Capture all the Shots, and Get Them Sharp! part1:

Capturing the Shots You’re After & Getting 

them Sharp

with AutoFocus

Getting those sharp shots really make a Difference.

Getting those sharp shots really make a Difference.

All of us would like to get every shot we go after and it be Sharp as a tack, and we all start out having to learn how to use the focusing modes on our camera (s) to even capture some of the better opportunities we get for an awesome photograph. Really where it starts is knowing how the autofocus works and its many settings on digital SLR’s, and in this writing we are going to attempt to get you more familiar with some of these many options you have using your cameras autofocus. Now we can’t give you specific options or steps it takes to get the settings you want, but once you know what they do you can go to your owners manual to learn a lot more about what is available on your camera. You will have to do some investigation on your own and I promise it will payoff with a little practice thrown in. 

So knowing what the different autofocus modes are on your camera and how to use them more affectively will help you make the choices you need for any subject or situation you encounter. I can tell you I only use a couple modes when I shoot, since I mainly take pictures of landscapes, nature, and candid shots of family; so I usually use a single point setting, and focus in on the area of the foreground, the part of a flower, or the eye or nose of an animal, or person which are the spots I want to be fully in focus. One setting, which some cameras have, and I would probably never use, is a focus setting where while shooting a single shot, all the focus points are activated at the same time. This is a problem for me because it will focus on the closest object detected by one of these focus points. Now one mode I do like and use is the continuous Auto focus (AF) mode where by you can take photos of moving objects or subjects way more easily. Here is how it works, you select a certain area in your view finder where you first gain focus of say a moving animal, or the person trying to steal second base, and when the camera gains focus in that area then it will switch to an area where the subject has moved to by following the person’s movements. Pretty good way of capturing the slide when that person hits the dirt while the ball is being thrown to get them out. 

Then there is a number of different settings to help capture those quick action moments; that can be so allusive to a photographer who doesn’t  know what settings to use for certain situations or forgot to reset our camera’s. One other one is a setting where a group of AF points can be set in the center, or different areas in the focus screen instead of all the points on some cameras. This can be used when you want to limit the focus area, and want more than a single point of focus. And the setting I use most is where you can activate a single focusing point in the area you want like the eye of an animal, or the foreground of a scene. Now, some cameras have different types of AF systems than others, with the more expensive ones usually having the quickest and more accurate systems. 

A rare quick moment when our grandchild gets cuddly with His Maw.

A rare quick moment when our grandchild gets cuddly with His Maw.

   Just so you can determine the type AF sensor system you would like to have on your next camera purchase depends on how quick of focus you want. To decide that you have to determine what types of photography you will be doing the most, and how critical it is for you to get that moment when the baby kisses the new puppy, or get a picture of son or daughter sprinting to crossing the finish line in the next 100 yard dash during their school track meet.   

Phase Detection is faster than Contrast-based AF systems, and we can go into detail about this topic somewhere down the road on exactly how they work. It is something a bit harder to grasp and explain; and for your knowledge the Contrast-based system isn’t as suited for moving subjects. This means if you plan on doing things like sporting events, and catch candids of animals and people you might want to put out the extra money for a camera with phase-detection system. There are also different types of auto focus sensors. 

Auto Focus Sensors and Settings

Auto focusing systems also have different ways it senses what to focus on, and where in the frame of the view finder(s). Some sensors capture distances along either horizontal, vertical lines, or diagonally. Then too, there are multiple sensors linked to focus in on a particular area of the view finder and subseqntally the area on the subject, or object it is set to focus on, or is the closest to the camera. So, if you are focusing in on an animal such as a deer, bears, or possibly a LION, you can set the area over the eye of the animal and that is where the photo will be in focus and the sharpest. As  you are looking away from that area in the image things can get more and more out of focus the farther you look from it, providing the f -stop is set at a low value, which opens up the shutter more. This lets more light in, and is also used to draw more attention to a certain part of the picture, and it makes that spot stand out more. Some times it is called giving the photo more POP. Like a bubble popping. The picture really catches peoples eye in other words.   More↓

AF Modes

There are at least two auto focus modes you need to know about. There’s a single-point mode for stationary subjects, and a continuous mode for moving subjects. In single shot mode the camera focuses in at the spot on the viewfinder it is set to when you depress the shutter button halfway, and then locks in on that area and distance until you take your finger off the shutter button. Some settings on Nikon and Canon camera’s will lock in to a stationary subject and if it moves the camera switches to a continuous mode to follow the subject. While this is well and good, it doesn’t switch back to a stationary mode if the subject becomes still again. Another thing to watch is, some continuous focusing modes are prone to go in and out of focus with a stationary subject, especially if it moves slightly; and in these situations using a single-point setting works better. Oh, and do I hate when it does things like that. My Nikon D3200 is like that, and you have to go into the settings through the programing found in the live-view or settings screen. Hopefully one day I can step-up to a full frame camera with all kinds of on-bored camera body buttons. I do believe most of the higher=end cameras have a button for switching out AF modes quickly.     

  Another issue with AF focus that makes a difference in getting a precise moment of an elusive eagle flying by, or the expression on your child or grandchild’s face when  the family dog is licking them in the face, is whether a camera has Focus-priority or Release-Priority. With focus priority the shutter button is locked until the camera thinks the subject is in focus. The delay between when the camera achieves focus and the shutter button being released can cause you to miss important moments you’d love to have captured and couldn’t. I seem to have this problem a lot when taking pictures on real  cloudy days and in low light too. The shutter button locked up on me a bunch of times trying to get a picture of a cardinal (bird type) in the snow on a cloudy day, and for some reason the shutter button would lock up or the lens and camera kept focusing in and out trying to achieve focus every time I lifted my finger from trying to release the button back to halfway to try depressing it again. Got frustrating! 

 None the less I ended up getting some shots of the bright red bird contrasting the bright white snow. Goes to show how much I wish I could afford some more expensive equipment. A camera and some longer focule length lenses, since the shots I will get of subjects the small and somewhat a little distance away have to be cropped a lot to really see ’em well, and then the picture is too grainy. Don’t know what some of these terms are? We will touch on them else where, like the beginning photographer short e-Book I hope on getting written up soon to help the new comers, and people with an intermediate level of knowledge might find some interesting tidd-bits thrown in too, that they never heard of. 

On to release-priority! The shutter can be tripped at any time with release-priority auto focusing, giving you more of a chance to catch those important moments by anticipating movements and gestures from an animated subject and activating the shutter button at that precise moment. Bingo! You’ve gotten a memorable moment captured for posterity and a living room end table, not to mention the family digital and (or) a hard-copy photo album. 

Auto Focus Area, and Lens Factors

There are plenty of other contributing factors such as the AF area you want the picture to be focused on. You’ll probably want to focus in on a single point, say the eyes of your dog or cat when trying to make a portrait of them, or capture them playing with their favorite ball or ball of string. For sports you may want to use the center focus point or area, and have the continuous tracking AF mode on to capture all the action. With some cameras you can even activate groups of AF points so when something is in that section or area of the viewfinder you want in focus the camera will adjust the focus to the closest thing in that area, causing it to be the sharpest thing in the photograph. Also, it may take an average of everything in the area within the plane of focus and cause the focus to be sharp within that area.  

Some other factors that may affect the ways the camera and lens work together to achieve auto-focus are the speed of the lens (the lowest f-stop you can set a particular lens to, to open the aperture-diaphragm* of the lens)(light emitting*), and the fine tuning, or better known as the calibration of a lens and camera system to each other. Check your camera’s manual for the fine-tuning or calibration feature, and if it has one, the steps you take  to have the combination perform the best together.

My Experience with Focus settings.

To be honest this is a subject I too am just beginning to learn. This changing focus areas is something I have always regularly done, but this continuous focus, single focus spot vs. an area focus is relatively new to me, but I have used them before. I mainly use a single point with a three burst shutter release setting, since most of my photographs are nature, and landscapes with a few animal photos, and the good ole family portraits and candids. I tend not to need fancy focusing, just a way to adjust where in the frame I want the major focus, or to hone in on a particular object or subject to emphasize it, and or a starting point for the most sharpness in a given area of the photograph. This being said, I have tried some of the focusing settings sort of willy-nilly  <Not knowing what I was doing> and didn’t have much success with it. All I have is a D3200 retail, off the shelf Nikon, and am trying to write off my inability to get things accomplished without having studied what to use, where and how until Now.  

mallard-landing-lg-newcreek-color-ed-edit-sharp-483 dansmt-lg-orig-edit-orig-2 ducks-flying-72-res-sharper-sz-72res-cafe-overice-edit-sharp-43 newcreek-mallard-final-smaller-0298 tit-mouse-annapolis-deck-6 tit-mouse-annapolis-deck tit-mouse-annapolis-deck-2 tit-mouse-annapolis-deck-3I did have some better successes after taking a quick read of my camera manual to know how to set up things like continuous-focusing. This duck was taken with that a continuous mode setting. I set myself on the side of a stream bank and kept watching up stream where the ducks were flying in from every so often. When I would see one I followed it from within the viewfinder, and as it got a fourth to a third of the way towards where I stood I set my single focus point on one of the ducks, if in a pair or a group, and tried following it in the continuous focus mode. It stayed in focus some of the way and some of the the time, but the D3200 is slow with keeping up with the fast flying birds. The only motor that changes the auto focus is in the lens, on these and other lower-priced cameras, and not in the camera body like more expensive models. I think I can honestly say that is part of what contributes to the slowness of the focusing in these type cameras. The camera has to talk to the lens to get it to operate its focusing motor which is further away from the circuitry and brains of the body, and they have never been synced together, that I know of. I am not sure that is even possible. 

There are all these things I am trying to learn how to do so I can pass them on to you, because I have only stumbled across somethings I’ve learned by trial and error, and reading articles  like this one either in magazines, both digital and paper copies, or through ebooks, and the real hold in ones hands type books. Which are really what I prefer. Now through all this trial and error I seem to come up with some pretty darn good photography, so don’t let your knowledge or lack there of keep you from shooting, you’re bound to get some good shots the more often you shoot and the more pictures you take. 

Take this information and go out and get as many unforgettable, and beautiful family action photos, capture those sporting events, flowers and animals, landscapes, and not to forget portrait photographs you can get, and share them with us the ways in which you used to focus on your subjects. One of the best ways to learn is by doing and practicing, although discussing and sharing our findings, mistakes, and SUCCESSES helps reinforce all that we learn. Not to mention the ways it helps others with their photography or any skill.  

Well I hope this gets out before the holiday season. So, have yourselves a Merry little Christmas and a Happy New Year!! Don’t forget to be about giving and not receiving. Spend some quality time with Family and friends. They are what make living in this world worthwhile. Go lite on the eggnog and the champain! Take lots of pictures and see you in the New Year! 

***Merry Christmas***


 *Happy Holidays*

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2 Responses to “Capture all the Shots, and Get Them Sharp! part1:”

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