Having trouble focusing your camera? We’re often too “in the zone” or in a hurry to figure out how to focus a camera on the spot if we’re having difficulty focusing. If this happens to you, don’t panic! We’ve put together 15 possible troubleshooting ideas for when you’re having trouble focusing your camera and lenses.
Video: 15 Tips For When You’re Having Trouble Focusing Your Camera
**The above video is an excerpt from our Photography 101 Workshop.
15 Tips For When You’re Having Trouble Focusing Your Camera
- Have you Switched back to Auto Focus?
- Advanced Focusing Options
- Minimum Focusing Distance
- Viewfinder Diopter
- Center Focus Point
- Focus Assist Light
- High Contrast Areas in the Frame
- AI Servo Mode
- Focus Lock
- Pre-Focusing with the Shutter Button
- Focus Peaking
- Subject Placement on a Similar Plane (Best for Manual Focus)
- Live View with Manual Focus
- Touch Screen Focus Points
1. Auto Focus Vs. Manual Focus
The most obvious, and often overlooked tip is switching back from manual to autofocus. The small switch on your lens let’s you toggle between the two, but often it’s easy to forget to switch back to autofocus. On some Nikon cameras, however, there might be an “AF / MF” switch on both your lens AND your camera body!
2. Advanced Focusing Options
Check the advanced focusing options by going into your custom settings and assigning roles for certain buttons. Most modern cameras allow you to change so you can kind-of customize to whatever your preferences may be.
3. Minimum Focusing Distance
Be cautious of how close you are to your subject. You may be having trouble focusing because you’re too close. All lenses dictate a specific ‘minimum focusing distance’ that tells you exactly how close in proximity you can be to your subject. You will find that this issue will occur when you are too close, prompting you to take a couple of steps back and re-focus.
4. Viewfinder Diopter
Check your viewfinder diopter when you are having trouble seeing clearly through your viewfinder. It is common to suspect that your lens has focus issues when dealing with this problem. However, the diopter is usually the culprit. Fine-tune the dial to represent a clear image in your viewfinder. If you’ve got a problem with your eyes, maybe you’re near or far sighted, this may cause you to alter the viewfinder diopter.
5. Center Focus Point
When shooting in low light, your camera will have a hard time focusing. If this happens to you, your best bet is to select the center focus point. It’s the most accurate and strongest option amongst the cross-type AF points.
6. Focus Assist Light for Trouble Focusing in Low Light
Another tip for low light photography is to utilize your focus assist light. It gives the camera aid in low-light situations to gauge where exactly to aim focus. Some higher-end camera models don’t actually have this feature, so keep that in mind when shopping around or when using your camera.
7. High Contrast Areas in the Frame for Trouble Focusing in All Lighting Conditions
Whether you are shooting low light or not, looking for areas with high contrast will help you gain accurate focus. Cameras have the ability to track focus for higher contrasted areas in an image.
8. AI Servo Mode
Avoid using Servo modes in low light due to high levels of inaccuracy and unreliability. In Servo modes we are allowing the camera to track focus and when paired with low-light situations, there will be fewer areas of high contrast, which may cause your camera and lens to have trouble focusing. Find your point of focus instead of letting the camera determine that point of focus for you.
9. Trouble Focusing with Flares
Although flares provide a great artistic element, they provide certain struggles for your camera to gauge. In addition to reducing contrast, your camera is constantly battling between focusing between the darkest and brightest points of the image. Try using a hand or a lens hood to block out the light, and then lock your focus. You may have to change your position in relation to the subject and the source of the flare as well.
10. Focus Lock to Beat Difficulty Focusing
Lock in your focus whenever possible. Although this may not be the most viable option for active shoots, in still situations, it will give you the best ability to gain accurate focus. If you’ve placed your camera on a tripod and know exactly where the focus is going to be, and your subject remains still, you might as well lock your focus to take away the risk of missing aim with autofocus. If you don’t prefer to manually toggle the focus options, you can designate one of your buttons to trigger the ‘autofocus lock’.
11. Pre-Focusing with the Shutter Button
Pre-focus by holding the shutter half way down to lock focus and then fire away. This is option available for customization, as we mentioned in tip #2. Remember that when you let go of the shutter completely, and then you press it back down, it refocuses.
12. Focus Peaking
This feature is most commonly found in Sony cameras, but it’s becoming more common in other bodies as well. In live view, in real time, focus peaking shows you exactly which item is in focus. It essentially works as a moving highlight alert, tracking the focal plane you’re on.
13. Subject Placement on a Similar Plane (Best for Manual Focus)
Switch to manual focus when your subjects are on a similar plane, especially when you choose to shoot at a shallow depth of field. This helps maintain accuracy in a situation where your AF will likely be indecisive as to which area to focus on. Again, for most action driven scenes, this won’t be your best bet. Still, for some posing scenarios it offers a quick solution when your camera has trouble focusing.
14. Live View with Manual Focus for Overcoming Difficulty Focusing
We’ve given you certain situations when manual focus will yield better results. However, it’s important to understand that you should be using live view in conjunction with manual focusing to achieve an accurate reading focus. Zoom in on your subjects to lock your critical focus point.
15. Touch Screen Focus Points
Newer camera models have the option to use touch screen focusing when using live view. This feature can only be used in conjunction with AF mode. Similar to how we lock focus on our mobile devices, you simply select a point of focus on the LCD screen and the camera locks focus for that point. It’s a great feature to have if you find it difficult focusing via other methods.
It is our hope that these tips will help you if or when you have trouble focusing. What might otherwise be a huge problem on the job can be easy to fix if you’re prepared. The key to success in photography (and most things) is building a solid foundation. This includes everything from understanding how your camera works (so that you can solve issues like how to focus a camera) to learning the basics of composition, lighting, posing, and more. If you want to dive deeper into your photography education and build a solid foundation, you can master the photography basics with our Photography 101 Workshop or become a SLR Lounge Premium Member to gain access to photography education for all levels.