Help! My Photographs Are all Out of Focus (Part 2)

In part one of this post we had a look at some basic ways to help improve the sharpness of your pictures. If you didn’t read that post you can find it here!

So, the big question is – where do you go if you have tried the techniques in part one and you are still struggling?

Do not fear! Part two has a number pf more advanced strategeies that will hopefully help you to nail any remaining focus issues with ease!

Firstly let’s look at technique:

Decide what you want in focus – This might sound obvious but it’s really important that you decide what you want to be in focus before you press the shutter. Don’t let the camera decide for you! You also need to decide how much you want in focus and this is dependant upon your use of aperture and depth of field. There’s more about that in this post here.

Learn how to use your focus points – Next, having decided what you want in focus you need to tell the camera. By default most cameras will focus in the centre of the frame and you will need to make sure that you know how your particular camera tells you what it’s focussing on. Usually there is a box around the focus point as in the image below telling you where the camera is focussing.

You will also notice that there are a number of other squares around the screen and it’s possible also to tell your camera to focus at these points as well. These, logically enough are called “focus points” and, if you look in your camera’s manual you will be able to work out how to change them. This is vitally important and allows you to gain focus in different parts of the frame other than the middle!

This is a great method and can greatly help you compositionally and creatively by encouraging you to move the subject of the image out of the centre of the picture which is often the most boring place to have it! It is, however, a rather slow method as you have to move the focus point before taking the picture each time. A much faster, although possibly less accurate method (until you have practiced it!) is called “focus and re compose”.

Focus and re compose – Keeping the focus point set to the middle. Focus on your subject and hold the camera in focus either with the shutter button half pressed down or, if you have if, via the back button focus. You can then re compose placing the subject anywhere in the frame. Finally shoot by fully depressing the shutter button. As long as the distance between you and the subject doesn’t change the subject will be in focus. This works best where you have a reasonably wide depth of field and is a difficult technique to master at f1.4!!!

Understand your focus modes – For a majority of the time it’s best to get your camera off the default auto focus mode as it will generally auto focus on the object closest and most central in the frame and in doing so take over from your creative control! Usually it’s mush better to go for a single focus mode which allows the technques above to work, or, if your subject is moving continuous focus mode usually works well. This willtrack a moving subject if you hold the shutter half way down and it great for action shots.

If all else fails – If, having worked through the techniques above and in the previous part of this post, your images are still not sharp then we need to dig a little deeper! First of all accept that it takes time and practice to ger consistent and good focus. Also accept that, with the best will in the world zoom lenses, and particularly kit zoom lenses, are not as sharp as high quality prime lenses. This is a generalisation and that’s not to say you can’t get a very sharp image with a kit zoom but a high quality prime is the sharpest you can consistently get. You also need to double check that the lens you are using is compatible with you camera, that it’s clean inside and out and also that it’s calibrated for your camera. Try changing lenses to try to establish if it’s the lens or the camera or the combination of the two of them together that aren’t giving you sharp images.

Finally, post processing – Last but not least remember that RAW files generally need sharpening. Jpegs out of camera will probably be sharper and still need some sharpening but, if you are shooting RAW, you will certainly need to apply some sharpening to every image. You can also sharpen according to where the image will be used (Lightroom’s “export” function allows this) and you can choose the appropriate sharpening for screen, matt or glossy papers.

Lastly remember that photography isn’t about critical focus. It’s about communication, emotion and feeling. You can have a great photograph that’s technically not perfect if it communicates to it’s viewer. No photograph ever worked if the actual subject matter was poor but it was technically perfect! I guess I’m saying don’t spend too much time worrying about perfect focusing! It’s time that would be much better spend developing your photographic vision and studying the works of other great photographers!


If you would like to find out more about how your camera works try my course below!!


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