Taking control of your camera’s autofocus points

Imagine you’re at your 4th grader’s first school musical. You’re about 6 rows back, the room is packed, and there are at least 10 potential heads in the way of your shot. But you’re excited because you’ve got your new camera and an 18-55mm lens.

You’re child’s on stage, you’re shot is set, you press the shutter button half way to focus, and your camera keeps locking focus on the back of a head two rows up. Frustrated yet? I’ve seen photos that end up like that. I can tell what the intended subject was, but its clear the camera  wasn’t making the connect. So did you blow all that money on a camera that wasn’t going to get the job done? Nope. You just need to bump up the knowledge of what that camera is capable of and figure out how to master it…and don’t worry, it’s not too tough.

Out of Automatic (kindof)

First thing you’ll need to do is get out of Auto mode. If you’re just getting started, and don’t have the basics of shooting manually down, P or Programmed Auto mode is the simplest place to start. Read about B&H Photo & Video’s article explaining camera modes and Canon’s article titled “Why P-Mode?“.

Canon t4i focus points

Nikon D3200/D3300 Focus points

Your camera has a series of focus points. Different cameras have different amounts. Usually, the more expensive the camera, the more focus points. When you look through your viewfinder you’ll see a layout of squares. When you press your shutter half-way, one or all will turn red. When you switched to Program mode, you opened up your ability to set a specific focus point.

Changing Focus Points

On a Canon EOS Rebel Series camera (t1i – t6i) press the right-most button on the back of the camera (fig. 1), then move the selector wheel (fig. 2) until your focus point is in the desired location. Press the shutter button half-way to lock focus, then take your shot. This will allow you to set your focus on a subject in the background while not focusing on the foreground. (Remember your child on the stage and the heads in the way?)

On a Nikon D3— or D5— series camera, choose an auto-focus area other than “E” (Auto-area AF). (Check your Camera Manual’s section on Autofocus on the specifics of this). Then use the multi-selector (Fig. 3) to choose a focus point. Press the shutter half-way to lock your focus, then take your shot.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3



Like the old adage says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”. Are you sitting around at home before bed, browsing Facebook or reading blogs? Grab your camera and practice. You don’t even need to take a shot. Just practice the process of switching focus points and locking in your focus. Then step it up and chase your kids around the house, lock in your focus and take the shot. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be.

Go give it a shot and have fun!


Shooting Jellyfish: Photographing fish in an aquarium


Canon T4i, Tamron 17-50, 33mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO 1600

We went to Charlotte, NC a couple weekends ago and visited the incredible Discover Place. What a fun day! Heaps of stuff for the kids, an IMAX, aquarium, terrariums  with frogs from all over the world, and more science experiments than you could shake a stick at.

This guy was really tough to capture. First, it was really dark in the aquarium but I didn’t want to set my ISO too terribly high. I had my Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens on which opens wide enough to keep my shutter pretty fast (Opens wide=aperture can go to 2.8, letting in more light…This in turn lets the shutter open and close more quickly…I’ll cover this in another post too).

My main problem was maintaining focus. The wide-open aperture of f/2.8 provided a small depth of field to maintain focus, so if the jellyfish moved away from me, I had to re-set focus. One helpful way to accomplish this is using Canon’s Al-Servo focus system which does a pretty good job of tracking the motion of your subject. Check your camera’s manual if you’re not sure how to set this. Also, if your camera’s lens doesn’t open to 2.8, set it for the widest you can. (The lower the number the wider it is!) Go to f/3.5 or 4 if you can. If you’re not quite comfortable with manual shots, switch to sports mode for these shots. Sports mode will set your auto focus to Al-Servo (or whatever Nikon calls it), open the aperture, and increase the shutter speed to freeze the frame as quickly as it can. It will also increase the ISO to accomplish this and will set your shutter to auto. That means if you hold down your shutter button it will “rapid-fire” photos.

I kept my autofocus button down, tried my best to follow the jelly, took about 10 different shots, and got this one. I like it too!