DSLR’s allow you to choose your focus area, and not let the camera do it automatically. Then you have the option to use either the shutter release button or back button in focusing.
Manually choosing a focus point:
Check out your camera’s manual and see how to change from auto-focus to manual focus. Once you have this set, you can look in your viewfinder and you should see your focus points. Mine show up as black rounded squares. I have a round dial on the back of my camera with arrows at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 position. I move the focus to one of my focus points using this dial. I have 5 focus points, but I know the higher end DSLR’s have more.
Sometimes the area I want the focus to land on isn’t in the right position for the shot I want. I will then use the closest focus point on my camera, focus and recompose. This usually means I have to keep my shutter button partially pressed, so it doesn’t try to refocus once I move the camera. It also only works if the subject is still and not moving.
Choosing your focus area is especially important when using a narrow depth of field, since if the camera isn’t exact then the focus is missed. Where do you put your focus point? Right between the eyes on the bridge of the nose. If you want clear, crisp eyes you need to focus as close to them as possible.
Using the shutter button or back button focusing:
When I say using the shutter I mean, pressing the shutter half-way and then the camera will focus. The other way is the back button focusing. There should be a button on the back of your DSLR that you can use to focus instead of pressing the shutter button. This method is more complicated and takes more practice to get the hang of it. I tried it, but didn’t really like it. I think the first method works well for me, so I use that one. Some people swear by BBF as the only way to get tack sharp photos. Just try it and see if it works for you.
The critical eye:
When you look at your photos, look to see where the focus is landing. Is it landing on the eyes, on their shirt, the couch behind them? Choosing your focus points help to make sure the focus lands in the right place. In the lower end pro-sumer cameras (a.k.a. MINE) they don’t have a lot of focus points so the focus area is wider. In the better cameras with plentiful focus points, the focus area is more, well…focused. Getting your subject in focus is much better and easier.
Okay focus – the eyes are in mostly focus but parts of her face are blurry. Very shallow depth of field here so it didn’t take much to have focus fall out.
Better focus – same time, her mouth and eyes are in focus. As you stand further away from your subject you have a deeper plane to work with in getting more parts in focus.
Sadly I deleted my out of focus shots from this session. I normally do that right away if I have lots of the same pictures from “photo shoot”. I take so many that I really don’t need the out of focus ones taking up hard drive space. Basically, just look at their face and see if you can find the area that is most in focus to see how you did. Sometimes it takes a steady hand and quick trigger finger (especially with little ones) in order to get your shots in focus.