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How many times have you felt like you would've had the perfect photo—if only it had actually been in focus? If you're like most people, you've probably experienced this more times than you care to remember, right?

While there isn't a way to guarantee that every photo you ever take will be in perfect focus, there are things you can do to increase your chances of getting sharper images.

Exploring your camera's auto focus modes and various focus point options can have a profound impact on your ability to successfully capture the photo you're looking for. While these settings may not be as glamorous or immediately gratifying as some of the other settings we've covered thus far, don't let that stop you. Roll up your sleeves, grab your user guide, and read on!

Auto Focus Modes

Can you believe your camera has more than one way to approach something as seemingly simple as focusing? The options may actually surprise you!

Some of these settings change automatically when you select certain shooting modes or scenes (see Chapter 2). But in the event that they don't—or you prefer to take charge and change them for yourself—it's advantageous to know what your choices are.

If your camera is one that gives you access to these settings, it will either have a dedicated button for this purpose, or you'll find it listed within your menu settings. If you don't already know where your auto focus modes are, take a moment to refer to your user guide and find them before reading on.

One shot or single

If you've never changed your settings from factory default (or have never taken advantage of the sports shooting mode we discussed in Chapter 2), then your shooting experience thus far has likely been confined to what's typically referred to as one shot (or single) auto focus mode.

In this mode, when you press the shutter button, the camera pulls focus once, then holds tight until the image capture is complete.

This is great for most shooting circumstances where your subject isn't moving around much (Figure 4.11), but it can be a challenge when you're trying to shoot a moving target whose focal distance is continually changing (for example, moving toward or away from the camera).

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11 One shot (single) auto focus mode is the default for everyday shooting and is capable of great results, even in scenes like this. Although the subject is moving, the distance between him and the camera is steady, as he's not moving toward or away from the lens.

Continuous or servo

As the name suggests, continuous auto focus mode enables your camera to track a moving object. Yep. You read that right. It can actually track your subject as it moves within the frame! Isn't that amazing?

It works by continually focusing (rather than pulling focus just once) for as long as you're pressing the shutter button halfway.

That's the catch. You're required to hold the button down halfway, allow the camera to focus, then keep holding the button down, following your subject with the camera and keeping them in the frame. The camera will continually focus, so when you finally take the photo, all will be well. You can see the results of continuous auto focus mode in Figure 4.12.

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 Continuous (or servo) auto focus made it possible for me to maintain focus on Rachel and Jeff as they raced past the camera.

Additional focus options

Some camera models have an additional focus mode that automatically switches between one shot (single) and servo (continuous) modes as needed. If your subject starts out in one spot, then suddenly takes off on a dead sprint toward your lens, this mode will keep up! Check your user guide for details.

Focus Points

Have you ever wondered how your camera knows what part of the scene to focus on? How does it know whether you want little Bobby—or the puppy running around in the yard behind him—to be in focus?

Most cameras leave the factory with a default setting where the camera basically guesses. You may have witnessed this if you've ever been shooting, and various boxes or squares appeared on different parts of your screen in response to whatever is in front of your lens, similar to what you see in Figure 4.13.

Figure 4.13

Figure 4.13 By default, most cameras automatically select focusing points for you, shown here as orange boxes.

Some cameras take this a step further with what is called "face detection" (which might hijack your white balance and exposure settings—check your user guide for the specifics).

As an alternative, some cameras will let you select one of several specific focus points (Figure 4.14). This makes it easy to choose a point of focus, compose the shot, and capture the image. (Though it takes practice to get used to regularly changing your focus points, it can be done!)

Figure 4.14

Figure 4.14 Some camera models will let you select one of several focus points with the ability to change them from shot to shot to suit your subject and composition. (The pattern and availability of the points on your camera may vary.)

Even if your camera doesn't give you the option to choose from several focus points, chances are it will, at least, let you set a single focus point at the center of the frame, as seen in Figure 4.15. Rather than having the focus point jump around while the camera plays guessing games, you can breathe easy and count on the focus area to stay put in the center of the frame.

Figure 4.15

Figure 4.15 Almost all cameras will let you cancel the default auto point selection feature and opt for a fixed center focus point instead.

Because most cameras combine auto focus lock with auto exposure lock, you should be able to use the same technique you just learned of positioning your subject in the center of your frame, then pressing and holding the shutter halfway down while you recompose before taking the photo.

If you've ever felt as if the auto focus point selection option was a toss-up, making it tricky to predict what the camera will decide to focus on, you may become a big fan of fixed center point focus. It leaves one less variable to guess at or leave to chance.

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