No matter how long you’ve been doing photography, there should always be a drive to learn more and get better.
Part of that learning process is figuring out how to compose better photos.
Another part is learning how light works and how to use it to your advantage.
And, of course, learning how to utilize your camera’s many features and functions is important, too. That’s the focus of this tutorial.
Focusing Your Camera – Autofocus
The default setting on your camera is autofocus.
That means that when you depress the shutter button halfway, the camera will automatically focus on what it thinks is the subject.
Once the camera has its focus, you press the shutter all the way down and take a photo (that’s hopefully focused on the right thing).
In most situations, this works just fine. It’s also convenient – you only have to worry about one button to press.
However, there’s a better way to get your camera focused and take photos.
Focusing Your Camera – Back Button Focus
The problem with relying on the default autofocus technique is that if you aren’t careful, you might depress the shutter button all the way when all you wanted to do was press it halfway to get focused.
That means you might end up with a bunch of “oops” photos on your memory card…
This isn’t a huge deal space wise, given that today’s memory cards have tons of storage space.
But it can certainly get old and annoying…
What back button focusing does is remove the focusing duties from the shutter button and place them on a button on the back of the camera, as seen above.
Initially, this might sound like a lot more work, but it actually helps you work faster.
Back button focusing is great for a variety of photography too – sports, night photography, wildlife, portraits – you name it.
That’s because using separate buttons for focusing and for firing the shutter allows you to see the scene sharp and in focus in the viewfinder before you press the shutter button.
That takes care of those “oops” photos in which you accidentally fire the shutter too soon in traditional autofocus mode.
All you do is press the button on the back of the camera body to acquire focus, and once that’s occurred, release the button and press the shutter button all the way.
The best part is that by releasing the focusing button, the camera is prevented from adjusting the focus.
That means that if you’ve acquired focus on a person and another person walks into the shot in the foreground, the camera will maintain focus on the original subject.
Back Button Focusing is Great for Single Shot and Continuous Focusing
There are basically two primary options for autofocusing – single shot and continuous.
As the name implies, single shot focusing acquires focus for one shot. It’s the suggested method to use when you’re photographing a subject that’s not moving.
When using single shot, you can use what’s called the focus-recompose technique. That means you can acquire focus on the subject by placing them in the center of the frame and then release the back button focus button to recompose the shot, such as placing the subject to the left or right of center.
This works because, as noted above, releasing the back button focus button locks focus.
Continuous autofocus is better suited to moving subjects.
Just frame the shot, maintaining a view of the moving target. As you do, press and hold the back button focus button and track the subject as it moves, ensuring that you keep the active focus point trained on the subject.
As you do so, the camera will continuously adjust the focus such that the moving subject is nice and sharp.
The great thing about back button focusing is that it allows you to seamlessly switch from single shot to continuous focusing – something you can’t do when you rely on your camera’s default autofocus setup.
Just leave your camera in continuous focus mode, and when you want to work in single shot, simply press and hold the back button focus button to prevent the camera from switching focus.
That means that you have a greater ability to get tack-sharp images of subjects that are at times stationary and on the move, like an athlete or wildlife.
Setting Up Back Button Focus
The hardest part about back button focus is that the manner in which you set it up is different from one camera manufacturer to the next.
Consult your owner’s manual for instructions regarding how to set up this feature on your camera.
You can also Google your camera make and model with the term “back button focusing” to find relevant tutorials on the subject.
Once you have it set up, it’ll take some practice to get used to using this technique. But once you do, you’ll likely never go back to the old way of focusing!
Get more details about back button focus and see it in action in the video above by Tony and Chelsea Northrup.