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I must admit, when I first switched to using back button focusing, it was really hard. It wasn’t clicking for me and I quit after about 5 mins. I went back to my old ways for a while. But I kept missing focus, I kept missing the moment. And I knew something had to change. I decided to switch once again, but this time I was determined to figure it out. I have loved using it ever since. Back button focusing is super easy once you get the hang of it. But, like anything in photography, you have to practice.
So, what is back button focusing? It’s when you assign a certain button (in most cases, I believe it is the AF-L button for Nikon and AF-ON button for Canon) to be your ‘focus’ button instead of having the shutter be your focus button. I use my thumb to focus, and then my finger to take the picture. Sounds weird at first, doesn’t it? Why would you want that? Keep reading to find out why I wanted to use back button focusing and how it could actually improve your photography. (For a more detailed guide on how to switch your camera to back button focusing, read this article from ClickinMoms).
refocusing isn’t an issue
You know how you hold the shutter button down half way, it focuses, you take a shot. Then you go in to take another shot, and it has to refocus again because you pressed the shutter button down half way? It’s super annoying and sometimes makes you miss the shot! The reason I love back button focusing is because you can focus using your thumb (usually the AF-L button for Nikon users!) and then press the shutter speed. If you stay in the same position and your subject doesn’t move, you don’t have to press the AF-L button again to refocus, you can just press the shutter button. This allows you to be quicker at taking photos, and helps you miss less shots. Win win in my book.
recomposing is easier
So, I know for Canon users, they recompose a lot. As a Nikon user and one who toggles her focus points, I don’t do this little trick very often. But I definitely do it more now that I use back button focusing. Recomposing simply means you focus on your subject, and change the composition of your shot afterwards. This can come in handy if you want to just leave your focus point in the center, and then recompose to get the composition you want. For me, I usually toggle my focus points, though. But it’s a personal preference and something you should practice and figure out which method you like better. I recompose A LOT for my dog images.
It locks focus! I think I have touched on this a little throughout this blog post, but once you press the AF-L button and lock focus, you can take all the pictures you want with pressing the shutter button and never once will your focus change. This is PERFECT for self portraits, and I mean perfect! I simply stand where I want to stand, focus on my tripod or where my camera will be, lock focus using back button focusing, then set the camera on the tripod. I don’t have to switch my lens to manual focus, because the focus is locked. Then I can press the shutter button (again, focus is locked, I don’t have to worry about it refocusing on me!), after turning on self timer mode, run to where I was standing, and I’m in focus. It’s simple and easy. (I wrote another blog post about self portraits that you can read about, Because You’re Important Too).
miss less shots
Since I started using back button focusing, I have missed less shots. Of course, I still get some shots where I miss focus (please tell me I’m not the only one!) but since switching, I have noticed a significant difference in the number of shots I miss focus on. Back button focusing is perfect for action shots. Instead of having your index finger do all the work, you add in your thumb and will be able to press the shutter button quicker, resulting in an in focus shot.
If you haven’t tried back button focusing, I seriously recommend it. It does take a little while to get used to. And you might get frustrated (like I did, when I first tried) at first, but don’t give up! In my opinion, it is worth it. The number of missed focus shots I get has gone way down since using back button focusing.
What is one reason you’re hesitant to use back button focusing? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!