Fixing Focusing Problems With a DSLR

Understand all of your options for focusing on a scene

Soft focusing on Christmas lights

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When making the switch from point and shoot cameras to DSLRs, one aspect of the DSLR that can be confusing is learning how to achieve a sharp focus, because you have a few more options for setting the focus point with the advanced camera. You also almost certainly will have the option of focusing automatically or manually.

Try these seven tips to figure out how to use the DSLR's various features to achieve sharp focus and the proper focal point.

Too Close to the Subject

One of the most common reasons for the DSLR camera’s autofocus to fail is because you are standing too close to the subject. It can be difficult for the autofocus to achieve a sharp result when you’re close unless you’re using a macro lens. With a typical type of DSLR lens, you’ll have to move farther back from the subject or you could end up with a blurred focus.

Avoid Direct Light That Causes Glare

Strong reflections can cause a DSLR’s autofocus to fail or to misread the subject. Wait for the reflection to diminish or change positions, so that the reflection is less prominent. Or make use of an umbrella or diffuser to diminish the harshness of the light that’s striking the subject.

Low Light Makes for Tough Focusing Conditions

When shooting in low light, you may have autofocus problems. Try holding down the shutter button halfway to allow the DSLR camera to have enough time to pre-focus on the subject when shooting in low light.

Contrasted Patterns Can Fool Autofocus Systems

If you’re shooting a photo where the subject is wearing clothing with a highly contrasted pattern, such as light and dark stripes, the camera may struggle to properly autofocus on the subject. Again, you can try to pre-focus on the subject to fix this problem. Prefocusing gives the camera more time to focus.

Try Using Spot Focus

It also can be difficult to use the DSLR camera’s autofocus when you’re shooting a subject in the background with several objects in the foreground. The camera probably will try to autofocus on the foreground objects. You need to hold down the shutter button halfway and pre-focus by finding an object that’s almost the same distance from you and the subject, but that’s away from the foreground objects.

Keep holding down the shutter button and change the framing of the photo so that it now has the subject in the position you want. Then take the photo, and the subject should be in focus. You also can change to a spot focus type of autofocus mechanism to ensure that the DSLR camera is focusing on the desired subject.

Consider Switching to Manual Focus

As you can see, there are times where the DSLR camera’s autofocus just doesn’t work quite right. When this occurs, you can try using manual focus. To use manual focus with your DSLR camera and interchangeable lens, you probably will need to flip a toggle switch on the lens (or possibly the camera) from AF (autofocus) to MF (manual focus).

Once the camera is set for manual focus, just turn the focus ring on the lens. As you turn the ring, you should see the subject’s focus change on the camera’s LCD screen or through the viewfinder. Turn the ring back and forth until the focus is as sharp as you want it.

Magnify the Scene for Easier Focusing

With some DSLR cameras, you have the option when using manual focus to magnify the image on the LCD screen, making it easier to achieve the sharpest focus. Check your camera’s user guide to see whether this option is available or look through the camera’s menus to find the command.