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

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Before I learned how to take great photos I found myself in need of a creative outlet.

A Pinterest search turned up some cute DIY glass tile pendant necklaces and I got excited to try my hand.  I made a few and felt so pleased with my craftiness I wanted to show them off with photos.

I studied the photos on the tutorial’s website.

The pendant in the photo’s foreground looked sharp while the background looked blurry. I loved how it looked and wanted to figure out how to take a photo like that.

I laid my pendants out on a white table cloth and arranged them in rows.

I took a few shots with my nice DSLR and checked the back of my camera.

Arghhh…why couldn’t I get the one I wanted in focus?

I tried everything I could think of.

I changed my camera angle and took the photos from the side.

I moved closer in, then further away.

How hard could this be?

But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get my camera to focus where I wanted it to.

One shot would have one pendant in focus, but never the one I wanted.

The next shot would have them all in focus.

And the third would be a shot of the wall behind them!

After 20 minutes of attempts to get my camera to focus where I wanted it to, I gave up.

“What am I missing?” I thought.  “What’s the trick to this?”

Why It’s Important To Choose Your Camera Focus Points

A great photo has a clear focal point.  The focal point should be in 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 will 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.

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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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, it’s 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, it’s 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 Toggle Your Camera’s 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

Here are some tutorials to help you switch your camera to single point focus:

Canon Rebel

Nikon D300

Nikon D5000

Canon 5D Mark iii 

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.

Practice until you get comfortable doing it.

You’ve now got a powerful photography tool at your disposal for whatever you want to shoot – craft projects and kids alike!

Do photography terms sound like a foreign language?  Let me simplify it for you: