Fixing Focusing Problems With a DSLR

Understand all of your options for focusing on a scene

Soft focusing on Christmas lights

Thinkstock / Getty Images

When making the switch from point and shoot cameras to DSLRs, it's important to learn how to achieve a sharp focus. You have a few more options for setting the focus point with the more advanced camera. You also have the option of focusing automatically or manually. These seven tips can help you use the DSLR's various features to achieve sharp focus and the proper focal point.

Don't Get Too Close to the Subject

Close-Up Of Man Holding Camera
 Suriyo Hmun Kaew / EyeEm/Getty Images

Standing too close to a subject is one of the most common reasons a DSLR’s autofocus fails. Doing this makes it difficult for the autofocus to achieve a sharp result unless you’re using a macro lens. With a typical DSLR lens, you have to move farther back from the subject or you could end up with a blurred image.

Avoid Direct Light That Causes Glare

Teen smiling model brushing hand through her hair
 Martin Novak/Getty Images

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 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

Concert crowd
 Fernando Fernández Baliña/Getty Images

You may have autofocus problems when shooting in low light. Try holding down the shutter button halfway for a few seconds before taking your photo. This allows the DSLR to pre-focus on the subject when shooting in low light.

Contrasted Patterns Can Fool Autofocus Systems

Zebra surrounded with black and white stripes
 chantal/Getty Images

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. Again, you can try pre-focusing on the subject to fix this problem.

Try Using Spot Focus

Cropped Hand Holding Lens With Reflection
 Tim Höher / EyeEm/Getty Images

It's also difficult to use the DSLR's autofocus when you’re shooting a subject in the background with several objects in the foreground. The camera often tries to autofocus on the foreground objects. To remedy this, use spot focus. Hold down the shutter button halfway and pre-focus on 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 it now has the subject in the position you want. Then take the photo, and the subject should be in focus.

Consider Switching to Manual Focus

A hand holds a camera with the lens and focus ring prominently displayed
 Jun Yong / EyeEm/Getty Images

As you can see, there are times where the DSLR camera’s autofocus just doesn’t work quite right. When this occurs, try using manual focus.

To use manual focus with your DSLR and an interchangeable lens, you probably 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

Magnifying glass
Creative Crop/Digital Vision/Getty Images.

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