Back Button Focus: The Secret to Crisp Photos Every Time

Ever have trouble getting tack sharp focus on multiple photos in a row?

It can be frustrating to have to refocus for each individual shot in a series, especially in tricky situations. (Low light, or sun flares anyone?)

You know what really makes things worse? It’s how cameras force you to lock in focus by pressing the shutter down halfway. 

I can’t tell you how many times my finger accidentally slipped off the shutter doing this. Then I’d have to refocus all over again! 

Not only that, if you press the shutter button down a little too hard, your camera takes the photo before you’re ready. So you guessed it – I’d have to refocus yet again!

This need to keep refocusing for every photo held me back as a  new photographer. And I can almost bet it’s holding you back too. 

The need to continually refocus means that your photos aren’t as sharp as they could be. Even worse, it means that you’re missing great shots – like this one below by one of our students!)

Portrait above is by our student T.s. Gallant

Locking Focus With the Shutter Button is a Clumsy Process

Here is why pros don’t use their shutter button to lock in focus. 

Locking in your focus with  your shutter button means three tedious steps for every photo you take:

1) Push down the shutter button half-way to engage the autofocus

2) Wait for the light and beep that tells you that your image is in focus

3) Press the shutter down fully to capture your image. 

In other words, it’s a time-consuming hassle to use your shutter to lock in focus each and every time you take a photo.

Overall, it’s a very inefficient way to lock in focus. Worse yet, it’s holding you back from taking the tack-sharp photos you’d be proud to show off.

Fortunately, there is a much better way to lock in focus. It was a game-changer for me, and I know it will be for you, too. 

All you have to do is enable something called back-button focus. This moves locking in focus with your shutter to (you guessed it!) a button located on the back of your camera. 

When you do this, the only time you’ll press the shutter is when you’re ready to take a photo. No more accidentally pressing shutter all the way down when you’re only trying to lock in focus. 

 

Back Button Focus Ends the Need to Refocus After Every Shot

 

Instead of having to stop and refocus after each shot, back-button focus allows you to set your focus once and then lock it in.

Once locked, you can move around your subject (as long as you remain the same distance away) without having to refocus. 

Also, you can take photos of a 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!)

The result?

You’ll get crisp, tack sharp images more often, and miss fewer shots where you’re tracking fast-moving subjects.

How To Enable Back Button Focus

Depending on the model of your camera, you’ll either find a dedicated button on the back of your camera, or there will be 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 activate it.

Below is a quick guide that works for the most popular cameras brands.

CanonNikonSony
Go to Menu and select Custom Controls (C.Fn).Go to Custom Settings Menu and select ControlsGo to Menu then Custom Settings (gear icon) - AF w/Shutter = OFF
Remove the AF-ON from the shutter buttonSelect Assign AE-L/AF-L buttonThen select Custom key settings - AE-L Button = AF ON
Set it to AE-Lock (*)Select Press and Enable AF-On
Select the AF ON button and set it to AFCustom Settings Menu go up to the Auto Focus option
Set your camera's AF mode to AF-CSelect AF Activation
Choose AF-ON only

Once you’ve found the button, you’ll probably notice that you only have to slightly change your hand position to focus – 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 press the shutter all the way down to take your photos. It’s that easy! 

In the video below, I show you how to use your back button focus button to get those beautiful portraits during the golden hour. 

Back Button Focus is Great for Action Shots

If you’re into any kind of photography where your subjects are moving, like sports or wildlife, then you definitely want to enable back-button focus. 

Once it’s enabled, your camera focuses continually if you hold down the back button.

This allows you to take multiple shots of a moving subject without needing to stop and refocus.

This is a huge help for sports and wildlife photographers – or even for those wanting to capture the action on the dance floor at a wedding or party.

Instead of needing to pause to refocus between each photo, you can concentrate on capturing the action unfolding in front of you.

You’ll Never Look Back After You Switch to Back Button Focus

Using your back button focus takes 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!

By enabling back button focus, you’ll capture crisper shots and enjoy photography more. It just takes a minute to set up – so why not give it a try? 

If you’d like more camera tips and tricks, be sure to check out my free “Show Your Camera Who’s Boss” training! Just click the red button below to get started.