Due to the limits of the camera, it may occasionally be hard to focus on the edges of the frame when taking photos with a digital camera. Photographers can utilize a method known as “focus and recompose” to get around the issue. In this post, I’ll discuss the focus and recompose approach, which can be quite helpful when shooting in a variety of settings, including poor light or when framing your images with the subject in the corner.
I myself use this approach a lot while photographing wildlife and events. It came to my rescue several times when the lighting was terrible and my camera was unable to focus. Additionally, it performs admirably when my camera’s focus points are just centered in the center of the image.
What Recomposing Means
Let me first clarify what the term “recompose” in photography means before I discuss this approach. When taking a photo, you meticulously compose your composition and position your subject in the frame before pressing the shutter. To put it another way, you set up the shot. Simply put, recomposing involves framing your photo first (for instance, to get focus), then shifting your camera to move your subject to a different location in the frame.
Let’s say, for illustration purposes, that you began by centering the person in the frame and concentrating on their eyes. You might position the topic slightly off-center and end up with a far better composition as opposed to having a dull photo with your subject in the center. You are, in other words, recomposing your shot.
Why the Need to Recompose?
Normally, when using current digital cameras, most people do not bother to recompose their photographs. Many DSLR cameras, even the most entry-level versions, include numerous focus points that are dispersed throughout the viewfinder, as seen in the illustration below:
Usually, moving the focus point to the appropriate spot in the viewfinder, where the subject is positioned, gaining focus, and then taking a picture is the simplest thing to do when framing an image. But therein lies a common issue: the focus point is either in the wrong place or is too small to adequately cover the area of interest. Look through the viewfinder again; you are compelled to position your subject among the 11 fixed focus positions.
But what if you wanted greater freedom and wanted to freely move your topic around the frame? However, because to the limitations of the camera’s phase-detection mechanism, higher-end cameras rarely have enough focus points to fill the entire frame in instances like these. Since you have to shift the focus points around so much when recomposing your images, sometimes having too many focus points will make you slower.
In addition, as I noted in my post on capturing sharp images, the center focus point is consistently the most accurate in all DSLRs. In low-light situations, using the center focus point may be your only option to obtain acceptable image sharpness. If you have ever used corner focus points when taking photos in low light, you will be able to connect to this since you will remember how the lens moves back and forth while “searching” for focus. Here is a photo that was taken in a very gloomy setting:
The topic is razor sharp. Since no other focus point could achieve proper focus, I had to manually pre-focus on my subject using the central focus point with the aid of the camera’s AF assist beam. Next, I used a blue gel to discharge a flash behind the subject to create the above effect.
Being able to focus first and then recompose your images can therefore be really helpful in these kinds of circumstances. If the approach is used correctly, you may get the desired composition with just your camera and this method without having to worry about doing a lot of post-processing or cropping.
Focusing and Recomposing Methods
Your photos can be focused and recomposed in a variety of ways. Let’s review each approach and consider the benefits and drawbacks of each. Please note that I’m assuming your camera’s and lens’ focusing settings. In manual focus mode, the steps that follow will not function.
Single Servo Focus Method
Setting your camera to Single Servo or “AF-S” autofocus mode is the first and simplest option. When you half-press the shutter button while your camera is in Single Servo mode, it will only once gain focus. Point your camera at your subject while keeping the focus point in the center, lock focus by only partially pressing the shutter release button, and then wait for the camera to confirm it (either with a beep or with an in-focus indicator), before recomposing and taking a photo. If your camera won’t snap a photo, it’s probably in “Focus” release mode. Simply select “Release” in the AF-S / Single Servo menu on the camera, and it should be able to fire anywhere you point it.
The Single Servo / AF-S mode must be selected on your camera for this technique to work well with the majority of cameras. As long as your subject is not moving, the default AF-A setting should likewise perform admirably while using an entry-level Nikon DSLR. See the following technique if you want to be able to lock focus in any autofocus setting.
Autofocus Lock Method
The back of almost all contemporary interchangeable lens digital cameras, even entry-level versions, is equipped with a button for locking the focusing and exposure. This button, which is known as “AE-L / AF-L” on Nikon cameras, is present on almost all of their models. The focus and recompose technique would be ideal for the button’s default programming, which locks both exposure and focus.
You simply half-press the shutter button to focus on your subject without thinking about what autofocus mode your camera is in. Once focus is established, you press and hold the AE-L / AF-L button on the camera’s rear while still half-pressing the shutter. Then you adjust your shot and snap a photo (continue to hold both buttons). This will accomplish two things: it will lock your exposure so it won’t shift (which is particularly helpful when photographing people in difficult lighting) and it will keep your focus on the subject.
The only thing you need to confirm is that this button’s exposure and focus locking functionality truly works. The ability to accomplish both may not be available on all camera models. The AE-L / AF-L is preconfigured to perform this by default on all Nikon DSLRs. If the aforementioned approach does not help you, you might need to look at the menu settings. For further details on this, see my article on the “Nikon AE-L/AF-L button.”
AF-ON / Back Button Method
The third solution, known as “Back-Button Focus,” is the one I really prefer over the first two: programming a button on the camera’s back to focus. Since the shutter button is solely used to snap images, relocating the camera’s focusing function to this button eliminates the need to partially push it when getting focus.
Because I am not continuously thinking about hitting the Autofocus lock button or being in Single Servo mode, this works fantastically for me. Additionally, I don’t have to continuously partially press the shutter button, which could be triggered by accident. It also does an excellent job of helping you focus and recompose your images.
Once more, all current DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are capable of this. A “AF-ON” button may be located on the back of a high-end digital camera where your thumb can easily access it. In the camera menu, the focus function can be assigned to the “AF-ON” button.
In order to shift the focus points in your viewfinder, you must first ensure that you are in a single AF mode. Next, locate the menu item “AF Activation” by going to the “Custom Setting Menu” -> “Autofocus.” Put “AF-ON only” instead. Try half-pressing the shutter button once everything is in place; nothing happens. But the moment your thumb touches the AF-ON button, the camera will begin focusing.
It’s possible that your entry-level Nikon camera lacks an AF-ON button. Not to worry, the same “AE-L / AF-L” button I mentioned earlier may be set up to perform the same function:
There is a different menu place for the setting. You may find the “AF-ON” option by going to the “Custom Setting Menu” -> “Controls” -> “Assign AE-L/AF-L button” or the “Setup Menu” -> “Buttons” menu. Simply select it and click OK. Once finished, check by partially pushing the shutter button; it shouldn’t try to focus. After that, press the AE-L/AF-L button to trigger the camera’s autofocus.
Check see our article on back-button focusing for a comprehensive list of other camera manufacturers.
Here’s how to use this back button after you’ve moved the focus function there:
- Use the focus point selector and place the desired focus point on your subject
- Press the AF-ON / Back button with your thumb to acquire focus
- Release the AF-ON / Back button to keep and lock focus where it is
- Recompose your shot and take a picture
Potential Focus Issues
When employing this approach, you must constantly be aware that aggressive recomposing, shooting at very big apertures, and close distances could result in out-of-focus photographs. Remember that when you recompose, your focus plane varies, so if you have a very shallow depth of field and are too near to your subject, excessive recomposing may produce a soft-looking or defocused subject.
Try to retain the focus point as close to the subject as you can if you can’t get a sharp image, and then slightly recompose. Less shift equals less attention plane change. You won’t have to worry about this as much if you shoot long-range with long lenses. The strategy is seen here, where I used the central focus point to draw attention to my subjects to the right.
I hope you found this information to be helpful. In case you have any inquiries, do let me know!
Learn more: 11 Wildlife Photography Tips for Beginners