Chapter 9: Different Types Of Focus In Photography – The Ultimate Beginners Phototgraphy Guide

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Welcome to the ninth chapter of Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide.

In the last Chapter 8: Different Camera Modes, we took an in depth look at different types of camera modes and what it does to your image. Now we know, how important it is to familiarize yourself with these settings and get comfortable with them. So, in this chapter 9, we will take an in depth look at another important element in photography which is focus and different types of focus in photography. So, let’s get started.

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Understanding Focus In Photography

Most modern digital cameras are equipped with advanced focus systems that are often hard to understand. Whether you are shooting with an entry-level or professional camera, knowing how to use the each and every focus system effectively is essential to get sharp images.

A badly focused image can ruin a perfect shot. Sharper images is something everyone is looking for in the photographs today. Now you may debate on this topic that sometimes blurry background is good to acieve that artistic look. Well, it is true but in order to achieve an artistic look you still need to understand how different focus systems work.

So, bottom line is whether you are going for a sharper image or a blurry background for that artistic look you desire, you have to understand focus and different types of focus settings in camera. In order to understant focus in photography, you first need to know what is focus, which lets me take you to our next topic:

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What Is Focus?

Technically speaking, focus is the result of a combination of your lens aperture and light. To make it easy, think of it like this: Depending on how light rays are converging into your lens and what kind of aperture you have selected, different parts of your image will be in focus. 

Image Captured at f/9.0 Aperture

Smaller apertures, such as f/8 to f/16, will force all the light coming from outside to pass through a tiny hole and concentrate on the image sensor. As a result, a bigger part of the image will be in focus. On the other hand, wider apertures, such as f/1.4 to f/4, will spread all the light rays on a bigger part of the image sensor. Since the hole will now be much bigger, you’ll end up with an image that has a shallow depth of field.

Image Captured at f/2.8 Aperture

Practically speaking, you can check whether a picture is in focus or not by its sharpness. The sharper that it looks, the more it will be in focus. Be careful though, as mentioned earlier sometimes photographers choose to highlight or hide some parts of the image through the use of focus. As such, it may be normal to see some out of focus areas as they visually enhance more of the sharp parts. Which is considered as the artistic side of photography.

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Different Types Of Focus Settings And Focus Methods

Well, there are many types of different camera focus settings and focus methods, each and every one of those performance differ in your photograph and also each and every focus settings will differ in different cameras depending on different focus methods they use.

So, in this section of chapter 8, I will explain you different camera focus settings as well as different focus methods. As this article is meant for beginner photographer, for you to understand it better I will start with different camera focus settings which is more important for you to understand to get started as a photographer and then we will take a look at focus methods.

Different Types Of Camera Focus Settings / Focus Modes

Nowadays, most digital cameras are equipped with several different focus modes for various situations. It is one thing to photograph a still subject’s portrait, and another to photograph a running person or a bird in flight.

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As mentioned earlier, there are many different types of focus settings and again as this article is meant for beginner photographer, you just need to focus on four main focus settings which are Continuous, Single, Automatic and Manual focus modes but don’t worry I will also explain other focus settings as well. Here, I will explain what each one of those does to your image:

1. Continuous Focusing Mode (AF-C)

AI Servo AF (Canon)/AF-C (Nikon) stands for Continuous Focus, and this mode is most useful for keeping moving objects sharp within the viewfinder as you track the object. As soon as you begin to depress the shutter release, the camera goes into action and begins to focus. In Continuous focusing mode, the camera detects the subject’s movements and refocuses accordingly to keep the object sharp as a tack.

In this image you can see players running, you can use Continuous Focusing Mode (AF-C) in this kind of situations.

This mode uses a lot of battery power because it is continuously focusing and refocusing. In addition, the autofocus technology might not accurately predict the direction in which a chaotic, fast-moving subject is going to move so you might still get a blur.

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2. One Shot Focusing Mode (AF-S)

Next, we have One-Shot AF (Canon)/AF-S (Nikon), which represent single-focus capability. In this mode, when you depress the shutter release halfway, the camera focuses on the subject just once, there’s no continuous adjustment.

In this image the subject is still, you can use One Shot Focusing Mode (AF-S) in this kind of situations.

This mode saves battery power and is ideal for subjects that aren’t moving. However, this mode falls short when you’re trying to capture something that’s changing positions.

The AF-S mode often requires the camera to lock into focus before allowing you to take a picture, so if the focus is not acquired properly, pressing the shutter will do nothing due to focus error. Some cameras allow you to change this behavior though.

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3. Automatic Autofocus Mode (AF-A) / Hybrid Mode

Some cameras also have a mode called AF Auto (AF-A) or something like AI Focus AF (Canon), which is basically a hybrid mode that automatically switches between AF-S and AF-C modes. This is a relatively new feature which has turned out to be quite useful.

In simple words: In this mode, the camera’s focusing computer jumps back and forth between AF-C and AF-S (Nikon)/One-Shot AF and AI Servo AF (Canon) depending on the situation.

This is the default autofocus mode on cameras that have this feature. This feature maintains focus if you change subjects or the subject moves.

4. Manual Focusing Mode

Manually focusing the camera is perhaps the most frustrating barrier between good and great photography. Achieving perfect focus requires using the distance measurements on the lens barrel and even perhaps measuring the distance from the lens to the subject with a tape measure; high-end photographers shoot products this way, and so do fine art photographers who are using medium format cameras.

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This will give you the most accurate focus point. What if you can’t take a tape measure up to a subject? Well, you have to rely on your internal sense of sharpness and know the critical focus zone that you have at the specified aperture.

There is a diopter adjustment on most DSLRs (it’s right next to the viewfinder) that lets you make minute adjusts to the focusing capacity based upon any irregularities in your eyesight. You can also use the Depth of Field preview button to help determine focus, but this is a more advanced technique.

Manual focus is essential when you focus on a non-traditional subject. For example, a subject that is in the background when the foreground is busy and dominating.

Now that you know what this four important focus modes does lets take a look at other camera focus settings:

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Autofocus Area Modes

Now that we’ve had an overview about the various focusing modes, it’s time to talk about the different areas that you can select when using the autofocus. All of the most recent cameras on the market will give you at least three choices when it comes to autofocus areas: the single point autofocus, the dynamic area and the auto area autofocus.

1. Single-Point Autofocus

Take a look through your viewfinder. When the single-point mode is chosen, you’ll be able to select just one small rectangle out of the many that are present within the focus area. This is generally the most precise way to focus on your subject, especially if it covers a small part of the frame or if you want to focus on a particular part of it.

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2. Dynamic-Area Autofocus

By selecting the dynamic area mode instead of the single-point mode, when you look at the scene through the viewfinder, you’ll see multiple focus points selected at the same time, not just one. The number of the selected points will mostly depend on your camera’s autofocus capabilities. Some cameras will give you more than one option for selecting how big that area is, ranging from 8-focus points to 21-focus points and so on.

This autofocus mode works well when you are shooting big subjects or if you want to have wide areas of the frame in focus. It’s not the best option when precision is required. The single-point AF will work better in those situations. 

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3. Auto-Area Autofocus

As the name suggests, this is the most automated way to autofocus, since the camera will not just limit itself to focus but it will also choose where to peak the focus! This may sound super cool and easy but the truth is that it has a few annoying limitations.

Low Light Photography Example

In low-light situations, the autofocus function on your camera will struggle. When it has to also choose the area on which to focus, it may not be able to locate a focus point at all. In low contrast conditions, where the main subject does not stand out from the background, your camera may have some problems choosing the right focus. 

Now that you know what all of the above focus modes does, let’s take a look at different focus methods:

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Different Types Of Camera Focus Methods

Again, there are many different camera focus methods but it’s availability and performance differs from camera manufactures to manufactures as well as model to model. There are three main focus methods which are available on many (but not all) cameras they are: Phase Detection AF, Contrast Detection AF and Hybrid AF.

Those three above mentioned focus methods are important for you to understand as a beginner photographer. Here is what each and everyone of those focus methods does:

Fast Moving Subject Example

1. Phase Detection AF

The Phase Detection AF focus method uses an array of microlenses for focusing. As light passes through these microlenses, it splits up into a pair of images. The distance between these images is then measured to see how far front or back-focused the subject is.

The camera can then use this information to send exact instructions to the lens on which way to turn its focus and by how much. As a result, Phase Detection AF is very fast, which makes it ideal for tracking fast-moving subjects.

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2. Contrast Detection AF

Unlike Phase Detection AF that uses hardware, Contrast Detection AF relies on software algorithms that “probe” through areas of an image for edge detail.

Basically, the part of the scene that needs to be in focus is scanned by the camera and it uses the lens to rapidly change focus from foreground to background until the subject is perfectly sharp or in focus. Because of this focus probing methodology, Contrast Detection AF is generally known to be slow on most cameras.

At the same time, Contrast Detection AF can be much more reliable and accurate compared to Phase Detection AF when shooting in low-light conditions.

3. Hybrid AF

As mentioned earlier,Contrast Detection AF can be much more reliable and accurate compared to Phase Detection AF when shooting in low-light conditions, which is why some cameras incorporate both. 

Such cameras can easily switch between Phase and Contrast Detection AF to be able to take advantage of both in different environments, this is known as Hybrid AF. Some cameras even have advanced intelligence built into their Hybrid AF implementations, and they are able to combine both Phase Detection and Contrast Detection AF data to get extremely fast and accurate results.

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Conclusion

There are many different focus settings and focus methods and each one of those perform differently depend on camera manufacturer as well as model. It doesn’t matter what look you are going for, in order to acieve it you need to know how to use focus settings and focus methods.

You can edit colors and you may also be able to correct composition of your photograph in post-processing but there is no such thing as correcting focus. If you capture your subject out of focus, you just can’t make it sharper in editing process.

So, it is important to learn how to use and when to use which focus camera settings for your desired results. Also, I have mentioned many times that there are many different camera focus settings and focus methods but you as a beginner photographer, I recommend you to familiarize yourself with the focus settings and focus methods mentioned in this article because they are the most important ones and also availibility of those is vast in cameras.

This is the end of Chapter 9: Different Types Of Focus In Photography of the Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide. You can subscribe to The Black Light Studios website to stay tuned and get notifications on the upcoming chapters. In the mean time you can check my other posts on this website.

This is it for this post. Thank You! for visiting The Black Light Studios, I hope you find this article helpful to you and got the information you were looking for. Stay tuned for more posts like these by subscribing to The Black Light Studios website. If you have any suggestion or feedback comment down below or contact us through the contact form via contact menu.

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