Cameras have focus points and focus modes.
These are the little dots that you see when you look through the viewfinder. They will light up when the camera has focused on a spot.
This is an example of what the focus points might look like, but different cameras have a different number of them (more expensive = more points usually), and they may be placed in various arrangements as well.
The focus modes give the camera the ability to handle different focusing situations, like still shots or movement. Most cameras have four different modes. Check your manual (there are links at the end of this post) to see how to access your focus modes.
Single Area Focus Mode (Nikon=AF-S; Canon=OneShot). When you press the shutter down half-way, the camera focuses and then the focus locks. If your subject moves, the camera does not compensate. It remains focused on the original point and you will have to start again with your focus. This mode is the one to use when you are doing still life shots or when you want to recompose a shot (more about that next week).
This photo was focused using the single area focus mode.
Continuous Focus Mode (Nikon=AF-C; Canon=AlServo). When you press the shutter down half-way, the camera focuses on the subject. However, in this mode when the subject moves, the camera adapts and ensures that your subject remains in focus until you depress the shutter fully and take your photo. This mode is the one to use for action shots like sports or children playing.
So, you can see the difference in this set of photos. I used the continuous focus. The first shot was basic.
Then I focused, kept the shutter depressed halfway, and moved the snuffer backwards. The camera automatically changed the focus so that the second shot is not blurry.
Automatic Focus Mode (Nikon=AF-A, Canon-AlFocus). The camera will do all the thinking for you, choosing either the single area focus if your subject is not moving or the continuous focus mode if the subject has movement. This mode is what most people rely on so they don't have to think about focusing.
MF - Manual Focus Mode. You must use the lens ring to focus your photo and often the lens has a little button or tab that you switch over for manual. Again, your manual (sorry, I know) can show you how to activate the manual mode.
Just to get my feet wet, I am going to try setting the focus mode to AF-S (yes, I have a Nikon) when I am shooting still things, and using the focus mode AF-C when I am shooting a moving subject. I will keep you posted on how it goes. If you try being brave and getting your focus out of the auto mode, let me know how you do. I'd love to hear.
Next week I want to talk a bit about some focusing techniques, now that you're all pros on which mode to use. :)
Also, I am going to make sure that the manuals for these different camera types are available on the photo tips tab so you can find them easily in future as well.
Camera Tips - for Nikon users
Digital Photography School - for Canon users