Mastering focus is one of the latest challenges I’m facing as a budding photographer. When to use autofocus versus manual focus, mastering depth of field, and what exactly to focus on within your shot - all of these are important factors to consider when perfecting your final image. Below, however, I’m going to show a few example of photos where things were a little wonky, where the final image just seemed off.
Photo 1: Museum Landscape Shot
I shot this photo at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, using my Sony a5100 camera and Sigma 19mm/f2.8 lens. I used autofocus here - using automatic AF and a wide focus area but also shot while hand-holding the camera. What do you notice about this photo? It is perhaps less noticeable above but when we really zoom in to the museum in the center we can see it.
In general for landscape photos, I’ve learned to focus ⅓ of the way through the shot (rather than at infinity). However, for this particular photo, I should have done a few things - tried to ensure the center of photo - the museum - was in focus and also used a tripod rather than hand-holding. Using a tripod would also allow me to switch to manual focus and make incremental adjustments to perfect my focus; additionally, I would have also been able to experiment with different areas of focus while maintaining the composition of the shot.
Photo 2: Cat in a Cone
When I came home from shooting at the museum, I noticed my cat, Gatsby, relaxing in a cardboard box while still in his cone of shame and decided to quickly try to capture his exasperated expression. Not having time to switch out a lens, I used the same Sigma 19mm/f2.8 lens - also with the same automatic AF and wide focus area settings. The final result isn’t terrible, but once again - the focus just feels off. Why? Let’s take a look at the annotated photograph to the right.
To achieve the best effect for portrait photos, ensuring a sharp focus on the eyes of the subject is ideal. I was using a wide-focus setting and autofocus in low light; as a result, the camera had a lot of issues focusing on specifically his eyes. What could be done to address this? The aperture was already at its maximum setting - f2.8 - so I couldn’t try to get more light into the photo. I could try to reduce the aperture to increase depth of field and be more forgiving to a finicky focus; however, the photo wasn’t getting enough light as is so this wasn’t a great option. A lot of cameras, however, have various autofocus settings; in the case of the Sony a5100, I could have switched to lock-on spot autofocus and ensure eye autofocus detection was turned on (https://helpguide.sony.net/gbmig/45349331/v1/en/contents/TP0000509164.html). However, with only 179 autofocus points (as opposed to the 400 or so that the sony a6400 boasts along with animal eye autofocus), there is only so much that the sony a5100 could do in this situation; improving lighting would honestly be the number one fix in tweaking this feline portrait.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from these photography snafoos, it’s the following: seek out good lighting! There really is no substitute for having enough natural light for your portraits, especially if you are trying to leverage autofocus. And when shooting landscapes, using tripods goes a lot way.