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How & Why To Back Button Focus A Nikon With CreativeLive Instructor Mike Hagen

By Justin Heyes on August 22nd 2016

On new DSLRs the focus button is paired with the shutter release in a two-stage button; pressing halfway down will activate the focus, and a full press will take the picture. This combination can be fine for most occasions and everyday life events. Separating the focus button from the shutter to a dedicated button on the back of your camera is aptly named back button focus, and has great benefits.

When trying to capture that critical moment having your finger half pressing the shutter is less than ideal and can cause camera shake from your hand cramping. Furthermore, it allows for the ability to set focus with one button, then shoot with the other when the moment is right. If you focus with the shutter release button, say, on a bride, and then someone walks in front of the lens the focus will shift, but you don’t have that issue with back button focusing, and that’s just one reason.


[REWIND: Photography 101: 15 Tips For When You’re Having Trouble Focusing Your Camera ]

Back button focus makes focus and recomposing simpler, and you don’t have any accidental exposures when in the middle of a recomposition. Using the technique allows you to more easily capture motion in the street, sports or wedding photography with your AF-C (auto focus continuous) mode. In a recent post on CreativeLive, photographer & CreativeLive instructor, Mike Hagen, shows how to set up back button focus on Nikon camera while giving a few examples of the benefits.

Back button focus can be beneficial to your photography if your camera supports it. I know for Fuji shooters back button focus isn’t implemented in the came way as Canon, Nikon, and Sony; the work around can be a little flaky at times. If you haven’t set up you camera to use back button focus, give it a try. As you begin to use your camera more and more, you may wonder how you have ever lived without it.

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Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Simon Johannssen

    Almost everyone on this planet seems to use and like BBF :-/ Looks like I have to try it, too.. Sounds nice but after so many years of not using it I think I will miss my normal “half-press-autofocus”

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  2. Robert Sheppard

    I set BBF on all my cameras now (dSLR, mirrorless, even works on a Leica compact), I just hope the X1D has it! ;)

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  3. Daniel Thullen

    Love the af-on (back button) feature on my Canon. I shoot lots of sports, so have the ability to focus separate from the shutter button is a huge benefit.

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  4. Rob Kirkland

    Love back button focus, I just wish my camera had an af-on button instead of using the ae-l/af-l button which is too far from the shutter.

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