If you love photography, you probably love learning new skills and techniques to use. But learning the basic mechanics of a camera’s operation can be exceptionally beneficial for improving your skills behind the lens, too.


So, today, we’re learning about camera focus, and how the mechanics work, as well as how to best use manual settings for getting the clearest focus possible in your images.


What is Focus?

There are many definitions of the word “focus.” For our purposes, we’re discussing the condition of the subject of a photograph having clarity, without any blurring of the focused point of the image.


How Does Focus Work in a Camera?

Cameras have a convex lens, through which light travels. The direction or angle at which light hits the lens can affect the image that is created by the camera. The structure of the lens has a significant impact on the clarity of an image as well.


Light may come through the lens at a variety of angles. The distance from the object will affect how the light enters to lens, as does the actual angle at which the camera is held in relationship to the photographic subject.


The lens is what directs the way the light is reflected and seen. The lens bends the light as it enters it, and directs it to a prism or other surface, and thus produces the image seen in the viewfinder or electronic LCD screen.


Ultimately, all of this is what creates the focus of a camera.


What Types of Focus are There?

There are four primary focus options in DSLR cameras.

Auto Focus

The auto focus is the easiest way to focus an image on a camera, and nearly always guarantee the photo will be in focus.


The auto focus on a camera uses a sensor, control system, and motor to automatically select the subject of a photo. The motor will adjust the lens to bring the subject of the photo into focus. The auto focus does the work for you.


Auto focus is particularly useful to those who are unfamiliar with cameras, or for those who have vision problems and might slightly blur photos without use of corrective vision lenses.


Make sure you don’t trip the switch to manual focus. If you do, you might wind up with images that are out of focus.


Single Shot Mode Focus

Both Canon and Nikon offer the single shot mode focus option. This mode is generally used for photos of a single stationary object, whether that’s a person that won’t be moving – like a model – or a teapot on a tabletop.


This function allows you to focus on the subject of the photo as you press the shutter button down halfway. You can then adjust the framing of the image but keep the subject of the photo in focus.


For example, you may be photographing a sleeping cat in a windowsill, so you point the camera at the cat, and press the button down halfway, with the cat at the center of the frame.


Now, you can adjust the frame so that the cat is at the lower left-hand corner of the image, and the cat will remain in focus, despite the camera repositioning to re-frame.


Active/Continuous Focus Mode

This mode tracks your original focal point in the first photo in a series of several.


For example, if you’re photographing your puppy at playtime, the focus mode will continue to track the puppy after the first photo is snapped.


This is particularly handy for sporting events, photographing children at play, or even while photographing mountains from an airplane.


Manual Focus

The most complicated, but most precise focus is the manual focus mode. Most compact cameras do not have manual focus, but most bridge cameras and DSLRs do.


Manual focus enables the photographer to manually, precisely adjust the focus of a photograph before it is taken.


How to Focus: Manual Settings

  1. Switch to manual focus mode. The side of the lens has a switch marked “A-F/M-F.” Put the switch to the “M-F side.
  2. Turn the focus ring to adjust the focus in the viewfinder of the camera.
  3. Put the electronic viewfinder on.
  4. Tap the zoom mode so that you can view the image up close to verify the subject is in clear focus.
  5. Fine tune the image until the subject of your photo is perfectly clear.
  6. Return to optical viewfinder to make final adjustments to framing.
  7. Snap the photo.

Understanding Camera Focus

Now that you know what camera focus is, how it works, and how to use the various modes, you can take better photos. Whether you’ve got a hybrid, or bridge camera, or a full-on DSLR, you’re ready to go out and get some amazing shots.


Be sure to experiment with non-critical photos as you get used to the manual focus mode on your camera. You don’t want to miss that prize-winning shot on your next vacation because you didn’t quite get the hang of it in time.

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