Digital Photography Quick Tips

Digital camera focus tips

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

Quick tips to help you focus more accurately with a digital camera.

Focus screenFocus mode

Many digital cameras are set to default to focus continually or have another focus mode that causes the camera to automatically select the main area tha will be focused in a scene. These modes can be unreliable, resulting in poorly focused, soft looking images.

For optimal results for the vast majority of scenes, switch to a single or center area focus mode and lock focus where you want it.

Focus difficulties

Compact digital cameras may have difficulty focusing when there is low contrast in a scene. If you fail to achieve focus taking photos in low-light or low-contrast situations, lock focus and exposure on something of equal distance which has contrast. Depress the shutter-release button half-way, recompose your shot and then fully depress the button.

For a comprehensive list of causes of focus difficulties and their solutions, check out the Autofocus problems and solutions article.

Prefocus

Anticipate the moment by prefocusing before photographing a fast moving subject. Prefocus on an object of equal distance as the subject will be when it moves in front of you. Keep the shutter button pressed halfway as you track the subject, then press it down fully when ready to take the shot.

If your camera lets you manually focus, or has AF Lock to keep focus locked, use either if the shooting distance remains the same for subsequent photos.

In low light, shoot at the widest angle

When taking photos in low light, shoot at the widest angle. In other words, don’t use the zoom in difficult lighting. The aperture is largest at the wide end of a zoom, and let’s in more light to the camera. If you need to get close to a subject, either “zoom with your feet” or crop the image when editing.

11 Comments

  • Stephanie, without more information (eg. focus mode, aperture setting, lens and focal length used), it’s difficult to offer suggestions. Make sure you’re using what’s known as the “sweet spot” for you lens, a range of aperture sizes that produces the sharpest images. This varies from lens to lens, but the sweet spot is typically found in the middle of the aperture range.

    Related reading: Tips for taking group photos

  • Stephanie, try using Shutter Priority mode to set the speed you need. If you’re photographing moving children, the shutter speed is often more important than the aperture setting. You can also increase the camera sensitivity (ISO) to increase or decrease the aperture and shutter speed settings. Experiment a bit. You may find this shutter speed chart helpful.

  • I am not sure if I am not that knowledgable with my camera, but I’ve tried F11, but then my shutter doesn’t go down quick enough. And if I am trying to take a picture of kids, I would like to use a fast shutter speed and then can’t choose my aperature.

  • Hi, my problem with focusing is if I am trying to take a picture of more than 2 people, I can’t get everyone in focus. Any suggestions? I have a Nikon D7000. Thank you!

  • Steve, unfortunately, you haven’t provided enough information such as what type of digital camera you’re using, what focus mode (auto or manual; single area or multi area focus), what focal length and aperture. What you’re probably experiencing is a shallow depth of field issue. You should try using a smaller aperture. Besides a smaller aperture, the following increases depth of field, where a greater part of a subject is in sharp focus: shorter (wider) focal lengths; step back further from the subject.

    These articles on Close Up Photography and Depth of Field will provide you with additional information.

  • I have tried the autolock multiple times to no avail when the object I want to focus on is vegetation.  For instance, at the foot of my driveway there is a small cap to a water pip that is ringed with weathered steel and overgrown with very flat chickweed.  The composition, color, and texture make for a very interesting image, but the focus on the small leaves of chickweed is blurred no matter what I try.  I would say it was the camera, except that with inanimate objects (weave of fabric, wood grain, sponge surface) I get very clear focus.  This is a problem in all my shots involving vegetation.