Camera Focus Points: Take Better Photos By Changing Your Focal Point

Inside: a detailed tutorial on how to choose your camera focus points and change your focal point to choose which part of your image you want in focus.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. 

Choosing Your Focal Point – The Missing Piece

Before I knew the first thing about photography, certain photos would catch my eye online.  I admired photos with one part of the image in focus with the rest blurry.

It looked so nice, so professional.

But when I picked up my camera I didn’t get results like that.

Sometimes it worked, but as often as not, my subject would be out of focus while the trees behind them were sharp.

“How hard can this be”? I’d think. I’d change my angle and try again.

But my results were inconsistent at best.

  • Why do all those little squares light up inside my viewfinder?
  • Why do they keep changing and why can’t I control them?
  • What’s the missing piece?

There’s one camera setting that allows you to choose your focal point and it was the missing piece that changed everything for me.

What’s A Focal Point? (And Why It’s So Important To Choose Your Focal Point)

The focal point is the part of your image you want people to look at first. 

A great photo has a clear focal point.  The focal point should be in sharp focus and stand out from the rest of the image.

In Auto Mode, most cameras will choose the focal point for you.

As you look into your camera’s viewfinder you’ll see an array of focal points.

When you depress your shutter halfway you’ll notice how one or more of the camera focus points light up or turn red.

camera focus points

If you’re lucky, when you shoot in auto mode, one of the camera focus points will fall on your subject.

But as often as not, when your camera decides for you, you’ll get an unpredictable result.

In the image below I wanted the flower in focus, but the camera chose the leaf instead:

photo of flower demonstrating how to choose your camera focus points

I got the result I wanted when I chose the camera’s focal point.

photo of a flower demonstrating the power of choosing your own camera focal point

Learning how to choose your focal point will take your photos to the next level.

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choose focal point

Changing Your Focal Point Is A Powerful Camera Setting

Toggling your focal point is powerful.  Here are three reasons why:

First, it’s powerful because you can tell your camera what’s most important in your image.

Here, I placed the focal point on my daughter.  This told my camera I wanted her in focus, not the poles or trees behind her.  When paired with a wide aperture the background blurs while the subject remains sharp.

Second, changing your focal point is powerful because if there’s something between you and your subject you can incorporate it into the foreground of the image without confusing your camera as to what you want in focus.

In this shot, I told my camera to focus on my son as the subject of the photo, not my daughter in front of him.  This added nice depth to the photo, and my camera knew what I wanted in focus.

Third, changing your focal point is powerful because you can use it to create interesting compositions while shooting.

In this photo I used the rule of thirds to compose my photo with my son in the right third of the frame.

boy playing soccer with focal point overlay to show how photos was composed and shot

Single Point Focus

Photography terms can get confusing.  The words focus, auto, and mode get thrown around a lot and not always in reference to the same camera function.

In this tutorial, we’ll use the term single point focus to refer to the camera setting that allows you to choose and toggle your focal point.

But this camera function may be called something different based on the camera model.  On Nikon cameras it’s called the AF area mode.  On Canon cameras it’s called single-point AF.

How to Change Your Focal Point

Step 1 – Pull Out Your Camera Manual

Remember that manual that came with your camera?  Time to dig it out!

If you can’t find it, Google can help.  Most camera manufacturers provide copies of their camera manuals online.  You can search for your Nikon camera manual HERE, or your Canon camera manual HERE.

Every camera’s a little different so you’ll need to find out how to switch to single point focus – or whatever term your camera manufacturer uses – on your camera.

Step 2 – Get Out of Auto Mode

You can’t choose your focal point unless you shoot in manual mode, or a semi-manual mode.  If you shoot in Auto mode the camera will choose both your exposure settings and focal point for you.

If you need help with this be sure to check out How To Use Your DSLR Camera.

Step 3 – Switch To Single Point Focus

Below are some tutorials to help you switch your camera to single point focus.

How to change your focus mode for Canon cameras:

Canon Rebel

Canon 5D Mark iii

How to change your focus mode for Nikon cameras:

Nikon D300

Nikon D5000

Step 4 – Practice!

Once you get your camera set to single point focus practice using your camera’s multi-selector wheel to toggle your focal point.

On most cameras, it looks like this:

Look through your camera’s viewfinder. Use the arrows on your multi-selector wheel to toggle your focal point up, down, left and right.

Where Should You Put Your Focal Point?

Simply put, toggle your focal point over the area of the image you want to be in focus.

Can you guess where I placed my focal point when I photographed the flowers below?

how to choose your focal point

My focal point was over the circled flower.  This ensured that the flowers in the foreground were in focus and the rest of the image had lovely blur.

how to change your focal point

When photographing people (or animals) be sure to place your focal point over the eye that’s closest to your camera.

where to put your focal point

If your subject if farther away from you, place your focal point over your subject’s face.

camera points

Changing Points Is Powerful!

Is changing your focal point the piece your photos have been missing?  If so, you’ve now got a powerful tool at your disposal for consistent focus and better photos. 

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