Digital Photography Quick Tips

Focus & Recompose or Compose & Focus?

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

When moving from a compact digital camera to a digital single lens reflex camera, the tried-and-true technique of locking focus first and then recomposing may not always result in sharp images.

A common technique for compact digital camera users is to lock focus on an area in a scene and then recompose. This is particularly useful when you photograph a scene with a subject that is off center. You want the main subject to be in sharp focus but also want to capture a good deal of the scene to the right or left of it.

Off center subjectWhen a user of a compact digital camera moves to a digital single lens reflex camera, they sometimes find the old familiar technique of focusing and recomposing doesn’t work. When they focus and recompose, an area they expected to be in sharp focus isn’t.

DSLR Compose and Focus

For some photos taken with a DSLR, a more useful technique is Compose and Focus.

The technique is particularly useful when taking shots holding your camera in the vertical position.

The photographer manually selects and activates a focus point and then aims the point exactly on an area they want to appear sharpest. The DSLR user also needs to watch the aperture size to obtain the maximum depth of field desired.

Both focus techniques valid

So both Focus and Recompose and Compose and Focus methods are valid for DSLR users.

However, like so much in photography, the key is to determine which method to use and when. Deciding which often depends on other factors such as focal length of the lens used and aperture settings.

It’s best to experiment with each technique until you find the one that works best for a particular scene.


  • As to when to switch to one of the other eight focus points, it depends on the scene. However, the center point of the XSi/450D is indeed the most precise. It becomes a high-precision crosstype AF center point when used with f/2.8 and faster lenses. A cross-type AF center point provides faster, more precise focusing.

  • I’ve found that only the center point of my XSi gives me really precise focus. I’ve pretty much given up on the other focus points. Maybe I’d be comfortable at f/8 with bigger DOF, but at 5.6 or bigger apertures, I can tell I didn’t have the center point on.