I can’t remember when I became best friends with back button focus. Like all great things, it is something that I just started using and never looked back again.
Why you should use back button focus
It’s really quite logical. If you are already focused when you push the shutter button to take the shot, the camera has less to do in that minuscule split second of time. Of course, without back button focus, you would have been depressing the shutter button slightly to focus anyway ahead of actually fully depressing and taking the shot. But what if your subject, or you, moved a bit in that brief interval? Your camera would have to refocus before taking the shot.The back button is a little focus Scout - always prepared.Click To Tweet
Within 5 minutes of first using back button focusing, without even thinking about it, my thumb has not left the back button. Except for when I put my camera down that is. It just makes sense.
When photographing young children back button focusing is essential – they move so fast! All the time.
What else is involved with back button focus
To get the most out of back button focus, your autofocus should be set to continuous servo mode for Nikon or AI Servo for Canon. As the name suggests, your camera will continuously focus all the time you hold the button down. I even use continuous servo for still life images. The subject might not be moving, but I move fractionally every time I breathe in and out. Also, I don’t have a particularly steady hand, which is really annoying for a photographer.
What about autofocus area?
There is no point being in auto area autofocus, AF-A for Nikon or AI Focus AF for Canon, if you’re using back button focus. It is far too general and the camera won’t know what you want to focus on. That’s why if you use this autofocus area you’ll find every now and then that your subject is completely out of focus and some random object in your image is beautifully in focus. I’d go so far as to say, don’t even bother with auto area autofocus.
Take control of the situation and choose single point autofocus (same terminology for both Nikon and Canon). Position the focus point on your subject. If you’re photographing a person, and they’re close enough, position the focus point on their eye – the one nearest to you. Do this and your camera will be ready to take a perfectly focused image when the moment arrives.
Also, get really, really good at changing your focus point really, really fast to keep up with your subject when using single point autofocus. I don’t see how you would get a well focused image of a moving subject if you’re not using back button focus, along with continuous autofocus and, either single point autofocus, 9 point dynamic area autofocus or 21 point dynamic area autofocus. Dynamic area is a Nikon term. Canon’s equivalent terminology is AF point expansion.
To be a good photographer you need to develop your inner control freak.Click To Tweet
Further reading on how to get the most out of your autofocus:
Have you made the switch to back button focus yet? If so, let us know in the comments what you photograph. Also, when you made the switch, how much of a difference it made.
If you haven’t, you need a new BFF and BBF is the one.
Clicking Clueless to Confident Photographer
Cut out the frustration of learning photography.
Everyone can take great photos. I’ll show you how.
We love to hear that we’re being helpful, so if this tutorial has helped you to understand back button focus, share that too!