How to Use Back-Button Focus Mode -

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& Kelsie

We're best friends, business partners and completely obsessed with Bath and Body Works Candles. We LOVE photographing weddings and can't wait to teach you #allthethings we've learned over the years!

How to Use Back-Button Focus Mode

If you’ve followed us for a while, you know that we love to shoot at low apertures. We usually have our apertures set between 1.8-2.5 at portrait sessions and weddings, because we love the beautiful light and creamy bokeh that you can achieve this way!

The most common question we get it this: How in the world do you get all your photos in focus when your aperture is set so low??

Tip #1: Practice, practice, practice!

Tip #2: Use single point focus mode, which means that YOU choose the exact spot that your camera will focus on.

Tip #3: Use back-button focus!!! It’s a GAME CHANGER, and it works like this:

Most DSLR cameras arrive automatically set where the button you use to click the shutter is the same button you use to focus. Press the button halfway down, and autofocus will engage. Press the button down the rest of the way, and you will take a picture! Back-button focus is a method of setting your camera that removes the auto-focus component from the big shutter button, and moves it to a separate button (usually located on the back of your camera body near your right thumb).

What’s the advantage to using back-button focus?

1) You can take multiple photos without refocusing in between each frame.

This trick makes a huge difference when you’re trying to shoot in dim light. Sometimes your camera will have trouble focusing and prevent you from clicking the shutter because it doesn’t know where to lock focus! However, with back-button focus, you can focus ONCE; as long as you stay the same distance away from your subject, you can take as many photos as you need to without re-focusing.

You may also find this trick useful when shooting portraits quickly. Once you’ve focused on your client for the first frame, you can adjust the composition of your image quickly and take multiple shots without having to refocus in between!

2) You can always use your camera’s center focal point, which is usually the sharpest.

With back button focus, there’s no need to ever move your focal point, because it is super easy to focus and recompose your image before shooting! While it is possible to focus and recompose with your camera in a standard focusing mode, you run the risk of accidentally re-focusing on the wrong thing before you can take the photo. Toggling your camera’s focal point is also an option, but some of the outer focal points are not as exact as the center point- meaning that if you are shooting at a very low aperture, your focus may be a little bit off!

Have we convinced you yet?! Here’s a step by step guide on HOW to update your camera settings to use back-button focus:

Note: Obviously every camera body is different, so your camera’s menu may not look exactly like this! We’ve included instructions for the Nikon D750 and the Canon 5D Mark IV, but even if you use a different camera, hopefully this is enough information to get you started!

You will have to check settings for two individual buttons:

  1. Set the shutter button function to control Exposure/Shutter clicks ONLY – not auto-focus (AF).
  2. Choose which back button you want to use to as your focus (AF) button, and set it accordingly.

Nikon D750

Canon 5D Mark IV

We hope this post has unlocked the mystery of back-button focus for you! For more information on how to use your camera in manual mode, check out our Mastering Manual Mode guide available in the shop:

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