One of the most important buttons on your camera is often one that many people new to using a DSLR have never heard of, but it’s your secret to crisp, beautiful photos, every time.

What Is Back Button Focus?

back button focusOn most cameras, the shutter button is how you auto focus – you push the button down halfway, it focuses on your subject, and then you push down all the way to take your photo. You’ve probably noticed that this works well enough in situations where you have enough light, where your subject isn’t moving, or where there isn’t any risk anyone (or anything) else will move into your frame.

But you have to repeat the process for each photo you take – pushing down the shutter button, waiting for the light and beep that tells you the image is in focus, and then taking your photo. And as you’ve probably experienced, if your finger slips, you either lose focus, or you take the photo before you’re ready.

Back button focus moves focusing to a separate button, leaving taking the photo the only job your shutter button has to do.

Why Does That Matter?

Back button focusing means you have greater control over the focus, allowing you to set your focus and then lock it in. Once locked, you can move around your subject (as long as you remain the same distance away), or you can take photos of one particular person in a group of people, without worrying that the focus will wind up resetting itself to a different face (or someone’s shoulder, or hand, or chin!)

You’ll get crisp, tack sharp images more often, and you’ll miss fewer shots in fast moving situations.

How Do You Use It?

Depending on the model of your camera, you will either find a dedicated button on the back of your camera, or a button that can be programmed to serve as a back button focus. Reviewing your manual will help you figure out where this button is, and how to turn it on, if you need to.

Once you’ve found the button, you’ll probably notice that you only have to slightly change your hand position – your thumb will rest easily on the button when you’re holding your camera.

Now when you take a photo, you’ll set your focus by pushing the back button, and then take your photos. Even better, if you hold down the back button, your camera will focus continuously, allowing you to take multiple shots of a moving subject – a great tool for photographing the neighbourhood kids playing a game of pickup basketball, or the dance floor at your best friend’s retirement party. ((Too specific to your audience?))

Using your back button focus might take a bit of getting used to, but I promise – once you see the results, you’ll never want to go back to the old shutter focus method!