Learning photography for teens can be super fun… But also quite frustrating! In this online photography workshop for beginners, we’ll cover one of the most tricky topics—mastering focus.
When you have a camera in your hands, the world is ready for you to capture! You can point your camera at anything and record an amazing memory. But if you want to take it a step further and start taking amazing, eye-catching photographs that look like they come from a magazine… Then you need to be able to control the focus. Here’s a quick guide to mastering focus and taking better pictures!
What is Focal Length?
In most cases, an online photography workshop for beginners won’t talk about focal length, but if you really want to become a photography whizz, then it’s important to know.
Focal length has nothing to do with how long your camera lens is if you measure it! It’s actually the distance between the place the light touches your lens and the camera sensor, inside the body of the camera.
If you were taking a picture of a field of flowers, you would get a wide view of all the flowers on a short focal length, and a closer picture of just a few flowers with a long focal length.
But we’re more interested in the focus today! With a short focal length, most of your picture will be in focus. With a long focal length, you can focus on one item, and everything in the background or in front of it will be blurred.
If you have a zoom lens, the focal length will change when you zoom in or out. You’ll see it written on the lens as a range, like 50 – 300 mm. On a prime lens (one that doesn’t zoom), it’s written as a single number, like 50 mm.
Manual or Automatic Focus?
Most lenses will come with automatic focus and manual focus. Automatic focus does a good job most of the time, and an online photography workshop for beginners will teach you how to use it.
But if you can learn how to master manual focus, then you’ll open up a whole new world of photography! We recommend using automatic focus when you need to but experimenting with manual focus until you can get it right.
Using Automatic Focus
There should be a small button somewhere with “AF” and “MF” on it. Flip it to “AF”, and you’ll be using autofocus. This usually sets your camera to “Single-Shot Focus”, which is fine to start with.
Aim the focus square at something you want to take a picture of. Press the shutter button gently—about half-way. This will activate the focus and lock onto the subject, and you’ll see that the subject gets sharper.
It will automatically focus on the subject closest to the camera. If you want a close-up picture, make sure your subject is within arm’s length of the camera. For landscape pictures where everything is far away, you can just aim at the horizon in general and it should keep everything in focus.
From there, push the button down fully and take the picture. You’ll need to go through this process and re-lock the focus for every picture you take. Single-shot mode is best for subjects that don’t move, like landscapes and still-life subjects.
What About Moving Targets?
If you’re taking pictures of something that’s moving, like your dog, go into your focus settings and change it to Continuous Focus.
Do the exact same thing to lock your focus square on the subject. The magic of this mode is that if your subject moves, the focus square will follow it! If you want to capture focus-perfect photos of moving objects, use this mode with a fast shutter speed. You’ll be able to catch things in great focus at high speeds!
You can use continuous focus mode all the time, but it can drain your battery faster. It’s also not foolproof—sometimes it can jump focus onto another subject by accident, like if something moves in front of your dog while you’re trying to take a picture.
Using Manual Focus
Flip that button to “MF” and you’ll be ready to learn manual focus. You might not have this mode on smaller cameras, and sometimes online photography workshop for beginners won’t even cover this, but keep it in mind for when you upgrade!
Look through the viewfinder at the subject you want to photograph. With your free hand, grab the lens—you will feel a section that can twist to the left and the right. This is called the focus ring, and it’s what you’ll use to narrow down your focus.
Twist it one way, and the image will get even more blurry. Twist it the other way, and it will come more into focus. Once it looks quite focused, half-press the shutter button again, and you’ll be able to fine-tune it until that focus square flashes to show that it’s locked.
Advanced Photography for Teens: Tips to Become a Focus Master
Mastering focus takes practice. But if you want to move away from basic photography for teens and take amazing photos like a pro, it’s something you need to learn! Try these ideas to get used to the focus on your camera and use it to your advantage.
It’s a lot of fun to add extra elements to your photo. If you have other things around your subject that are blurred, it makes the in-focus subject pop!
You can try this at home with still-life photography as an experiment. Place the thing you want to photograph in the middle of a long table or even on the floor. Then grab another object and place it behind the subject, a little way away, and another object in front of the subject, about the same distance away.
Now, grab your camera and focus on the subject. Keep the object in front to one side, so you have a clear view of the item but the other items are still in the photo. Play around with your focus so that the subject is clear, but the other objects are blurry.
If you find this difficult to do at home, get outdoors. Choose a tree or something a little way away from you, but make sure there’s something between you and it, and something behind it. Experiment with your focus to get the subject in focus, and the objects in front of and behind it blurred.
This “three-layer” method is a great way to practice locking your focus on the important subject! You can also do it with just two layers, with something in the foreground out of focus and the subject behind it perfectly in focus.
Use Natural Frames
Using natural frames is a fun way to help you practice focus. Look for frames wherever you go—it can be a window framing a view, tree branches framing a landscape, or anything else that works.
With a frame, it’s easy to focus on what’s inside the frame. It might be easier to do this with landscape photographs, but not as easy indoors with close-up pictures. You can experiment with it and see what you create!
Join a Sharp Shots Online Photography Workshop for Beginners
Ready to take your photography to the next level? We teach photography for teens to help you go from beginner to (almost) pro in the shortest time possible!
We’re not like other online photography workshops for beginners. We make sure you really know your stuff by the end of it, and we prioritize FUN over boring lectures. Join us—you’ll see the difference in your own photography skill by the end of it!
In the meantime, check out Alex Webb for some focus inspiration. Try to copy some of his pictures to perfect your focusing skills!