Welcome to this mini photography tip to help you with your camera and to get better photos!
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This photography tip is about focusing.
Focusing modes on todays digital SLR cameras are exceptional good, however like anything if they are not set and used correctly the results you get may not be what you expect and your photos not sharp or focused correctly.
To start, there are two "areas" of focus. There are focus modes (how your camera focuses) and focus point or zones (where your camera focuses).
Lets start with focus modes. Most cameras have two main types - single and continuous to put it in easy terms. For Canon users there is ONE SHOT (single) and AISERVO (continuous). Other cameras will have different acronyms etc. but you should be able to differentiate between the modes so you can select whats rights. E.g. Nikon may have AF-S for single or AF-C for continuous. Basically you use single focusing for stationary subjects and continuous focusing for moving subjects. So if you are shooting portraits you would use single mode and for shooting your dog running down the beach you would use continuous. In single mode you can hold the shutter button halfway and re-compose your shot while holding the same focal plane, but in continuous where ever your point your camera (or focus point) it will focus there so you cannot lock and hold focus in that mode. So, if you were trying to shoot a portrait in continuous mode and you put your focus point on the subjects eyes then re-composed the shot your focus would no longer be on their eyes which is critical for a portrait photo. If you were shooting your dog running in single mode, you may end up with blurred, soft or unsharp photos because the camera cannot maintain focus due to being locked for a split second before taking the shot.
Below is a photo of a Canon screen for focus modes.
Next is focus points. Most cameras have a variety of focus point selections, but I mainly only use two. See the photo below for an example of focus point selections.
For the majority of my photography I only use a single focus point (selection second from left in the above photo). I like to know and control where my camera will focus. The selection above is called zone autofocus. The camera will best pick a subject or area in that zone to focus on which is not always where you want the focus to be. I do use this selection though for shooting birds in flight. It really does a good job of "locking" focus on the subject.
A couple of examples of why I use a single focus point instead of zone autofocus. For a portrait shot you can directly focus exactly on the subjects eye whereas zone may select other areas of the face or something else resulting in poor focus on the subjects critical areas.
If you have a bird sitting on a tree branch with a lot of surrounding leaves, branches etc. zone autofocus will usually pick up everything else except the bird, whereas with a single selection you focus directly and easily on the bird regardless of whats around it.
I hope you enjoyed this photography tip. Feel free to ask any questions here or send me a message or email.
Till next time, happy shooting.