faq: focus ~ Back Button Focus ~ Chicago Wedding Photographer

I occasionally get emails asking how I’m able to get my images in focus where I want them to be, especially with little babies and tots that are squirming all over the place. Then yesterday on Twitter a group of photographer friends and myself got to chatting about focus… so I figured, I should probably just address this issue on my blog instead of always replying individually to emails I get about it!

So – today we’re going to talk about focus! First of all, for the longest time I used my shutter button as my means of focus. I used auto-focus and I would press the shutter button half-way down over and over and over again until the spot in the picture I wanted to be in focus (the eyes) was in focus – then I’d recompose the shot, and press the shutter the rest of the way down to take the picture.

Obviously, this is not the best way to go about taking photos because if the camera doesn’t focus where you want it to and you only have a quick second to capture a moment as it happens – you’re going to miss it! However, over time I got better at focusing this way – and it worked fine for portrait sessions with adults – but it was incredibly frustrating to use this technique when photographing little toddlers and babies. Those little guys move all over the place and smile for a just quick second and you have to capture it immediately – or the moment is gone. I realized after a few sessions that I needed to do something about my focusing or I’d drive myself nuts on my family and baby sessions!

It was about that time that I was blog stalking the lovely Melissa Jill and came across a post she did about back button focusing. I remember reading it and being all like, “What the WHAT?!? is back button focus?!” And even after initially reading it I just brushed it aside and thought… “That is definitely not for me.”

But then a few weeks later I was reviewing some images from a session and decided it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. So I adjusted my camera settings (see end of post for how) and went about taking pics of Phoenix around the house to see how I liked it and immediately I was wowed with how much easier it was to get what I wanted to be in focus – in focus!!

I continued to practice around the house until I was really comfortable with it (because it does take some getting used to) – and then went on my merry way and have been using it ever since! Let me tell you – photographers (or anyone with a digital SLR, for that matter) – if you do not do this, you should seriously give it a try. I keep the middle focal point selected so that when I press the back * button on my camera it automatically focuses on whatever is at the center focal point. I then recompose my shot how I want, press the shutter – and voila – it’s in focus!

I cannot tell you how wonderful this has been overall and especially for baby sessions. What used to be incredibly frustrating is now so much easier! Check out the results of some back button focused photos…

If I had been using my old focus technique here – my camera would have been freaking out trying to figure out what to focus on (his hand? his hair? the couch?)… but with back button focus – I put the focal point over his eye, pressed the back * button and …

Okay – so you want to give it a try? Here is the info from Melissa Jill’s post:

For the Canon 5D Mark II:

1. Under C.FN IV: Operation/Others set #1 to “3:AE lock/Metering + AF start” and #2 to “1:Enable”
2. Turn your AF setting to AI Servo. Leave it there from now on and never take it off.

For a Canon 5D:

1. Go to custom function 4 and set it to setting 1. (setting 0 is default)
2. Turn your AF setting to AI Servo. Leave it there from now on and never take it off.

For Nikon users (courtesy of Simply Knot Photography):

1. Go into your custom settings menu
2. Select A (auto focus)
3. Select A5 (AF Activation)
4. Choose AF-ON only
5. Use “AF-ON” button on the back of your camera to focus


Now go! Try it out! And make sure to let me know how you like it!! 🙂

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Christy & James are Chicago based but happily travel anywhere in the world that beautiful love stories take them!