How to Focus Your Nikon Digital SLR
Factory settings can be very frustrating when it comes to focusing your Nikon Digital SLR Camera where YOU want.
Explaining what the buttons do together can get a little complicated but here goes. Afterward with some practice you’ll be able to change them to suit your subject and get many more successful sharp shots of your subjects.
Nikon DSLR Focus
1. Focus Area -WHERE the camera focus. Small dots in the viewfinder highlight when you press the shutter ½ way.
2. Focus Mode – HOW the camera focuses – whether it tracks moving subjects or locks focus and allows you to better compose your shot for still subjects.
You can also move your Focus Point around the frame if necessary – WHICH dot(s) you use.
Oh and 1 more critical button – typically on the lens. Auto Focus (AF) versus Manual Focus (MF). Yes, you can turn OFF auto focus (sometimes by accident lol), intentionally when you’re shooting through a fence or other stuff in the way like tree limbs, reflections, things that throw off auto focus.
Let’s go over them 1 at a time. Auto modes (especially that green square!) don’t give you a choice when it comes to
focus. So let’s take over! Turn the top dial to P for Program Mode (or A or S – if you already use either of those).
First – before we get started!
Find the (i) button on your camera – usually on the back on the bottom. If you double click it, it highlights the menu options on the back. Scroll up and down in the menu with the wheel on the back. Hit OK to go into the menu that’s highlighted. Adjust the options with the wheel up & down. Hit OK to commit any changes. Now just gently press the shutter ½ way to go back to shooting. Your settings should be changed for you. Voila! Ok, now on to Focus!
Auto Area AF
Factory Default. The camera chooses the focus point based on closest subject. Not my personal favorite. How many are out of focus (up to this point)?
Single Point AF
Manual Selection – you decide! Allows you to CHOOSE a focus point, LOCK focus and compose the image with off-center subject/focus point (in single point AF, or pick a focus point for Continuous). Select the focus point manually; the camera focuses on the subject in the selected focus point. Choose for stationary subjects.
Dynamic Area AF
selects the focus point manually as above, but if the subject briefly leaves the selected focus point, the camera “will focus based on information on the subject from surrounding focus points”. Nikon suggests you choose this for subjects that are moving unpredictably.
AF-S (or AF-C). Touch shutter to activate auto focus, look through the viewfinder, keep your camera to your eye, use your thumb on the rear dial (as you would scrolling through your images in playback), back & forth, up/down to change which focus point is highlighted.
Lock Focus in AF-S by placing that highlighted point on your subject, pressing shutter half way down and keeping your index finger in place on the shutter.
Look for solid green circle in viewfinder to confirm focus. DON’T move your finger. Continue pressing half-way, … Now you can “reframe” or “recompose” the shot so that your subject is in a different part of the frame, then press the shutter the rest of the way down to shoot the photo.
For instance, if I’m doing a bunch of portraits, and turn the camera vertically, I want to LOCK FOCUS (AF-S) on the persons eyes.
I also move the focus point to the top of the frame so it’s easier to focus on eyes without having to continuously tilt up and down if the focus point were in the center. Otherwise I tend to use the center point only. It’s just habit, but it’s FAST for me to shoot that way.
Nikon: To do that I first tap the shutter to see which point is active, then move the point with the wheel on the back, pressing left or right as I would when scrolling through the images I’ve shot. You’ll see the black dot on the back move around the frame on the rear screen OR see the focus point highlight through the eyepiece in the viewfinder.
Auto versus Single versus Continuous Focus Modes.
AF-A. Camera decides for you if subject is moving or still and changes between single (still) & continuous focus (fast-moving). Personally I think it’s best to pick between the other 2 options.
Single Point Auto Focus
AF-S. Allows you to choose the focus point, LOCK FOCUS and compose the image with off-center subject/focus point. Person left, person right, building in the middle – choose one person, point the active focus point at them directly, LOCK focus by keeping finger pressed half way on shutter and green focus indicator solid in viewfinder, reframe the shot, press the shutter the rest of the way to take the photograph.
AF-C – Continuous Servo. Follow focus on moving subjects while pressing shutter half-way down. It CONTINUOUSLY adjusts the focus distance to try to track a moving subject, like a duck flying by, or a child running, or sports action.
Not to be confused with RELEASE MODE / DRIVE: SINGLE SHOT DRIVE versus CONTINUOUS DRIVE where the difference is you take 1 shot on single when you press the shutter. Continuous drive – the camera keeps firing as you press the shutter. I keep my cameras on continuous drive ALL the time so I don’t have to think about it. I typically shoot people and they change expression from one shot to the next. More on that later, especially with flash.