What to Focus On


Aug 3, 2020
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Focus is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects you need to consider while photographing any type of subject. The focus contained within a photograph has the ability to dictate how the viewer perceives the image and what they deem important. In short, focus adds focus to a picture. It isolates and bends and directs the viewer's eyes to what the photographer wants them to see. It's actually one of the most fun aspects of photography as well.

Before I begin the discussion on focus, I'd like to take a moment to clarify a few common issues folks usually have when it comes to understanding what remains sharp and crisp in an image and what doesn't. There are different factors that play different roles. They can become confusing at times.

Autofocus: If you're new to all this, you'll find that your camera's autofocus is pretty awesome at finding and figuring out what you want to focus on. But as you become more proficient and creative, you'll also discover how frustrating the autofocus can be. There are ways around this frustration and I'll discuss all of them in later posts.

Focus Point: The point at which you focus is called the focus point. Easy enough. The area before and after (in front of and behind) that point is called the depth of field. The range of this depth of field depends on what type of lens you're using, the aperture setting, and how close you are to your subject.

Aperture: All other things being equal, the larger your lens's aperture, the shallower the depth of field will be. This is great for accentuating something you'd like to highlight. Shallow depth of fields are great at drawing the eye towards something. The smaller your lens's aperture, the deeper the depth of field will be, meaning, more things will be in focus in your scene. This is good for capturing more objects, such as trees in a forest.

Creativity: In the beginning, we tend to focus on what's at the center of our scene, but as we become more experienced, we'll push that focus point all over the place, from front to back to side to side. The stranger the focus point, the more creative a shot can become.

Now that we have those things out of the way, let's discuss some different types of focus. I'll talk about what kinds of focus there are and where we can specifically focus to create interest in our shots.

Telephoto Focus: If you've ever seen those really great nature shots in National Geographic magazine that were taken by some of the world's best photographers, you may have noticed how shallow the depth of field was in some of them. As you zoom in with your lens, you essentially become closer to your subject, which reduces the depth of field. Also, as you zoom in, the tube of your lens becomes longer, allowing less light to make it through. To compensate for this lack of light, it's common to open up the aperture as far as possible. It's for these reasons that telephoto photos commonly have very shallow depths of field.

Moving Focus/Panning: This is a tricky one. As you get better and more familiar with what your camera and lens are capable of, you'll try different types of photography. One type is where you keep your moving subject in focus, yet blur the background. This is definitely an interesting style of photography. The reason it's tricky is become you can't set your shutter speed too fast. If you do, you won't blur the background. The problem is, if you set it too slowly, there's a good change that your subject will show motion blur as well. There's a sweet spot that needs to be found.

Portrait Focus: In this style of photography, your subject is still. The focus you want to pay attention to is where on the face is sharp. If you've got a deep depth of field, there's no problem at all, but if your depth of field is shallow, then you'll need to take great care to focus on your subject's eyes. Use your magnifying option to verify this.

Landscape Focus: With landscape shots, creativity isn't as big a concern as it is with other types of photography. You'll want as much of your image to be in focus as possible, so distance and a smaller aperture are necessary. Deep depth of field is a name of the game this time.

Side Focus: Here's a challenge for you. Head outside into the woods and find some moss on a log to take some pictures of. Try to get as close to the moss as possible. You'll find that the more you zoom in, the shallower the depth of field will be. You'll also discover that your focus point wanders around where it wants. Try positioning it over to one side. You'll see how that particular area of focus draws your eye in the final photos. You can use this method for just about anything. Train tracks, fences, dirt roads, anything that goes off into the distance.

Foreground Focus: Here's another challenge for you. Try taking some photos of a plate of food. Get down low and take your shots head on. Be sure to focus on the foreground of the plate and keep your aperture large. You'll notice how all of your viewer's attention will be on the portion of the plate that's closest and that attention will diminish the farther back the plate goes. This is called foreground focus and it's a creative trick for drawing attention to something important.

Background Focus: This one's all about creativity. If you've ever taken a picture through a window or a fence, you've already done this one. The reason it's creative is because while the foreground of the scene is completely out of focus, it's still visible, which adds interest.

Center Focus: If you've ever taken a photo down an alleyway, you've likely taken a center focus shot without even knowing it. Another trick for calling attention to something is to frame your area of interest and allow the sides to become blurred.

Well, that's about it. If you've got more to add to this discussion on focus, please be sure to chime in down below. Thanks!
What to Focus On was posted on 01-26-2021 by WendyMay in the Photography Forum forum.
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