Thursday, April 30, 2009

In Focus - using focal lock

So far on Lens Flare, I've covered exposure and composition with you, but we haven't really discussed focus - the third component to a great photo. Today's topic is focal lock - a simple but very effective technique to ensure the subject of your photo is in focus. This lesson applies to SLR and point and shoot photographers alike.

Many of you are probably thinking "I use auto focus, so my subject is always in focus - what's the problem?" Look at the photo below:

(photo courtesy of digital photography school)

It's pretty obvious the couple is the subject of this photo, but they're out of focus. The lady in between their heads, however, is in sharp focus. This is a depth of field issue as well - because of the shallow depth of field in this photo, the lady is in focus but much of what is in front of her (the couple) and behind her is out of focus as a result.

Auto focus is a wonderful thing, but it's no guarantee that what you actually want to be in focus will, in fact, be in focus. When you press the shutter button to focus the image, the camera must make a decision as to where to focus - in this photo it determined that the lady, not the couple, should be the focus. So how can you "train" your camera to focus on what you want? Focal lock.

When you are framing your photograph (imagine you are going to take the picture of the couple above), move your camera so that the subject (the couple's faces) are in the center of the viewfinder/LCD screen. With the subject in the center of your frame, press the shutter button halfway down to focus the image. WITHOUT LETTING GO OF THE SHUTTER BUTTON move your camera again to re-frame your shot (so the couple's heads are in the top third of the image), then press the shutter button all the way down.

Here's another example:

La Alhambra - Gardens

this photo is from the gardens at La Alhambra in Granada, Spain (truly an amazing place to visit - perhaps a future wanderlust post on La Alhambra is in order). I wanted the poppies in the foreground to be in focus, not the poppies further back. To do this, I used focal lock - I centered the foreground poppies, pressed the shutter button halfway to get the shot in focus, and then moved my camera to frame the poppies in the lower third of the image. Voila!

A simple technique that will improve your photos significantly. Happy focusing!


Barbara April 30, 2009 at 9:54 AM  

Oh yay! I didn't realize I could move the camera again after I locked it, so I've just done lots and lots of cropping. I figured out the focal lock to get things in focus, but not the moving thing. One more tip in my arsenal thanks to you!

Sweet Pea's mommy April 30, 2009 at 11:23 AM  

melissa- love ur lessons!
i have an award for u on my blog:

heidistitches April 30, 2009 at 12:46 PM  

This is great. I'm really learning some good stuff here. Thanks.

jackie May 1, 2009 at 2:23 PM  

thanks for the coffee card, it came yesterday. i will think of you when i am en route to thousand oaks with my SB latte in hand...