Olympic Fuel Tip #12 – Can You Control Your Camera’s Focus?

I’m in Ecuador this week hosting our second photography expedition in Cotacachi this year.  So, today’s "Olympic Fuel" tip comes from professional photographer, Rich Wagner, here with us.

Rich offered up this “focus” tip to an attendee during our group photo review this morning.

Take a close look at the photo below. The little boy is slightly out of focus, as the camera chose to focus on the bicycle rim. This happened because the camera’s default setting was to have the focus point in the center of the picture – and the little boy is just to the left of that center point.

Ecuador Photography Expedition

Having your subject in focus is critical to making a salable photograph. And, to do that, you need to be in charge. Don’t let the camera make that decision for you. Here are three ways to take control of your focus:

1. Temporarily put your subject in the center of your viewfinder, then press the shutter button halfway and hold it. Recompose the shot and push the shutter button all the way down to take the picture. (This locks the focus as long as you have the shutter held halfway down. The problem is, it usually locks the exposure as well, and that might not work with the shot. Try methods two or three.)

2. All DSLRs, and many point-and-shoots, allow you to manually select the focus point. This usually involves rotating a dial on the back of the camera while looking through the viewfinder. The different focus points will be highlighted one at a time so you can make your choice. Check your manual for specifics.

3. With all the great new technology, don’t forget you also have the option of manually focusing your lens (even some point-and-shoot cameras have a manual focus setting). Turn off autofocus (it’s either a switch on the camera body or a switch on the lens) and just focus manually. With a little practice, this is very easy and fast to do – it’s also often easier to achieve focus in low-light situations this way.

Remember, great composition can be ruined by an out-of-focus main subject. Make sure you’re in control. Make the camera work for you. Don’t let it make all the decisions.

[Editor’s note: When I was in Panama earlier this month, I met up with an Indian tribe that migrated to Panama from Ecuador to work on the Panama Canal.

They couldn’t have been more welcoming when my husband and I went to visit them.  They invited us in, offered us lunch, gave us a tour of their village, and even reenacted a few traditional dances for us, offering to paint our arms in their traditional tribal celebration paint (made mostly of crushed berries and fruit) so we could participate in the party.

Now that I’m here in Ecuador, I understand why they were so warm and welcoming.  Yesterday, when our group of attendees was walking through an indigenous village to see the resident cobbler and learn how he makes shoes, the women at the elementary school invited us in to meet the children.

She said they don’t get many visitors, but they like to teach the children not to be afraid of other cultures… to embrace the idea that we’re all different and that’s not a scary thing.

So we went in and the children gathered along the wall to sing a little song for us and dance. They even pulled up a few attendees to dance with them, which you’ll see here.

When we go to Panama, I’d like to take our group to see these Ecuadorian-descended Indians… so they’ll see what I mean about Ecuadorians being among the friendliest people in the world.

Because it’s a full day’s journey, we’ll schedule this side-trip after the workshop. The tribe lives 45 minutes outside the city, and when you get to the water’s edge, they have to come pick you up by motorized canoe. From there, it’s another 10- to 20-minute boat ride. And we’ll want to stay all day.

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