3 Tips on Focusing on Difficult Subjects

This post was inspired by reader Cassandra who wrote

“I just bought the P510… love love love it. Shot the moon- can’t believe the clarity. Shot a deer in the woods… couldn’t get it to focus past the tree branches- how can I focus on the subject during superzoom when there are objects nearby that the camera prefers to focus upon? help!  “

This is a really common problem for DSLR users, Bridge Camera users and Point and Shoot camera users alike.  The main difference between them being the choice of focus modes available to each.  The Focus Mode allows you to change how the Auto Focus system determines where the focus should be in the frame.  In DSLR cameras you also have the option to focus manually.  Let’s look at 3 tips which will help you with focusing on difficult subjects.

Focus Points

1. Check your user’s manual to see how many focus points you camera users.  The focus points are the little red or green blinking lights you’ll see inside the viewfinder or on your LCD screen when you half press your finger on the shutter button right before you actually take the picture.  DSLRS and some Bridge cameras will actually let you select which one of these focus points you would like to use.  The default setting is Auto Focus Point selection where the camera choses what IT thinks you want to be in focus.  90% of the time it gets it rght as it usually focuses on the closest thing or the largest thing in the frame.

But if you are trying to be a little creative, this may not be what you want to focus on .  This is especially true if you are using a large superzoom where you might be focusing on something really far away , through trees or slightly obscured by something in the foreground.  In this case you might find it best to select the Center Auto Focus Point.  That way you know that only whatever is in the centre of the frame will be in focus.  Again check your user manual to see how to do this for your particular camera model.

Focus Lock

2.  But what happens when you don’t want your subject to be dead center of the frame.  Afterall don’t we all hear about the Rule of Thirds for a pleasing composition? That means your main subject needs to be off center a little. In order to focus on off center subjects you have a couple of choices.  If your DSLR allows it you can select a focus point that is over the subject that you want to focus on.  You will have to consult your specific user manual to find out how to do this .  Alternatively you can use the Focus Lock Method.

Focusing on Difficult subjects

The Focus Lock Method is where you –

  • focus on your subject with the focus point set to the center.
  • Then hold your finger on half way on the shutter button.  (If you haven’t noticed before, the shutter button of your camera has a point half way where focus is obtained and then you fully depress the shutter button to take a picture. )
  • When you keep your finger held on the shutter button half way down the focus is locked on your subject.  You can then recompose your shot to the left ror the right, up or down to reframe your subject the way you wish.
  • Then fully depress your finger on the shutter button to take the picture.


Focus Lock Method

Moving Subjects

3. The first 2 tips work very well for stationery subjects or at least those that aren’t moving too fast.  If you find yourself shooting at your kids’ T-ball game, it may be a little harder to focus on a moving traget using the methods outlined above.

This is where you need to change Focus Modes.  Again, you will need to consult your manual on how to do this for your particular camera model.

In Canon you’ll be changing from One Shot to AI Servo mode and for Nikon it’ll be AF-S to AF-C.

Servo Mode

You can now lock your focus on your subject and  keep shooting while the camera will constantly readjust the focus on your subject as you press the shutter button.  Makes  catching toddlers on the move so much easier!


Happy Snapping



P.S. For lots more in depth information about how to use your DSLR to the max check out my newly revised online “Master your DSLR” course.

Learning Photography? Master your DSLR Camera – starting now!

I’ve had a lot of questions lately from people learning photography and who are interested in doing my “Master your DSLR” course but weren’t clear on how it works so I thought I’d write a quick blog post to let them and anyone else who’d like to know what’s involved.

Who is it for?

Well,  Master your DSLR  is for anyone who wants to get the most from their DSLR camera.  From those who have just bought a new DSLR camera and have shot only a few frames to those who might have had a DSLR for a wee while but just don’t really know how to use it to it’s potential – you’ll find lots of value in this course.  I’ve been teaching in person for over 12 years and most recently here in Atlanta I’ve helped hundreds of newbie DSLR users get going with their cameras – figuring out the buttons, explaining the terminolgy and basics of photography in an easy to understand way.  I love teaching one-on-one and seeing my students walk away from our sessions confident in their ability to now make the camera do what they want it to do.  The feedback I’ve gotten from my online classes has been equally rewarding.

“Ingrid’s course is well thought out and organized, which my busy lifestyle appreciated.  I found myself excited to practice each week and found the homework inspiring, growing more and more assured of my camera and its functions. Upon completion of Ingrid’s course I hold my camera with ease, knowing what each and every button is for and how to use them as well as noting a definite improvement in the photos I capture.  I would recommend her course to anyone who owns a camera but especially those who desire to move out of that ominous Auto Mode and truly dive into the world of photography.” Melanie, Utah

Can I learn online?

My main concern however was; how was I going to retain that personal touch that I have in my in-person classes online.  It’s very different teacing online than it is in person.  It’s difficult to asess to see if the student is “getting” the material or if it’s over their head. To counteract this, I’ve tried to make this course as basic as possible.  There is probably some stuff in there that you already know.  If you’ve done any kind of research you’ll definately know some of the terminology but I promise you I’ll put it together for you in a way that will finally make sense.

How do I access the course?

The course material is in written form, with lots of explinatory photos and laid out a bit like a blog or website.  You will recieve access to the course as soon as you sign up.  Here is what it looks like on your dash board inside your course:

MAster your DSLR



The basics of Photography aren’t a secret.  Anyone can figure it out by reading Blogs (like this one!), books and just by trial and error shooting.  But what I know from my students’ feedback is that you want all the information that’s relevant to you all accessable in the one place and laid out in an easy to follow way. This is why I have relaunched my Master your DSLR course on a new platform which is super easy to flow through.  Here is a screenshot of some of the course content.  You can see that each of the Modules are further broken down into easy to digest chunks (accessible from the sidebar.)



The course is also self-paced, which means you can take your own time working through the material.  I figure it should take you about 5 weeks to adequetly go through the material, do the Action points and do the weekly assignments but if you haven’t much else going on, you could power through the material if you like.  Conversely, if you’d like to take your time, or if your schedule is pretty full, you’ll have access to the course material for 6 months from the time of sign up.

What if I get stuck?

So what is the difference between doing my course and simply reading a book?  Well, first off, you have me! Well, access to me at any rate.  I’ll be here to answer course related questions within 48 hrs of reciving them Mon-Fri, and each month I am going to be doing a live Q and A call for all students.  This will be your opportunity to chat to me about any difficulties you might be having and for me to give you a more in depth answer to your questions. (or just for us to hang out and chat!)

Secondly, you will have lots of Action Points so that you can be sure that you know how to put into pratice the things we are talking about.

Thirdly you’ll have assignments to do that will solidify your technical knowledge and stretch your creativity a little bit.  These assignments will be critiqued by me, if you’d like.

You’ll also have the support of others that are doing the course in our Private Flickr Group.  That’s been invaluble to past students and I love to see the friendships that have formed as a result of doing my classes.  Makes me so happy :)

I truly want anyone who signs up for my course to go away knowing the basics of DLSR photography and to have a good understanding of how their camera works.  It’s really not that complicated. Honestly!

Don’t let your camera get in the way of making a great photo.  Learn how to use it!  Become its Master and make it do what you want it to do!

Happy Snapping



P.S. If you are interested in Signing up for my Master your DSLR course I have reduced the price to $99 for a limited time so now is a great time to sign up and get started.  You’ll also be well underway and armed with lots of questions for the live Q and A call with me on September the 27th.