In my camera masterclasses we go through lots of camera tips and practice on how to get out of automatic mode, learning some of our own cameras’ settings, how to choose the right settings, some composition “rules” (and when to break them), as well as answering any other burning questions you have.
Two of the questions I get asked most regularly are:
“How can I make it [taking photos] fun with the kids?”
“How can I get more of my shots in focus?”
You can read my top tips on the first question in this blog post here.
Read on for my top 10 focusing tips.
Want to learn more? Join me on one of my upcoming classes. (Also available as a gift voucher).
Focusing issues can be caused by 3 main factors: the camera shaking, the subject moving or the camera missing focus. Here are some solutions to all three issues.
(N.B. I know that some of the information in here is rather technical… remember, you don’t need to do everything in here to improve focus, just one or two of the tips can make the difference. If you come for a face to face class, I of course explain the technical things visually, so you can see what they actually mean and you can always read more about them on line. I’ve included links to useful articles).
Set the lens to autofocus. ALWAYS.
There are very few occasions where manual focus is better than auto, and those occasions are definitely not when we are photographing our children!
Turn “vibration reduction” ON.
Unless you are using a tripod. This built in feature, counteracts the natural shake we have in our bodies and hands.
Support your camera.
You’ll often see pro-photographers in a stance where their legs are wide with elbows braced against their chest. This means the arms are forming a strong triangle shape, and that they are being supported by the body; which in turn is also forming a strong triangle shape, being supported by the legs. If there’s a wall or tree you can lean on, use it, for extra support. This will help stop your camera shake.
Balance your camera.
Where is the pivot point on your camera? With long, heavy lenses, you can find that the turning point / pivot point is actually somewhere along the body of the lens, making it harder to hold the camera still without shake.
Try holding your camera lens as well as the body, to stabilise it.
If you can add a weight, like a battery pack, to your camera body, this will help counteract the weight of a big lens.
Set your shutter speed to at least 1/320th of a second.
As you know, our kids move a lot and getting them to stay still for a photo is almost impossible, so you need to set your shutter speed high, to freeze the moment. You can set this in shutter speed priority or manual mode.
Know the right shutter speed for your focal length.
As a general rule of thumb, your shutter speed should always be equal to or faster than 1/x of a second, where x = the focal length in mm. So if you’re zoomed into 70mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/70 s.
Use the right focusing technique.
“Focus recompose” is a fine technique for subjects that are far away, but if you subject is close (and especially if you shoot with a larger aperture), you’ll end up with parallax error throwing the subject out of focus.
A better technique is to use your focus points. Initially, let the camera pick a group of focus points on its own, then slowly learn how to pick your own focus points. Your hand will develop a muscle memory of how to change the settings without looking at the back of the camera and very soon you will do it as automatically as pressing the shutter button.
Not all focus points are equal. Cross type are the best, usually in the centre. If it doesn’t mess up your composition, use this type.
Help your camera lock focus.
If your camera is struggling to lock focus, it could be that the scene is too dark, and your camera cannot find a defined point to lock on.
Check you’re not covering the autofocus light / assist beam (usually a red light on the front of the camera) with your finger.
If that’s not the problem, try shining a torch light, (your phone light will do), on your subject, to help the camera.
You could also be too close to the subject. Lenses have a minimum focusing range. Just move back a bit and try again.
Sometimes you’ll get a specific error message (usually a flashing number in the bottom of the view finder). If that’s the case, have a read of the manual!
Use a narrower aperture (bigger f-stop).
You’ll get a bigger depth of field, so a wider range of the photo from front to back, will be in sharper focus.
Remember, even with all the conditions right, lenses can still miss focus.
Don’t be tough on yourself! Sometimes the best expressions and moments are captured out of focus, That’s OK, it’s still a memory you’ve captured.
Got any tips of your own to add? Please pop them in the comments.
Want to get more out of your camera and take even better photos of your own kids? Join me on one of my camera master classes. Groups are limited to 4 delegates so you get plenty of chance to ask your own questions as well as time together looking at your camera and your settings. (Although I now shoot on Canon, I am a big fan of Panasonic cameras and I used to work for Nikon too. Although menu systems differ slightly, they are not that different. Bring your camera along and let’s get the settings sorted for you). At the time of writing, I am releasing some new class dates for Jan and Feb 2019, being hosted at my East London studio. Perfect timings for Christmas. If you’re stuck for a present idea, pop a class voucher under the tree.