You have the perfect shot lined up. Your subject is compelling, the background is a photographer’s dream, all the compositional elements are popping like movie theater popcorn makers before the next Marvel superhero movie marathon, and don’t even get me started on the lighting…You half press your shutter to focus and accidentally push the shutter the rest of the way down. Before you are able to reset, the mood is ruined – a trash truck rolls in and parks right behind your subject blocking the light and throwing up a cloud of foul smelling dust. All of this could have been avoided had you just used back button focus! Well, not the trash truck thing, but you probably would have captured the picture before it invaded the area.
Back Button Focus – What Is It & Why You Should Try It
Well, the name pretty much says it all! Rather than using the half shutter press method, that many photographers are fond of, you use a button on the back of your DLSR to control when your camera focuses. This gives, in my humble opinion and experience, a little bit more control and helps avoid accidentally snapped photos capturing your scene in mid-recomposition.
It makes recomposing simpler because you can simply press the button to focus on your subject, release the button, and recompose while your focus point remains exactly where you placed it. It’s great for those images where you would like a little extra space to one edge of the photo or where your subject is partially hidden behind an object that might throw off your camera’s focus when using the half-press method.
It makes capturing motion in street, sports, or other action photography easy as well! You can simply hold the button down to keep the camera in continuous focus mode while reserving your shutter button for the moments you actually want to capture. Less accidental clicks!
Back Button Focus – How To Get Started
Take out your camera’s owner’s manual and look for the section discussing back button focus. Some cameras have a button dedicated to this while others have a button that you can assign to strictly be your focus button. For the majority of users, you’ll need to change the function of the AE-L, AF-L button to be AF on from your camera’s menu. Once you’ve done this, the rest is basically a matter of practice and becoming familiar with the new location of your focus button. (Also, if it intimidates you in the least, I’d recommend checking out our Photography 101 course to get up to speed and snapping away in no time!)
The only way to become accustomed to this is to spend time using it. When I initially began using back button focus, I would spend time while watching TV or hanging out in the backyard framing shots and using the new focusing format. You could also plan a photo shoot or specific period of time where you know you aren’t going to use the half-press shutter method or go out and take some street photos utilizing the back button method only. I’ve found that as I’ve become more comfortable, I tend to use it more and more as I like having the increased level of control I feel it gives me.
You’ll find that as you use it more, you’ll either wonder how you survived this long without it or wonder what the hype is all about and go back to the default method. For me, it’s very beneficial. I’m able to focus on my subject with less contemplation of which of the myriad of focus points to choose from, less worry about accidentally snapping a worthless photo, or missing focus because my subject moved just a bit and ended up with a less than ideally sharp image.
It’s completely up to you, of course, but I encourage you to try this method out if you haven’t already. Most importantly, get out there and SHOOT! Share your favorites with us on your favorite social media platform, like us on Facebook, drop by our critique section, and be sure to sign up for email updates to stay up to date on the latest and greatest news, products, contests, reviews, and photography articles!
CREDITS : Photographs by Michael have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.