November 11, 2013

2014 Classes Posted

've just updated my web site with my workshops and winter night classes for 2014. In addition to introductory camera classes for both compact and SLR digital camera owners, I'm offering beginning and advanced black and white photography, composition, and close-up (macro) courses. I'm also featuring a course on getting sharp photos called Cure the Blur. And I round out the offerings with sessions on Shooting and Processing Camera Raw Files.
Paper Lanterns, Sea-Tac Airport Gift Shop
Canon Powershot A570 compact camera

Registration for workshops is available now. Registration for the night classes will be available in December. For descriptions and complete details, visit my web site and click on the Classes & Workshops link.

September 20, 2013

Lightroom 5.2 Update Released

Adobe has announced an update to Lightroom from version 5.0 to 5.2. (There was no 5.1 version.) This update is free to anyone who owns a copy of version 5.0. If you are just purchasing Lightroom, this is the version you will get when you download the software.

There appear to be a number of important bug fixes as well as the usual additional support for new cameras. Adobe has also included a few improvements to existing features, notably the Spot Removal tool. It now has a feather slider to improve blending when using the Clone option as well as better choices for the source selection.

See Laura Shoe's blog entry for an excellent video and written summary of important changes in this release.

What's New in Lightroom 5.2

September 16, 2013

How to Get the Most from a Photography Critique

I recently came across this excellent post on how to benefit the most from a critique of your photos. I found it also to be a great reminder of how to best offer critiques of pictures to others so that my comments are the most helpful. Check it out!

5 Things You Should Know About Receiving Photography Critique by Jenika on the Psychology for Photographers blog.

September 10, 2013

Thomas Knoll & the History of Photoshop

I recently watched this video interview of Thomas Knoll, who with his brother John, literally invented and wrote Photoshop and Camera Raw (which was later included in Lightroom in the form of the Develop module). Michael Reichmann of the Luminous Landscape and Kevin Raber talked with Thomas while all were on a shooting workshop together in Australia. Learn the inside story of how Photoshop came to be and Knoll's thoughts on the recent subscription model for Creative Suite products from Adobe.

September 1, 2013

Magbooks on Photography Help You Learn Techniques

I've been on planes quite a lot in the last six months and I always like to take plenty of reading material with me to wile away the time in the airport and on board. During a recent stop at +Barnes & Noble I discovered a series of specialty photography magazines called Magbooks published in the United Kingdom (UK). Each issue concentrates on one subject, providing an overview, lots of how-to examples using photos with long captions, and suggestions for equipment.

Click to Enlarge

The audiences for these magazines are serious amateurs with digital SLR cameras. The writers are working photographers who can offer their tips from experience. They also make an effort to suggest inexpensive or home-made options for equipment to help readers save money.

24-105mm lens at 80mm, f/4, with fill from built-in flash

I have read The Essential Guide to Portraits and The Essential Guide to Close-up Photography. I learned the most from the Portraits edition, probably because I have the least experience with that subject matter. The Close-up edition was also good, but I found the writers repeating themselves on some suggestions very frequently, to the point that it became annoying. However, that did not detract from the value of the info and special effects examples they detailed.

70-200mm zoom with two-element close-up filter

I recommend you look for these "magazine-style books" at your local bookstore. If you can't find them in your city, you can visit the Magbook web site where you can order either a print or a digital version (iPad, PC/Mac and other formats available) direct from the publisher.

June 26, 2013

Simple Ways to Store & Protect Your Photos

Over the winter I read both editions of Peter Krogh's The DAM Book (DAM = Digital Asset Management) on photo organization, storage and backups. These are technical books, not for the faint of heart! But they contain valuable suggestions for steps to take to preserve our digital images for the future.

The simplest way to describe Krogh's approach is 3-2-1. This stands for
  • 3 copies of your pictures on
  • 2 different types of storage media with
  • 1 copy stored off site, away from your home or office
Now this might be too much extra copying for your time and tastes, so here are some simplified storage and backup solutions. While they don't exactly follow the 3-2-1 idea, they do provide some protection against the inevitable hard drive failure or just the inevitable upgrade to a new computer.

Starter Backup System
  • Use a dedicated hard drive (external or internal) just for your photos. As you've probably noticed, pictures take up a LOT of storage space on your hard drive. If you keep them on your main hard drive, eventually you'll run out of space. And before that, the lack of empty space on the drive can cause other programs or applications on your system to run slowly. So have one hard drive (external or internal) dedicated to just your pictures.

    Be aware that some photo organizing programs (Apple's iPhoto for one) do not allow you to store your photos anywhere except on the computer's main hard drive. Check the documentation for your photo organizing software to find out if it can save your pictures to a different hard drive. If not, making a back up your main drive is VERY important if you want to protect your digital pictures.

  • Have a second (external) hard drive to back up the first one. And while you're at it, having another separate hard drive to back up everything else on your computer (email, documents, music, etc.) is a good idea, too.

  • Use dedicated backup software to create the duplicate copies of your pictures. This type of software allows you to schedule the backups to happen automatically on a regular basis, say, once a day or once a week, depending on how often you add new pictures or edit the ones you already have. Using Windows Backup or Time Machine (Mac) is preferable to having to remember to make the backup and manually copy the files.

  • Get a third external hard drive for another back up to store off site (say, at a friend's house or the office) for additional safety. Remember to update this backup periodically so it will actually be useful in case of problems. Refreshing the files once a month is probably sufficient.
Krogh was still recommending in 2009 that we burn backups to DVD or Blu-Ray optical disks. But this is increasingly inconvenient due to the ever-growing capacity of our memory cards. We can now save hundreds of still photos and videos on a single card that won't fit on a single optical disk. That means we would need to divide up the images before making the back-ups. It's too time-consuming and tedious for most of us to commit to doing regularly.

An alternative to DVD or Blu-Ray disks is to store your most treasured photos in the "cloud." This means paying a company with a huge hard drive storage system to store your photos on their equipment. This costs money (more dollars for more space) and requires a fast internet connection as well as sufficient time to upload the large files that are your preferred photos. I'm reluctant to use this option since it places my images in someone else's hands. While it might be okay for a third copy of my pictures, I would not rely on cloud storage as my only backup.

Better Photo Backup System

All of this works fine....until you run out of space on the hard drive storing your photos...and you will! So when your photo drives fill up, buy another set of main and backup drives. Be sure to buy more than enough capacity to give you room to add to your collection.

Copy all the photos from your old photo hard drive to the new photo drive. (Do NOT use your backup software for this process! Just use the old fashion drag and drop or copy and paste method.) Then back up the new photo drive to the new backup drive. Keep the old drives for a while to make sure that all your pictures transferred completely and correctly. Later you can reformat the old drives and use them for off-site storage.

Following at least some of these suggestions will help protect your pictures against computer failures and ensure you can enjoy your digital photographs for years to come.

June 19, 2013

The Story of a Picture

John W. Snell is an accomplished nature and equine photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky, whom I'm proud to call mentor and friend. Frequently, he sends me email messages with pictures and stories of how he made them. The story of how he made this macro shot of a pink lady slipper was one I had to share. So, with John's permission, here's the "making of" tale:

I was photographing the tree bark patterns when I almost stepped on the pink lady's slipper. I looked around and saw two more in bloom, with some sprouts that suggested more are on the way.

I tried photographing the lady's slipper with a slightly downward angle of view, but I didn't like the dead leaves as a backdrop.  I lowered my vantage point as close to ground level as possible to make use of as much green background as I could and liked that much more.  I wasn't too happy about the bright highlights where the sky was showing through. But I was able to burn them down a bit [using photo editing software] so they're not blown out. 

I used my Petzl headlamp to provide some backlighting for the flower. That gave it a little warmth and allowed me to darken the exposure of the overall scene slightly.  All in all, I shot nearly 200 pics of that flower...different exposures and compositions mostly.  But extra shots also to ensure I got one that was sharp, since there was a minute breeze the unsettled the flower sometimes while I was shooting.

Thanks for sharing your story, John, and allowing me to share it with my followers.

June 12, 2013

Choosing a Photo Lab

I wrote an article about things to look for when shopping for a photo lab to print your images for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. You can read the post here.

I'm teaching people how to print their own images as well as how to prepare pictures to be printed by someone else (called "outsourcing") during Summer Intensive, part of the school's Career Training program. You can learn more here.

April 24, 2013

Where did the term "paparazzi" come from?

In my last post, I shared my discovery of why electronic flash units of all sizes are variously called "flash" or "strobe". I found the answer while reading Light and Film, one of the books in the Life Library of Photography.

Then in another volume in this awesome series, I came across the story behind the word "paparazzi" as applied to voracious photojournalists. Many of us will remember this word in connection with the tragic death of Diana, the late Princess of Wales. But the term actually comes from the movies.

File:Paparazzi by David Shankbone.jpg
Celebrity Photographers at the Tribeca Film Festival by
David Shankbone
Here's the story as it appears in Photojournalism (1971):
"The questionable art of sneak photography has been carried on in modern times by a breed of Italian photojournalists known as paparazzi, who specialize in catching jet-setters off-guard. They got their name from Frederico Fellini's classic film, La Dolce Vita. One of the minor characters in the film is an irksome photographer named Paparazzo who dashes about taking pictures of people in embarrassing situations. Fellini selected the name Paparazzo because, he explained, 'It suggested a buzzing, stinging, annoying sort of insect, which was the idea I wanted to put across.' An Italian word with a similar sound, pappataci, in fact means gnat."
So now you know: Frederico Fellini gave us the word for intrusive photojournalists who will stop at nothing to get the picture.

April 17, 2013

What's the difference between a strobe and a flash?

When I started learning about electronic flash and studio lights, I was confused by the fact that they seem to have two names: flash and strobe. I used to resolve this confusion for myself by calling the light-emitting unit built in or added to my camera a "flash" and the more powerful light used in a photo studio a "strobe".

These two photos made with
portable flash off camera.

But then David Hobby created "The Strobist" blog and started teaching a whole bunch of people the wonders of those on (and off) camera devices he was calling a "strobe." Soon he had lots of company from Joe McNally and Syl Arena and other "strobists". Now I was even more confused. What's going on?

These two photos were made with studio flashes and accessories.

Fast forward a couple years and find me reading through my recently acquired complete set of the Life Library of Photography books, an outstanding collection covering the art and craft of photography in the days of film. (Nearly all of it is still relevant in our present digital age, except for the part about processing film!) And here I read the origins of the confusion over whether I should call these "electric suns" flash or strobe. Let me quote from Light and Film (Revised Edition, 1981):
"An electronic flash is sometimes called a strobe, a hangover from the days when the newly developed device was first employed as a stroboscope---a light that flashes repeatedly at a controllable rate for studies of rapidly rotating machinery. The units now commonly used in photography are not stroboscopic; they produce a single flash each time the camera shutter is released." (page 191)
So there's where the confusion started. The technology that created the ability to produce a safe, controlled burst of light was first put to use in manufacturing.

In fact, calling these devices strobes or flashes is correct in either case. By the way, things have changed since 1981 when this was written. Some modern portable flashes (the kind that fit on a camera) have a "stroboscopic" setting that can produce rapidly repeating bursts of light for special effects.

File:Bouncing ball strobe edit.jpg
A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic flash at 25 images per second.
Photo by Michael Maggs Edit by Richard Bartz

So it doesn't matter whether you call them "flashes" or "strobes". Both are correct names.
View some more stroboscopic effect flash pictures at these links:

March 21, 2013

Spring Classes in Missoula Open for Registration

I'm teaching a variety of classes at The Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula starting in April. Whether you are just learning about your digital camera or are ready to move on to more advanced controls, if you want to make better landscape photos or just improve overall composition, there's a class for you. There's even a class about editing black and white photos, whether you shot them in the camera or want to convert a color original.
  • Making the Most of Your Digital Camera
  • Taking the Next Step with Your Digital Camera
  • Better Landscape Photos
  • Better Photo Composition
  • Advanced Black and White Photography
Check out the full descriptions on my web site. I hope you can join me!

Sunrise over Anacortes, Washington harbor

Black & white trees converted from color original

Missoula carousel

Ferris wheel at Western Montana Fair

Candles at New Mexico mission

February 16, 2013

Choosing a Photo Inkjet Printer

A post I wrote about selecting a photo inkjet printer has been published on the Rocky Mountain School of Photography blog Paper Airplanes. Click here to read.

February 8, 2013

Shooting Close-ups with Compact Digital Cameras

One of the most popular types of photography among my students is close-up or macro pictures, especially of flowers. But often people are frustrated in their attempts to get large images of small subjects. The key is knowing how to use the Macro or Close-up setting on your compact digital camera.

Close shot of a small sunflower taken with Macro focus
on a compact digital camera

In this article I'm talking about making big pictures of small items. One way to accomplish this is by zooming in on your subject from a distance. This technique can enlarge an average size subject but may not provide you with as large an image of a small flower as you would like.

Using the telephoto zoom setting and normal focus
to enlarge a small subject
Using the wide angle zoom setting and macro focus
to enlarge a small subject

The other method to make a big picture of a tiny subject is to move the camera physically closer so that the subject appears large in the final shot. The problem for many people is that the resulting picture has a clear background and an out-of-focus subject, as in the picture of a May apple blossom below.

Close-up shot with the subject out of focus
and the background leaves sharp
using normal focus

The solution is to change how the camera focuses. In regular autofocus, the camera is able to focus on subjects no closer than 2 to 3 feet. But when you want to photograph a small wildflower, you have to move the camera so much closer to the subject that the only thing that remains two or three feet away is the background, such as the leaves in the picture above.

Close-up shot with the subject in focus
and the background out of focus
using the Macro setting

Setting your compact digital camera to the Macro or Close-up setting changes how autofocus works. Now the camera can focus on subjects 3 feet and closer (instead of 3 feet and farther). Then you can put the camera super close to the flower and get the picture you expected. How close your camera can be and still achieve focus varies with the model. Check the manual under the macro or close-up setting to find out the closest distance the camera can focus. For some models, the camera's lens can be within a half inch of the subject!

Macro or Close-up Focus Icon

There are some additional things you can do to help you make the most of your compact digital camera's close-focusing abilities.

Set the lens zoom to the wide angle setting (usually labeled with a W). This is easy because when you first turn on the camera, the lens is already at this setting. On most compact digital cameras, the wide angle length is where you can get the camera the closest to your subject. It also means you can include more of the surroundings of your flower to place it in its environment.

Macro shot of flowers using the wide-angle
lens setting to include the surroundings

Move the camera physically closer to or farther from your subject to achieve focus. Many times people don't get their cameras close enough to their subjects when using Macro focusing. You must still press the shutter button halfway down to ask the camera to focus, just as with subjects farther away. If the camera does not bring your flower into sharp focus, release the shutter button. Move the camera slightly closer or slightly farther away and press the shutter button halfway again. When the camera locks the focus, take the picture. Remember not to move the camera after it focuses or your image will be out of focus again.

Avoid using the flash. The best distance for good exposure with flash is usually 2 to 3 feet or farther, just like regular autofocus. But when you are using Macro or Close-up focusing by definition your camera is 2 or 3 feet or closer. So you run the risk of over-flashing your subject and washing out the colors. In addition, because the camera is so close to your flower, the lens can block some of the light from the flash, causing a shadow in the bottom of your pictures.

Using flash with the Macro setting
produces a shadow from the lens
in the lower right corner of the image

Turning off the flash prevents both of these problems.

Flash turned off with the Macro setting
prevents the shadow from the lens
as well as producing softer lighting
from the surrounding shade

Use a tripod or other support in dim lighting. When you turn off the flash to prevent shadows or overexposure, your camera may have to take longer to make the picture. If you are holding the camera, you may jiggle during the exposure, resulting in a blurry photo from camera shake. Putting the camera on a small tripod or other support and using the self-timer allows the camera to take as long as it needs for the picture without your having to touch it.

Don't try to photograph distant subjects with Macro focus on. When your compact digital camera is set for Macro or Close-up focusing, it can NOT focus on subjects far away. Imagine you are quietly photographing wildflowers in the spring in the forest and look up to discover a deer with fawns. If you quickly snap the photo with Macro focusing still turned on, the deer will be out of focus. You have to turn off the Macro setting before you can get a clear shot of a distant subject.

Macro shot of backlit red leaves

While I talked about photographing flowers close-up throughout this post, all the suggestions apply to other small subjects, too, like leaves, coins, stamps or tiny critters. You can use your compact digital camera's Macro focus setting for all kinds of subjects. If you have a digital SLR camera (one with interchangeable lenses), you need to use different techniques than I've described here. See my article on macro equipment for SLR cameras.

February 1, 2013

Playing with Cameras --- Zooming

Are you looking for ways to make your photos different than the usual snapshot? Try breaking the rules you normally follow when photographing. Usually we're told to keep the camera still to help us make a sharp picture. But zooming the lens during a long exposure is the opposite of that. While this technique is easiest with an interchangeable lens camera, you can also accomplish it with a compact model that has a zoom lens.

Zooming 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 100

Zooming the lens during a long exposure creates streaks of color and sometimes double exposures of your subject. Try zooming in, zooming out or both in one exposure. Zoom smoothly or roughly, in fits and starts. Zoom for the entire exposure time or just part of it. If you delay your zoom at either the beginning or end of the exposure, your camera records a sharper image of your subject. Check the results on the LCD monitor and adjust your zooming method or exposure time for different effects.

Zooming 2 seconds, f/8, ISO 100

Here are some suggestions for playing with this effect.
    • Select a colorful subject
    • Attach a zoom lens to the camera
    • Place the camera on a tripod (or hand-hold it)
    • Select a low ISO setting (100 or 200)
    • Select Shutter Priority mode and pick a slow shutter speed (1/15 second to 1 full second or longer)
    • Or use Aperture Priority mode and choose a big aperture number (f/22 or f/32)
    • Check the composition twice, once at the short end of the zoom range and once at the long end, so you can see what will be included.
    • Just before pressing the shutter button, start zooming the lens and continue zooming through the entire range.
    If your camera does not have aperture or shutter priority modes, try the Night or Fireworks scene modes. Make sure the flash is off.

    Zooming 1.5 seconds, f/8, ISO 100

    It's easiest to start this technique by putting your camera on a tripod, but you may experiment with hand-holding.

    Zooming 2 seconds, f/6.7, ISO 100
    Image Copyright Michael Alexander

    Zooming always results in the streaks radiating from the center of the image, so compose your picture accordingly.

    Zooming 0.3 seconds, f/22, ISO 100

    Because you need a long exposure time, zooming is easier to do in dim lighting conditions. At night, indoors, under overcast skies and in the shade are all conditions that help make slow shutter speeds possible. If you're working under bright conditions, try using a polarizing filter or neutral density filter over the lens to block more light.

    Zooming 1 second, f/22, ISO 100

    Want to learn more ways to play with your camera? Come join me for Playing with Cameras at the Kanuga Photography Retreat in North Carolina April 21-26, 2013. We'll explore panning, zooming and lots of other fun ways to make your images stand out in a crowd.

    January 25, 2013

    Playing with Cameras --- Panning

    If you're bored with your photography or feel like you're stuck in a rut, try breaking some of the photographic rules you usually follow. You will certainly get different results and might discover a whole new way to approach your favorite subjects.

    Let's start with one of the most basic rules: keeping the camera steady during the exposure for a sharp shot. What if you did the opposite? Intentionally moving the camera during a long exposure can create all sorts of interesting effects.

    Panning is a traditional way to play with motion. Using a slow shutter speed in your camera, follow a moving subject while looking through the viewfinder (or at the LCD). Doing so has two effects. First, the background, which is not moving, is transformed into streaks of color. Second, if your timing is good, your main subject appears sharp, or nearly so. The result is a more pronounced impression of the speed your subject is moving.

    Panning 1/30 second, f/22, ISO 100

    Follow these tips for panning:
    • Select the lowest ISO setting (100 or 200)
    • Use Shutter Priority and pick a slow shutter speed (1/8 second, 1/15 second, 1/30 second)
    • Or use Aperture Priority and choose the biggest aperture number (f/22 or f/32)
    • Turn on continuous shooting (burst) mode 
    • Follow the subject while looking through the viewfinder
    • Keep moving after pressing the shutter button for the picture 
    After you try a few shots, review the results on the LCD screen. You may want to try a faster or slow shutter speed to see what happens.

    Panning 1/40 second, f/14, ISO 100
    Image Copyright Ursula Carpenter

    If your camera doesn't have Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority mode, try the Landscape scene setting or Portrait scene mode and turn off the flash. Some compact cameras have a "slow shutter" setting that would work for this technique.

    Super slow shutter speeds can create interesting blur in your subject, too.

    Panning 1/15 second, f/22, ISO 125

    Working in dim lighting conditions makes using slow shutter speeds easier. Indoors, at night, under overcast light, in the shade or when the sun is below the horizon all have reduced amounts of light, helping you produce this effect. If you are shooting in bright sun, block light by using a polarizing or neutral density filter over your lens.

    Panning 1/8 second, f/5.6, ISO 100
    Panning 1/10 second, f/3.5, ISO 800
    Image Copyright Noel Lindquist Photography

    Panning 1/25 second, f/10, ISO 200
    Image Copyright Karrie Montgomery

    If you'd like to learn more about panning and other creative ways to break the rules, join me for my Playing with Cameras workshop at the Kanuga Photo Retreat in North Carolina April 21-26.

    January 19, 2013

    Updating Your Digital SLR's Firmware

    Recently I updated the firmware for my Canon 7D. Completing this simple process in effect gave me a new and improved camera by adding features to the menus, improving the continuous shooting rate and other changes. So what is firmware and why do you need to update it?

    Firmware is the software inside your digital camera that makes it work. You can think of it as the operating system for your camera. Just as Microsoft and Apple send out updates for your computer's operating system, so digital camera manufacturers make updates available for their cameras. Sometimes these updates repair problems with the camera's operation. Other times updates add bonus features. Firmware updates are free and easy to install.

    First, find out if there are any firmware updates for your camera. Visit the manufacturer's web site and look up your specific camera model. Use the site's search function to locate any firmware updates for your camera.

    Canon 7D Firmware Download Page
    Next, check your camera's menu to see what version of firmware it is running. This is usually under the setup menu. If the firmware version for your camera matches the newest one on the web site, your camera is up to date. If the web site lists a higher number, then you want to download and install this latest version.

    If there have been several updates released since you got your camera, you may need to install more than one update in the order they were released. Check the instructions for each update before beginning.

    You also need to specify which operating system you use before downloading the file. In the screen shot above, I've chosen Windows 7 64-bit.
    Nikon D800 Firmware Download Page

    The file that you download is usually compressed (zipped), so you must uncompress (extract) the file before you can use it. The compressed file contains both the actual firmware file itself along with instructors on how to install it. Read through the instructions BEFORE you begin the process.

    To complete the process you need:
    • A fully charged battery
    • An empty memory card newly formatted in your camera
    While the firmware update process is different for different camera models, usually you use a memory card reader to copy the firmware file from the computer to the empty memory card. Then you place the card in the camera with its fully charged battery and follow the camera's instructions for updating to the new version.

    It is very important that your camera have a fully charged battery and that you do not turn off the camera or press any buttons during the firmware installation. Otherwise, you may render your camera unusable and have to send it to the manufacturer to have the firmware installed properly.

    Check for firmware updates for your camera periodically, perhaps two or three times a year. Some cameras never have updates, others have several. Usually the older your camera, the less likely the manufacturer will issue a firmware update.

    So do a little research on your camera's firmware. If there is an update, you can enhance your camera's functions for free!

    January 4, 2013

    Focusing Tips for Digital SLR Cameras

    Automatic focus on digital SLR cameras is a separate function from automatic exposure. Automatic or manual focus is typically a control on the lens itself but sometimes a control on the camera body. Usually there is a switch labeled “AF” for automatic focus and ”MF” for manual focus.

    If you set the switch to AF, auto focus, you press the shutter button halfway down to ask the camera to focus. When it achieves focus, one or more of the squares in the viewfinder light up to indicate where in the scene the camera chose to focus. You also see a confirmation light, usually a solid green dot, inside the viewfinder along the bottom to indicate the camera is able to achieve focus. Then you can press the shutter button the rest of the way to take the photo.

    Single vs. Continuous Auto Focus
    Some cameras have multiple styles of auto focus. Single or one-shot auto focus sets the focus distance when you press the shutter button halfway. This distance doesn't change, even if the subject moves closer or farther from the camera. This type of auto focus is best for stationary subjects like landscapes or flowers.

    Using single or one-shot auto focus can create blurry photos of moving subjects. Instead try your camera's continuous or servo auto focus choice. This can be a button near where the lens attaches to the camera or a menu choice. (Consult the camera manual for directions.)

    Continuous auto focus locks focus when you press the shutter button halfway. If the subject moves, the auto focus tracks the movement, constantly updating or "predicting" the distance the subject will be from the camera when you press the shutter button all the way to take the picture. This type of auto focus works best for subjects moving toward or away from the camera, such as a child on a swing photographed from the front.

    Using continuous autofocus

    Some SLR cameras now provide Face Detection auto focus and Live View focusing. Check your camera manual for information on these styles of focus.

    Changing the Active Auto Focus Point
    Automatic focus is often programmed to focus on the object closest to the camera. There are several focus points or areas (little squares or brackets visible in the viewfinder) that the camera checks to determine where in the scene the closest object is. The camera may select a different object than the one on which you want it to focus. If you are trying to control where the camera focuses, this can be frustrating.

    You can change the way the camera uses the auto focus points or areas. Instead of leaving all the focus points active, you can change the camera setting so that it uses only the center auto focus point or area (square). (Refer to your camera manual for instructions.) This way you can be sure the camera is focusing on the object you select instead of one the camera chooses.

    After setting only one auto focus point or area to be active, you can reposition the active point to the right, left, top or bottom of the viewfinder instead of the center. This allows you to auto focus on a subject off to one side without having to change your composition.

    When Auto Focus Doesn't Work
    Automatic focus does not work in all situations. If you point the camera at a blank wall or a plain sky, the lens may go in and out as it seeks for something to focus on. Because there is not enough detail, the camera can’t focus. The confirmation dot in the viewfinder blinks and the camera may not let you take a picture.

    To solve this problem, point the camera at something the same distance away that does have detail, for example, a break or corner in the wall or the edge of a cloud or the horizon. Press the shutter button halfway down to set the focus. Keeping your finger on the button, shift the camera back to your original scene and press the button the rest of the way. This technique is called focus lock.

    Automatic focus may also choose to focus on something other than what you intended. This happens most frequently when there are objects between the camera and your subject, for instance, the bars or fence of a cage instead of the animal behind it, nearby grass or twigs instead of the animal or horizon, or glass instead of what you see through it. In this situation, you may need to change to manual focus in order to be able to focus where you want.

    Using Manual Focus
    To use manual focus, first set the focus switch to MF, manual focus, and then turn the focus ring on the lens. The focus ring has a different style of ribbing and is a separate ring from the zoom ring. As you turn the focus ring, hold down the shutter button halfway and check the focus visually through the viewfinder. When you see the focus confirmation dot appear, your subject is in focus and you can make the shot.

    Give these focus techniques a try with your camera and see how you can improve the number of sharp pictures you take!