Get To Know Your Camera (Part 2) - Focusing

6/7/2012 6:33:45 PM


Capture creative shots in camera by changing your focus settings

Focusing can often get overlooked when you’re out shooting, as it can be all too easy to rely on your camera’s Auto mode. However, you would be mistaken to think that most cameras offer a straightforward auto or manual focus setting. In fact, autofocus (AF) has developed rapidly over the last few years in both precision and speed, and there are optional settings to suit all scenarios.

Take a look through your camera’s menu or manual to discover all of your optional focus modes and then follow along with us to find which setting is right for your shot. In this four-page guide we will take you through how to compose more creatively in-camera by changing your focus settings, and you will discover how easy it is to shoot pro-like shots even on a compact camera. We will outline the most common focus settings and show you how to use them both correctly and more creatively. Take a closer look at our image examples and you will see just how easy it is to combine pin-sharp focus precision with in-camera creativity.

Focusing modes

Discover what settings are available on your camera and Learn how you can use them

Ideal for focusing on stationary subjects, all cameras offer a number of optional focus points, which enables you to select a specific AF area. Typically DSLR cameras provide more focus points than compacts or cameraphones.

Use multi-point AF when you want to focus on more than one subject in an image. This is the best focus setting for photographing a bunch of flowers, or a group shot, because it encompasses the majority of the frame.

Ideal for shooting fast-moving subjects such as cars, children, pets or wildlife, the continuous AF mode tracks movement, ensuring your shots stay sharp. Most new compacts will have continuous AF, although cameraphones struggle with motion.

Manual focusing is not available on all cameras and needs a good eye to make sure your shots are sharp and in focus. Available with all DSLRs and most CSC cameras, you can adjust the focus ring around the lens until your subject comes into focus.

Focus locking

You may want to compose a capture where your main subject is situated slightly off-centre in the frame but find that your camera automatically focuses in the middle of the shot. This is because some cameras have a limited number of focus points, which is where this focus locking technique can come in handy. In two simple steps, you can override the fixed AF point by re-composing your shot to focus first, here's how...

1.    Start by framing your subject in the centre of your photograph so that the camera can correctly focus on it. Press the shutter halfway down in order for the camera to focus.

2.    Once the focus is locked, continue holding down the shutter halfway and then re-compose your shot with your focused subject positioned off-centre, you can now press the shutter down completely to capture your composition.

Foreground focus

A professional way to shoot portraiture, this focusing effect is great for giving your shots a three-dimensional feel. By setting a single AF point on your subject, you can effectively blur out the background scene and create a shallow depth of field effect. The further away you position your model, the more softly focused the background becomes. By combining this with a wide aperture setting, you can completely remove background distractions.

Sharp movement

Moving subjects can be particularly hard to shoot in focus. Switching your settings to continuous AF can help, provided you can keep up with all the action. When used correctly with a fast shutter speed, you should be able to freeze motion with pin-sharp precision. But why not try getting creative? By extending your shutter speed slightly and panning with your moving subject, your focus should remain sharp but the added element of speed will be included, thanks to the trailing motion blur created with a slower shutter speed.

Background focus

Lead the eye into your image by blurring out the focus in the foreground. Another creative way to shoot portraiture, this effect can add emphasis to your subject and is a more creative way of achieving a soft focus effect. In order to shoot this successfully, position your model further back in the frame with the foreground detail still visible around the edges. Then set a single AF point in the middle of the photograph so that only your subject will be in focus when you shoot.


Get creative with your focus control and find other artistic ways to frame and shoot a scene. Photographing through glass provides plenty of artistic opportunity; try focusing on any foreground details such as patterns in the glass or raindrops. This can be a great way to add texture and depth to your image and will work particularly well with a bright and colourful out-of-focus background. Cobwebs and other patterned items covered in water or dew drops will also make a great subject matter to experiment on.


Not all out-of-focus shots need to be deleted. Opting to shoot a subject out of focus can often result in great abstract art. Before you begin shooting, select a subject that is bright, colourful or patterned in design. This will help to add depth and create definition in your blurred image. If your camera has manual focus control, simply pull it out of focus before you shoot. For autofocus cameras, press the shutter down quickly to prevent the camera from finding a focus point in the frame.

Technical tip

To exaggerate the area of focus in the frame use a wide aperture setting to create a shallow depth of field.

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