Kayan long neck hill tribe girlOne of the first things I learned when I started work at the Auckland Star newspaper (many years ago) was to make sure my photographs were sharp where they needed to be. Having the right part of the image in focus is imperative, especially when it’s going to be printed on the low quality newsprint that would always flatten and soften the look of the photos. Back then I had no auto focus lenses and the camera’s viewfinder did not offer much information. It was a matter of carefully manually focusing on the part of the composition that was most important. Because most photos published in newspapers include at least one person the rule of thumb is to focus on the eyes of the subject.

Multi-point auto focus is a common default setting on cameras these days, but I rarely choose to use it. I prefer to shoot with a single point focus and move it to precisely the part of the image I want sharp, using the rocker on the camera back. It does take some practice, but it is a skill well worth mastering because it gives you control of what will be in focus rather than letting the camera decide.

I love shooting with a wide aperture setting and letting the background of my photos blur, this is called a shallow depth of field. Choosing to shoot like this means the portion of the composition that’s in focus is very narrow, so the point of focus is critical. Having your lens focused in the wrong place will produce a disappointing result, and if your camera is set to multi-point auto focus and you are using a wide aperture setting, the sharpest part of the image may not be where it should be.

This portrait was shot with a 35mm lens set at f4 on a D7100. Because I was quite close to her the shallow depth of field is more pronounced. I have set my single point focus on her right eye, and you may notice that her left eye is not in sharp focus. Because her eyes are not parallel with the camera only one is in focus. At this aperture setting if I want both her eyes in focus I would have needed to move or ask her to turn her face towards the camera. Alternatively I could have chosen a narrower aperture setting to achieve a greater depth of field.

Setting your camera to single point focus and practicing shooting photos like this will result in a greater proportion of your photographs being well focused. As I said, it does take some practice, but if you can master this technique you will have taken another important step to becoming a more creative photographer, because you are more in control of your camera.

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