For The Love Of FOCUS
Updated: May 29
Let’s take a couple minutes to focus on focus. Sometimes we love it, sometimes it hates us. Either way, it’s freaking important. There are those rare unicorn moments where you can play off the missed focus like you did it on purpose. Other times it looks like your toddler ran off with your camera. Me teaching you about focus makes my heart flutter because I do not know everything about it myself. I just know how I do it. It might be technically wrong, or maybe not, all I know is I could do it to save my life. That’s what’s important right? I get so MANY messages asking me how I get my subjects eyes in such great focus. It's a process and I’m going to tell you how. SO, for the love of all things focus, bear with me...
The first element is light. You must have a well lite eyeball, and subject of course. Catchlights are glorious and God’s gift to eyes. Without them the eyes look dead. No one wants dead eyes. Even my black Halloween eyes have catchlights. Whether you shoot with natural light or studio lights, catchlights are possible. Play around with it. Move your subject and/or your lights until the catchlights are where you want them to be. I prefer mine at a 10 or 2 position. I favor studio light over natural light. I cannot live without my Impact Luxbanx Duo Extra Large Rectangular Softbox (54 x 72") and my Impact VC-500WLN 500W Digital Monolight. Which as you can tell by the shape of the catchlights, I ALWAYS use. My lights are always set to their lowest settings, BOTH strobe and model light set to 1.0, with the model light on.
Next would be your focus settings on your lens. If you use manual (M), I cannot help you any longer, turn back now, as I use auto focus (AF). Yes, AUTO. My life is stressful enough, I don’t need to worry about whether I made focus or not. At least with AF I know that SOMETHING will be in focus. So go ahead, and flip that little switch to the AF position.
Then we have the focus settings on your camera. There are several, each are great and serve their purpose. Out of the three choices; One Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo, I use AI Focus. I also have my camera set to back button focus. Which has helped me so much with my focusing, especially since I primarily shoot antsy littles daily. It was a total game changer for me. It might be for you too!!! There is also the Auto Focus (AF) Point Selection. With this, we can either do Automatic, the camera chooses what's in focus or Manual, we tell the camera where to focus. I prefer Manual with the center dot picked as my focus point. I will toggle different focus points for different compositions, but it mostly stays on the center dot.
We can't forget our camera settings! Which are also VERY important when it comes to focus. The wider you shoot, the more difficult it is going to be to nail focus. PERIOD. It takes practice. No one nailed it overnight. Remember that. For my studio images, my f/stop hovers around f/7.1 maybe a stop less or more depending. Just because my lens is capable of f/2.8, doesn’t mean I shoot at it. I am also a zoom lens girl. I stand back and zoom in the most I can. Always. I would not know what to do with a prime lens, other than the much-needed paper weight because my cat keeps knocking my papers off my desk. But we all have our preferences. We also must keep in mind it’s not just your f/stop you want to pay attention to. Your Shutter Speed (SS) and ISO play a role too. If your SS is too low the image will be blown- out and blurry but if your SS is too high, your image would most likely be under exposed. I like to keep my SS around 1/200. The sync speed for my lights is a SS of 1/250. Meaning, if I go above a SS of 1/250, my lights will not be able to keep up with my shutter and that’s when you start getting the black bars on your images. Setting the proper ISO is also important too. If you have too high an ISO, you are telling your camera it is dark outside, so it needs to let more light in, which is where we start getting grain. If you have too low of an ISO, you are telling your camera that it is bright outside so your camera will have a low sensitivity to light. For my studio images I like to keep my ISO around 200. Not high enough for grain and not low enough to overexpose my images.
Now for the fun part, shooting! Now that we have everything else figured out, focus on the eye closest to you and CLICK!! You might need to make some minor adjustments, that’s OK! CLICK AGAIN! Practice makes perfect. Pay attention to what adjustments you make and how they improve or impair your image. CLICK AGAIN!!
Last but certainly not least, post-production or editing. If you don't get focus where focus is supposed to be, on the eye, no amount of editing is going to help you. You cannot bring back missed focus. You cannot correct missed focus in editing. For these eye shots, if you don't nail focus, don't give yourself a headache trying to bring back focus by sharpening the eye. It's not going to work. Simply re-shoot. And of course, I'm partial to my Eye Sharpening & Detail Action because I worked my butt off and spent years developing it and making it perfect. This action is not designed to bring focus back, it only sharpens what is already there.
Purchase my Eye Sharpening & Detail Action here: https://www.amandacolganphotography.com/product-page/eye-sharpening-detail-action