tacks dance

Tack sharp, that’s what they all say. It’s got to be tack sharp, sharp as a tack. You zoom in to a million per cent and all the details are still perfect.
Yes. If you’re a landscape photographer or shooting editorial portraits for a big magazine,yes of course. Scrutiny must be passed and nothing less than perfection will do.

But you’re not shooting for Vogue so it’s not such a big deal, right?
Well…it isn’t and it is. Tack sharp might not be your big goal right now but there’s nothing delicious about a blurry or soft photo. It doesn’t do you justice and it doesn’t let us see your subject the way it should be seen. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shoe or a smiling selfie, if your photos are soft they’re weak.

But never fear, I’m here to give you some small pointers to help you get super sharp shots every single time. It’s such a small thing but really, I meet so many people who’ve never heard about activating the AF on their camera.

What sort of camera do you have? Is it a camera phone, a point and shoot (P&S) or a DSLR? They each auto focus (AF) in different ways and give different signals but you’ll always focus in the same way and you’ll always get better results.

Camera phone

For the most part, your phone camera should autofocus itself quite easily. You know it’s focussed because the green rectangle will appear and the phone will beep. But did you know that you can tell the phone what to focus on by tapping the screen before you shoot? The focus doesn’t always have to be in the centre, you have control. You can choose and make your shot the way you want it.

Point and squeeze

Your P&S has how many different scene choices? Changing that dial to landscape or indoors or portrait really does make a difference to the shots you’ll get. Give your camera the chance to prove itself before you dis it. Read your manual, figure out the icons, use them.

AF on a point and shoot is the same as a DSLR – you need to gently ‘squeeze’ the button for a second to let it focus before fully depressing it to take the photo. When you do this you’ll see your AF rectangle signal on your screen, you’ll probably hear a beep and you might even hear or feel the lens focussing. NOW you can take the photo, yes it makes it take a second and a half longer but it’s more than worth it. You’ll get a photo worth keeping.

Pick your point

If you’re shooting on a DSLR you’ve got even more choice when it comes to AF. You’ll need to delve into your manual (or ask someone in the know) how you should go about changing the AF on your camera but once you do, you enter a whole new world of photography.
Change your focus settings to single point AF, find your controls (joystick or cross button on the back on the body) and go wild. You can move the AF point from top left to bottom right, to just left of centre to smack bang centre foreground. It’s up to you – although you might want to stick to some basic rules of composition all the same. And I’ll some of those for you next time round.

Don’t forget once you’ve picked your point that you still need to squeeze that trigger gently, give it a split second to see what you want it to see and fire. And there you have it, a photo that’s more than just a snap.

Allowing your camera those extra tiny moments to catch up with you is even more important if you’re shooting in a dark, or low-light, scenario. Making sure your focus is right gives your camera the chance to take a proper light reading if you’re in any of the auto modes and greatly increases the chances of you getting a decent photo. In auto, the camera will automatically compute how long the shutter needs to stay open for and what the ISO setting should be so all you need to do is allow it that moment it needs to do what it’s supposed to do. Of course if it’s too dark then you may never get the photo you want, but all you can do is try.

What are you focussing on?

If you’re taking a portrait, your phone or P&S might have face detection so that pretty much takes care of that. When you want to take greater control of the scene, you can focus on your point and with the button, or trigger, still squeezed reframe your photo. This will keep the focus point on the original but allow you to recompose your photo so you get the best shot possible.
The rule of thumb would generally be to focus on the eyes. They’re the most important part of any portrait. We connect with the eyes, we naturally focus on the eyes during conversation and for a photo to connect with us, it should do the same. If your subject is something without eyes, then you need to decide what the point of the photo is yourself before you take it. Where do you want the viewer to look first? What’s the reason you’re taking the photo in the first place?

I took this photo with my phone but I wanted the raspberries to be the centre of attention, not the bush and netting in the background. Simply tapping on the zone where the berries were told the camera what I wanted to do. Simples.


In further posts I’ll get in to composition, depth of field and apertures which all affect the focus of the photo too but for now, play with what you’ve got. Choose focus points in the foreground with your camera phone, watch the screen change to blur out the background, see your image gain even more life and vibrancy. Enjoy!

Please ask questions or post the results of your experiments in the comments below, I’d love to see what you do with it.