Digital SLR Focus Tips

Even with all the advancements being made in digital technology, getting tack sharp images using your DSLR’s auto-focus feature isn’t always easy to do. A lot of things can trip up an auto-focus and even when you think your edges are crisp, upon closer inspection, it might turn out that they are still slightly off focus. Here, you can learn a few tips from a pro, as Phil Steele shares his knowledge in a short video tutorial. Have a look:

When the auto-focus feature is struggling, in some situations you can correct it by focusing on a different object, locking your focus, then moving it back to the original subject. For example, in the photograph below Steele is trying to photograph the tuning knobs on the guitar. Because there isn’t enough contrast on the edges for the auto focus to work properly, he has shifted his composition slightly to the left where auto focus works easily on the head stock and strings.

auto focus

Once his focus is correct on the headstock, Steele switches off the AF, which effectively locks the focus in place. He then goes back to original composition to take his photograph. This is a quick fix that allows him to use the auto-focus and ensure that the tuners will stay in focus.

how to use manual focus

Another quick tip that will help you find focus is utilizing the zoom tool on your LCD screen in live view mode. Line up your composition, then zoom in your LCD viewfinder, not the lens, to get a magnified look at what you are focusing on. You can then fine tune your focus, zoom out, and snap your photo.

dslr tips

Above, you can see Steele using this method as he magnifies his viewfinder, giving him a close look at the sharpness of the guitars edges.

For further training: Phil Steele’s Event Photography Course

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15 responses to “Digital SLR Focus Tips”

  1. Clemens Lettinck says:

    Great manual.

  2. Dan says:

    This video helped a lot. It showed me things I already knew but explained them better to fill in the gaps. Great job!

  3. Alex says:

    I’m surprised that the article didn’t cover AF-L, I prefer this as switching off AF because it locks the lens so if it’s bumped or if you have a cheap lens and point the camera down, you don’t loose the focus lock. I apologize if he covers it in the video but I didn’t watch the video (no sound on my computer)

  4. Dianna says:

    Appreciate all the focus tips! I was doing a few of these techniques…. Look forward to watching more of your videos!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Great instructions! Never thought abou the use of live feed. Focus has been a struggle with my changing vision, and I like manual focus, but it hasn’t been as sharp as in my 20’s. I miss the old-fashioned t-focus that my ae1 had (old film camera). Wish there was something like that, maybe there is? Anyway, thanks for the great instruction!

  6. Sajjad says:

    Fantastic presentation of the subject, all said under one roof of the speech
    i would like to listen to you , and get other subjects of photography such as:
    1. Using Grey Card
    2. Best setting for the camera
    3. Perfect exposure
    4. HDR
    5. RAW photography

    and others


  7. Louise Lee says:

    Very informative tutorial. Looking forward to more.

  8. Barbara says:

    Excellent tips…made easy to understand! Great job.

  9. LeeSG says:

    Very nice video. Lots of content, no fluff, good, brisk presentation. I’m looking forward to more from Phil.

  10. Ian says:

    Very well presented.

  11. Stevey says:

    How about using Back Button focus, you can focus and then recompose without having to switch off the AF. For action shots, I use BBF with the focus setting(Canon) on AI Servo. By holding down the BBF and the AI Servo setting, I am able to follow the subject and maintain focus. It does take some practice with panning for moving subject but hey, good photography is all about practice.

  12. jp says:

    i just LOVE phil steele! i have watched all of his free tutorials and own a couple of his trainings. he is the hands-down BEST presenter out there. everything is explained just right, easy to follow and understand, no extra verbiage and not over my head, but doesn’t make me feel like i “should’ve known this” either. doesn’t hurt that he’s seriously easy to look at or listen to, also ;~) my only request is that he’d do an in-depth tutorial on shutter speeds… that always eludes me!

  13. Arindam says:

    very useful tips, really helpful. I would though like to know when to use “Continuous-Servo AF”, if I want to shoot some activities on a street photography, will I switch back to AF-C (Nikon) or AI-Servo (Canon) or stay “manual pre-focus zone” !!?

  14. Kelly Green says:

    These tips are easy to understand. Thank you

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