Shoot Like a Pro: Back Button Focusing

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eHow Tech Blog

Setting your focus can be tricky when it’s the same button as your shutter release — the “taking the picture” button. I’ve used Back Button Focusing for years, and have come to prefer it to focus my images.

I’ve got lots of tips on focusing strategies in my intermediate photography book, Get Focused. This tip is one I share to help photographers capture images that are more crisp.

The typical process to focus an image is to press the shutter button halfway down. Then, to take the shot, you press the same button all the way down. This combines two major operations in one button, and it cam be tricky for you to maintain just enough pressure on the shutter to lock focus, but avoid taking the shot, when holding the button for an extended period of time — such as when recomposing the scene or waiting for the right moment to take the picture.

Separating the two steps by using the “back button” — a button on the back of the camera dedicated to focusing —  to focus gives me more control of the shot. This allows you to focus and take a shot independently.

Back button focus gives you:

  • Quicker and easier timing of shots.
  • Less risk of focusing error when tracking a moving subject.
  • Easier up close (macro) focusing.
  • Easier to “lock” the focus.

This awesome button is either labeled with “*” or “AF-ON.” It’s typically positioned so that it falls right under your thumb, which makes it easy to focus, then use your index finger to press the shutter release.

To shoot using Back Button Focus, you may have to use your custom settings, which varies for every camera model — check your camera’s user guide for details. There are also many videos and tutorials online for specific model cameras.

Back button focus requires a bit of practice, so give it a little time. Many pro photographers use the Back Button Focus method when shooting. If you don’t love it, change it back! But give it a chance and share your experience with this new method of focusing.

Photo credit: Kristen Duke, Google

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