The astounding resolving power offered by quality modern DSLR cameras is great. It is also such, however, that precision focusing is perhaps more important than it ever has been. As camera resolution increases, smaller and smaller errors in precise focusing become more noticeable. Many beginners express frustration that their photographs appear to not be as sharp as they would like, and they often experience focusing issues. Indeed, most professional photographers do take care to maximize the precision of focus in their images — and, it shows in their work. The techniques they employ, however, may be a mystery to a lot of beginners. So, today I’ll go through some DSLR focusing tips for beginners that you can use to improve the sharpness of your photographs.
DSLR Focusing Tips for Beginners – Tip #1:
Manually selecting your focus point. — Most beginners tend to shoot their images using their camera’s ‘automatic mode.’ When shooting in automatic, with most modern cameras, your camera is choosing for you what it ‘thinks’ is the best area of the image to focus on. And, while the state of technology that modern cameras currently employ is extremely impressive, when compared to the human brain, the camera’s brain really is quite dumb. The camera doesn’t know what it’s looking at. It can’t make accurate judgments regarding which part of the frame needs to be in sharpest focus. The camera’s computer merely has a standard set of ‘more-often-than-not’ rules that it follows for each image. For instance, the camera usually thinks that whatever appears closest to the center of the frame will, ‘more-often-than-not’ be the thing the photographer wants to take a picture of — thus, the most important thing to get into the sharpest possible focus. For this reason, when deciding what to focus on, the automatic focus will put more ‘weight’ on things closest to the center of frame. Of course, whatever that is may not necessarily be what would do best with being most in focus in every photograph you take.
If you’ve ever noticed in some of your images that things in the background of your image came out as being more in focus than something in the foreground which was actually what you were meaning to make the subject of your image, it’s likely that your camera’s automatic mode was at fault. It misinterpreted the most important element of your image and focused on the wrong element.
To take better control of your focusing, the first — and probably the most important — of our DSLR camera focusing tips for beginners is to get away from your camera’s automatic mode! Instead of using automatic mode, choose aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, or program mode, and manually choose your own focus points when composing your images.
Professionals rarely, if ever, use automatic mode — they’ll usually only use automatic mode if they absolutely have to get a picture very quickly and in situations where capturing an image that’s ‘good enough’ when it comes to focus and exposure will be sufficient. If a pro is looking to capture a really striking image, they will practically never use automatic mode.
So, for precision focus, get out of automatic mode and, when composing a shot, select a focus point in your camera (read your camera’s manual if you don’t know how to do this) that falls over whatever it is in your image that you wish to be most precisely in sharp focus. If no focus point that your camera will allow you to choose from falls directly over what it is you’re trying to focus on, choose the focus point closest to it, move the camera so that focus point does fall over it, depress the shutter-button half-way so the auto-focus locks on that object and, keeping the shutter-button depressed half-way, recompose the shot as you’d like it and then snap the picture by pushing the shutter-button down the rest of the way.
DSLR Focusing Tips for Beginners – Tip #2:
Use faster shutter speeds when possible — A number of beginners who find themselves disappointed in the ‘blurriness’ of some of their shots fail to realize that, sometimes, the blurriness is not caused by the subject being out of focus but instead due to either camera shake, or subject movement. This is usually caused by shooting with too slow a shutter speed. A general rule to remember, in order to minimize camera shake, is that, when hand-holding a shot, you should never shoot at a shutter-speed that isn’t greater than the focal-length of your lens. So, if you’re using, say, a 50mm lens, you’ll want to shoot at a shutter speed of greater than 1/50th of a second — a minimum of 1/100th of a second would be a good choice. If you’re using a 100mm lens, you’ll want to shoot with a shutter-speed of greater than 1/100th of a second, and so on.
DSLR Focusing Tips for Beginners – Tip #3:
Control your trigger finger! If you require the utmost in image sharpness, care should be taken to minimize camera movement when pressing the shutter release button on your camera. By pushing down too forcefully on the shutter release button you can actually cause the camera to move downwards slightly as the camera is capturing the image. This can result in a tiny, but still perceptible, amount of camera shake making your image appear ever so slightly blurry. It can take some practice in order to get the technique down, but you should learn the proper technique for depressing the shutter release button when taking a picture.
Do not keep your finger hovering above the shutter button, then slam your finger down abruptly when you take the photo. Many beginners do this, and it can result in slight camera shake appearing in your image. Instead, make sure your finger is lighting resting on the shutter-release button before you snap the image, and, when you want to take the picture, roll your finger slightly forward and apply slight downward pressure in order to depress the shutter button.
With a small amount of practice you can learn to execute this technique so that your reaction time in snapping a photo is just as fast as ever, but you’re still gentle enough that you don’t introduce any noticeable camera shake into your images causing blurriness in your photos.
DSLR Focusing Tips for Beginners – Tip #4:
Learn the proper method of holding your camera for maximum stability. The world renowned photographer, Joe McNally, refers to his technique as “da grip.” You can watch a video wherein Joe McNally goes through an in-depth visual demonstration and explanation of his technique on this Youtube video. (Link will open in a new window)
By using a proper grip when taking images you’ll maximize the steadiness of your camera while taking hand-held photos, and this can go a long way in significantly increasing the sharpness of your images.