I see people banging on about Back Button Focus in Facebook groups almost every day, extolling the virtues and benefits it offers for portrait photography. And, well, I just don’t get it, I really don’t. I’ve tried it several times and it often turns out to be more of a hindrance than a help. But when it comes to landscape photography, back button focus actually makes a lot of sense.
In this video, Mads Peter Iversen walks us through manual focus, regular autofocus and back button focusing and how each works for landscape photography. He explains how each method works and how you can use each of them while talking about the advantages and disadvantages of all three methods.
I still don’t think anybody will ever be able to convince me to use back button focus when shooting portraits. There’s just rarely a time when I or my subject are still enough from one shot to the next that they’d remain perfectly in the plane of focus – especially with a relatively shallow depth of field. And during those rare times when they are, it’s easy enough to flick a switch to go manual if needed.
For landscapes, though, where your camera’s typically locked off on a tripod and your subjects really aren’t moving – at least, not perpendicularly to the plane of focus – back button focus can let you hit your target very quickly and easily while you wait for the light to be just right and the final composition to appear.
In such a scenario, it offers the best of both worlds. It essentially acts like you’re manually focused when you just press the shutter button to shoot the photo, but you’ve also got autofocus there on the back button when you want it and need to act (and focus) quickly.