Have you ever thought about changing your focus setting on your camera? Or perhaps wanted to delve into more of the reasoning behind why you should (in my opinion) consider it?
First and foremost, what you choose to work in and you feel you work best in is entirely your choice, I’m just putting out there what’s worked for me and WHY I think it works for me.
Like many, when I first started taking pictures I started with the camera on auto, then moved to the A/S/P modes on the dial and lastly ended up at manual.
With each progression I found myself delving more and more into the little things that can help you get ahead of your hardware barriers and software limitations so that the only thing between you and a great picture is yourself and not your gear.
The more I transitioned to shallow apertures in my portraiture work the more and more accurate focus became paramount to nailing my shots. As I shoot handheld 99% of the time it’s important to me that the focus on my camera can keep up with the subtle movements of my breathing, swaying and recomposing.
As standard your DSLR is most likely set to “Single-AF”, Single AF means that once you half-press the shutter button, it focuses and the focus will not change untill you release the button. If this is the case it means that you’re using a focus mode best paired with a tripod for landscapes or shots with no movement on the focal plane (distance to and from the lens).
While Single-AF is often thought of as something you can use for portrait work and handheld activity I’m here today to try and break that mentality. I firmly believe, based on my own success in focus accuracy that if you are shooting anything except tripod-work for still scenes, you’re better off using Servo-AF / Continuous-AF.
Even now if you go and look online far too many places will rope in Single Area Focus as being acceptable for portrait work, or perhaps even the “go to” setting.
I firmly disagree this to be the best option based on the following:
Our balance causes us to sway,
Our subjects also do the same,
When we recompose an image (focus then recompose) we are moving again etc,
Often, as human beings our pre-emption is a true killer, think about a shooter before they pull the trigger on a gun, the untrained can often lift or twist the gun off target due to the preemptive feeling of the gun firing etc.
We are much the same with our cameras and we can use this to our advantage.
Here are my tips for nailing focus every time:
Breathe slowly, gently and press the shutter gently after you’ve pushed the breath out of your lungs. I remember fondly hearing in a Marksman documentary that the stillest you will ever be is after a few deep breaths and breathing outwards.
The pause you have after breathing out and before breathing in again (assuming you have taken in adequate oxygen in previous breaths) is the stillest you will ever be able to be without a tripod and the only thing contending with the absolute of such stillness, is your heartbeat.
Luckily for us, a heartbeat doesn’t create enough movement to throw off our focus, well at least from my experience, but breathing at f/1.2 certainly can!
Do we really need to put this much effort into everything before we push the shutter?
If you’re shooting at 1.8 or below then yes, I firmly believe you do, I believe it can make the difference between a pin sharp image and an out of focus one.
Stay relaxed, stay focused ;)
And as I said before: “What you choose to work in and you feel you work best in is entirely your choice, I’m just putting out there what’s worked for me and WHY I think it works for me.”
Until next time!
P.S. On the subject of focus, here’s a great article on Backbutton Focusing if you want to complete decouple the shutter button from focusing.