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Focus Points

Lesson 16 from: The Beginner Photographer’s Crash Course

Khara Plicanic

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Lesson Info

16. Focus Points

Next Lesson: What is a Pixel?

Lesson Info

Focus Points

Focus points, this is so huge. When you look through your viewfinder, you may have noticed all these little dots on your thing, and most people just sort of look past them and don't think about it too much. If you've never changed your focus points, then you're probably set to what's called an auto point selection. You point the camera at something, you press the shutter halfway and different things light up on your screen depending what you're focusing on, or what you're aiming the camera at, and the camera decides, oh I'm gonna focus on this or I'm gonna focus on that. That's an auto point selection. That's one thing I suggest people change, just off the bat kill that, because you have no say what's happening, what the camera's gonna focus on, and it might even change from frame to frame. You could take three pictures in a row and each one the camera was like here, here, here, and then if you're having focusing problems, if you are like, ah, I take all these pictures and they're so o...

ut of focus all the time, I think auto focus point select is to blame. At least a lot of the time. What do you do instead? I would suggest picking a point and just sticking to it. Depending on your camera, you may have different options. Some cameras your only choices are gonna be auto points or a center point. Others will let you actually pick which focus point you want to focus on. Here's how it works. This picture, for example, we saw these earlier where the squirrel or the bear was in focus. How did I tell the camera to focus on the squirrel, and not the bear or the tree or the bookcase? Focus points, right? So here I focused on bear. Here I wanted to focus on those, whatever that is, milkweed or something, whatever that plant is. I wanted much subjects blurred in the background, I wanted a hint of them. Here I wanted to focus on their hands, of course, and because I put this foreground of more plant stuff in the front, you tell I don't garden. I aspire to it, but I don't. I don't know what any of that is. Those plant things, whatever those green things are, the camera could have decided to focus on them, especially because they're closer and they're running across the whole frame pretty much. It's really important that I was in control of my focus points so I could direct the focus there, because again I like to shoot at that really shallow depth of field. In my case, I'm really screwed if I'm off. If you're shooting at f/22 all the time, meh, you don't have to try so hard to nail your focus, but I do. Here's another example, making sure the focus is on them. Wow, I put in a lot of examples. Another one here, another one here. Especially when you have foreground objects, it really can confuse the camera. Here's how you do that. Here's what I do, at least, is I like to always just have the center dot. This is preference for me personally. I have friends who move the dot around with every shot they take. I can't operate like that. Logistically it's too complicated for me. I like the center point and I always know it's always the center. If I wanna take a picture of this flower for example, I'm gonna position the flower under the center, and then I'm gonna focus the camera. In most cases that's done by pressing and holding the shutter button halfway. You press it halfway and you hear the camera go beep and it (mimicking camera focusing) focuses. Then I'm holding the button and then I'll just tilt the camera ever so slightly and adjust my composition so that my subject is no longer in the dead center of the frame, maybe it's off to the side, and then I'll finish taking the photo. That's called recomposing. You focus and hold under your focus point, and then you recompose and finish pressing the button, and that will lock the focus and allow you to move your subject so your subject isn't always in what is aptly called often the dead center of the frame. We have the whole other course coming about composition, so we'll talk more about that in that course, but ideally you don't wanna always put your subject in the center. It can be great, but usually it's best to put it elsewhere. There is a feature that you may have heard of, some people may be familiar with, called back button focus. Not every camera has it, but in some cases it might be helpful to separate the focus mechanism from the mechanism of the shutter, in which case you can reassign a different button on your camera to focus. Then you have one button dedicated for focusing, and then the shutter button can just be the shutter. That is called back button focus, and honestly I have to look in my manual every time I set it up. Whenever I get a new camera or if I somehow restore my factory defaults, I'm always like oh no, I have to figure out back button focus again, and I have to look it up in my manual. It's a setting just in your menu. If you have that feature and that's important to you, look in your manual and you can make that change. Otherwise, I just go like this and press and hold and make it work. Did you have a question? When should you look at back button focus? I would imagine if you were taking a lot of pictures of everything in the same distance, or is there some other instance that back button focus would come in play? Well I use it all the time, when I'm shooting my weddings and stuff because I wanna be able to focus the camera and then, maybe I'm not necessarily taking it right away, or maybe I'm focusing and refocusing and refocusing before I shoot it. I just like having it separated so I don't have to worry that they are getting, like, they're inseparable otherwise and it can just be tricky. But that said, I will also say that I feel like I've worn out the back button focus. Maybe that's just because I tend to focus, focus, focus, shoot all the time because of my shallow depth of field, it's so critical, so I think I'm wearing out the drive or whatever 'cause I just feel like it's slipping and I always send in my cameras for tune-up, and it's just never quite the same. I don't think I would have quite that same problem if I left it together, but it can help a lot to have that separated. Depending on what you're photographing, but also when I'm shooting people coming down the aisle and stuff, sometimes I'll change my drive so that I can track my focus as they're coming, but honestly I just end up focusing and recomposing so fast that it's not a issue, but I feel like sometimes if I had those two things together and I focused and then recompose, I might accidentally, it might accidentally refocus when it takes it so I like to have them separated. It doesn't have to be that way, and certainly I operated for a long time before discovering back button focus, so it's totally not required, but it can just keep those things a little cleaner for people who might want that. Any other questions on any of those features? I mentioned talking about picture styles, and I think we're gonna go into that more in the next segment when we talk about file formats 'cause it's a JPEG thing. We'll save that for the next segment.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Bonus Video - Shooting In Natural Light HD
New Camera Setup

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Kate Ambers

Khara is awesome! She really breaks down how the camera works, photography terminology, and technique. She does it all with a fun and entertaining personality and really makes it easy to understand what you are learning! I love this course!!! So worth it!

Holly Cooper

Loved this course and have recommended it to a friend who is looking to purchase his first DSLR. This course is perfect for beginners or someone who is self taught and who has picked a few bits up along the way; Khara then puts all these little bits of information together. I feel like the pieces have come together for me and I have taken my best/favourite photographs after watching these videos. Thank you CL and Thank you Khara x


I’ve taken a number of excellent courses from Creative Live, and this very thoughtfully organized, well taught class took me from “I love photography but I’ll never get how to do it” to “wow I get it!” It created a huge shift (finally!) for me. There is an intelligent simplicity that really does make for lightbulb moments. I’m extremely grateful for this class. Now I can go back and watch the others courses again and they will make much more sense and I can apply what I learned here.

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