CAPTURING the moment is one thing, but there’s nothing more frustrating than a fuzzy, ‘perfect’ shot. ADVENTURE photographer, JASON SPAFFORD, has some pointers for getting your focus SPOT-ON and your pics pin-sharp
Common focus issues can be the fun-sponge that sucks all the pleasure out of shooting pictures, and since photography is one of the more technical arts you can pursue, such difficulties can baffle and confuse even the most experienced snapper. Whether you’re new to taking pictures, just keeping it light-hearted, or have been capturing images for some time, chances are you’ll face the problem of focus at some point or another.
The following focus tips and tricks are by no means exhaustive and they certainly won’t guarantee the perfect shot every time. They will, however, arm you with a few good solutions and workarounds for the most common focus-centric issues and give you a good starting point for troubleshooting the next time you come up against a focusing problem. Go easy on yourself, though. Perfecting a technique to get the results you want won’t always lead to instant success. It can involve trial and error (which occasionally produces marvellous ‘mistakes’) so don’t give up if it doesn’t work first time out.
Problem: My camera won’t focus where I want it to Solution: Keep it simple
The following situations can confuse your camera’s ability to focus: low contrast/light scenes, glass, wire, or other nearby obstructions, macro/close-up shots and fast, close action. Helpfully, your camera splits the frame into different focusing points. Keep it simple with Single Point and position it in the centre of your frame. Your camera has various Auto Focus modes. Set the focus to track a moving subject using Continuous or Servo, which is ideal for wildlife photography, or try locking the focus when you press the shutter release halfway down using One Shot or Single Shot. This, when used in combination with Single Point mode, is an effective default set-up. When you don’t want the subject smack-bang in the middle of your picture, focus on it and recompose the frame without taking your finger off the button.
Photo: Jason Spafford
Problem: My image looks out of focus Solution: Check your camera’s shutter speed, aperture, and diopter
Your camera may not be suffering from improper focus; it could just be camera shake – troublesome with longer focal lengths – when the camera moves while the photo’s being taken, resulting in a blurry image. Another reason could be motion blur caused by a longer camera exposure, slow shutter speed, or a rapidly moving object creating a streak-like effect. A good rule of thumb is to ensure the shutter speed is equal to or faster than the focal length you’re shooting at, for instance, with a 200mm lens, shoot at 1/200th second or faster, otherwise you risk camera shake ruining your shot.
Shallow depth of field can also result in a soft blur, also known as bokeh – the aesthetic aspect of the blur created in the out-of-focus parts of the image. This is a useful technique for isolating your subject from the background. Your lens’ smallest aperture allows a greater depth of field. Conversely, opening up the aperture reduces the depth of field in the in-focus parts of the image.
Another cause may be that you haven’t adjusted the diopter correctly for your eyes – the tiny wheel adjacent to the viewfinder on most DSLRs that allows the user to tweak the focus of view that the viewfinder shows looking through the lens. You can also increase your camera’s sensitivity setting (ISO), which allows you to increase the shutter speed to correct any camera shake, as can image stabilisation if your camera and/or lens has it. Alternatively, use a tripod, eliminating any unwanted shaky handheld results.
Problem: I want to create attractive motion blur Solution: Play with your camera’s shutter speed and practise panning
It will take a little practice to find a shutter speed that is slow enough to form appealing motion blur but quick enough to prevent camera shake. To create aesthetically pleasing motion blur around your subject, slow your shutter speed to 1/60th to 1/125th second. Then work on developing your panning technique. To pan effectively, set your feet apart and start with your hips facing the subject. As the subject moves, twist smoothly from your hips, and lightly squeeze the trigger.
By putting these few tips into practice, you can improve your photography drastically and really capture the mood of your adventure. Above all, stay focused on having fun in honing your images. Experiment with the trial and improvement method – that’s the beauty of digital photography; there’s nothing to lose (bar memory card space) and everything to freeze-frame.
Photo: Jason Spafford
Jason Spafford loves all things adventure travel, where the perfect end to the perfect day is throwing down a sleeping bag and setting up the tripod somewhere in the wilderness. That, and a cuppa. With an infatuation for chasing light in big open spaces comes the pursuit of photography, which has been his passion for 30-plus years. Through his work, Jason aims to engage folks with nature’s backyard while promoting the preservation of wild places. His internationally published portfolio captures two decades of adventure travel, landscape, and commercial photography.
Follow him on Instagram @fourwheelednomad or see www.fourwheelednomad.com for more photographic adventures and inspiration.