How to focus properly

Hi everyone, 

I hope you enjoyed my blog post about remote controls yesterday! Which remote do you use to take your photos?

Today I want to tell you a few things about how to focus properly when taking self portraits. For a long time I had huge problems with focusing properly because nobody told me how to do it! Of course it is easy enough when you are close to the camera but hey, what about when you are a few metres away? How do you make sure that you are going to be in focus and your photos will not turn out blurry?

I use three different approaches for focusing when taking self portraits and will go through all three of them in detail. 

1) Back-Focusing

You decide on a location and set up your camera / tripod at an angle that you think looks good. You decide on where you will position yourself later - I normally figure that out by using the live mode on the camera because it makes it easier to imagine how the photo will look later with you in it. Then you take your camera off the tripod and go to that position. You focus ON the tripod (see photo below), take a photo to make sure the tripod really is in focus and lock the focus. What is very important now is to mark the spot where you are standing so you will remember where to go to again after you put the camera back on the tripod! I usually take my yellow bag with me because it is bright and I will not miss the spot when I go back. But you can easily also use a branch or just make marks on the ground with your feet. Then you go back to the tripod and attach the camera again. Make sure you don't move the tripod when attaching the camera!

Focusing on your tripod 

Focusing on your tripod 

Most of the time, I still take a test shot (see below - can you spot my yellow bag? :) ) to see if everything is ok. All the photos you see are from when I set up my shoot for my photo "The stars that are out of reach" for which I will post an editing explanation soon as well. 

If you want to expand your photo afterwards, you can do that easily because your focus is locked and you just have to move around your camera on the tripod (that is, if you have a ball-head). 

Test photo for "The stars that are out of reach" 

Test photo for "The stars that are out of reach" 

2) Focusing "using" a friend or your partner

I used to never do that when I did my 365 and only started using this method last year. I never had anyone I wanted with me when taking self portraits but my boyfriend has become very valuable to me in this regard (and it is lovely having him with me when I go shooting). 

So after you decide on your location and set up your camera / tripod, you ask whoever is accompanying you to a shoot to stand in the spot you later want yourself to be. Then you focus on that person, take a photo to check the focus is spot, lock the focus and you are ready to take your photos. Do not forget to ask your friend to mark the spot where they are standing (or mark it yourself while they are still there) so you will know where to go to afterwards! Again, if you want to expand your photo afterwards, you can do that easily because your focus is locked and you just have to move around your camera on the tripod. 

This is my boyfriend pretending to be me on a test shot that I took after I looked the focus ;)

This is my boyfriend pretending to be me on a test shot that I took after I looked the focus ;)

3) "Blind" Focusing

I use this method when there is no way that I can focus using a friend or using back-focusing. For example when I take a close photo of my hands holding something, or even sometimes when I just have a few moments to take a photo and do not want to "waste time" using back-focusing. It can work really well so there is not always the need to focus using method 1) or 2). However, if you want to be completely sure that you will be in focus, I suggest you use those methods. 

What I mean with "blind" focusing, is that after setting up your camera / tripod and deciding where you will be in the photo, you move the focal point on your camera to that spot, go to where you think the focus will hit and take a test shot using your remote. Then you mark the spot using one of the methods explained in the part about back-focusing, go back to your camera and check if you are in focus. If you are in focus - and chances are quite good that you will be - you lock the focus and you are ready to take your photos. 

Test photo for "A heavy load" - in this case the focus was spot on despite not using back-focusing 

Test photo for "A heavy load" - in this case the focus was spot on despite not using back-focusing 

If you are not sure what I mean when I say "lock the focus", here is a quick explanation: 

On the side of every lens, there is a switch where you can quickly switch between Manual and Manual/Automatic Focus. This is the way it looks on a Nikon lens but it looks almost identical on a Canon lens. Once you have set the focus the way you want to, e.g. by using back-focusing, you switch to "M" and leave it like that until you are completely done taking your photos. 

lens-2.jpg

I hope this helped you guys, feel free to ask if you have any questions! 

All the best, 
Andrea