re going for the soft focus look have at it LOL.

Solution: keep a lens cleaning cloth in your camera bag and check it every now and then to make sure it is clean.

The more you practice your skills as a photographer the more this becomes second nature. If you are having issues with particular parts of focusing then set up stuff and practice and play and see what the best way for you to approach the problem is. No one gets it right the first time – It can be frustrating but remember that the more you screw it up the more you will learn.


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