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3 Reasons to Not Use Focus-recompose
We have all faced the issue at some point or another. You just took what appeared to be (on the camera LCD screen) an awesome portrait, only to later find out the focus was not on the eyes, but the back of the ears. Turns out this is not uncommon at all when it comes to shooting portrait images and events. Even those with a lot of experience in photography often struggle with ensuring the image is focused at the appropriate point (usually the eyes).
One way to help avoid this problem, is to stay away from the “focus and recompose” method of focusing. What exactly is this? It is when you use the center focus point on your camera, point it at the part of the subject you want in focus and while keeping the shutter button half pressed, recompose the image to get the desired composition. This technique is used by many photographers, including myself up until recently.
Here is a few reasons why I think this method of obtaining focus should be avoided, based on my past experiences.
Reason #1: Backfocus
As mentioned previously, it seems all too common to shoot a great image, but when viewed on the computer, the focus isn’t quite on the eyes, but instead on the ears or back of the head. The diagram below illustrates why this often happens when using the focus and recompose method of focusing.
The vertical lines illustrate the plane (or point) of focus on the subject. As can be seen, the plane of focus changes significantly from when the camera was pointed up to gain focus on the face (orange line), to when it was reposition/recomposed afterwards (green line).
While the affect may be rather accentuated in this illustration, it does happen in real life and will often be just enough of an offset in focus to ruin an image. It will particularly be a problem when using fast lenses with narrow depth-of-field (or perhaps better understood as, depth-of-focus).
Reason #2: Miss the action
How many times have you been photographing an event, perhaps a wedding or party, and while trying to get proper focus you completely miss the “perfect shot”? It’s definitely happened to me many times, and I’m sure it has happened to you too. This becomes even more of a problem if the subject is moving around – hence reason #2. The focus and recompose method of focusing is very “sluggish” meaning while you’re working on grabbing the desired focus, the shot may have already been lost, or the subject moves, throwing off the focus.
Reason #3: Decreased sense of composition
This is probably one of the least affected areas, but affected nonetheless. If you’re in the habit of using the center focus point to “focus and recompose”, the temptation to disregard composition and leave the subject mostly centered is fairly high. On the other hand, if in your mind you are choosing which focus point to use, you’re much more likely to position the subject in accordance to the rule of thirds and create a more pleasing composition.
The solution? Use other focus points!
Unlike cameras five years ago, camera’s nowadays mostly have many, many focus points. My camera (Nikon D300s) has 51 focus points to choose from! With this many focus points, there’s no excuse for just using the center one and recomposing after focusing, there are plenty of other options! With so many focus points, however, it can be rather time consuming to get from bottom left to top right. To fix this, I set my cameras focus points to only 11 to save time when switching. If you’re not sure how to enable the ability to choose focus points, or how to change the amount used, refer to your cameras instruction manual, or shoot me a message over on the contact page.