Magic Monday: Focus and Back lighting

Ever have those moments when your lens refuses to focus and does the little slight zoom in zoom out trying to settle in?  The first time I vividly remember that happening to me was after I bought a MUCHO expensive lens.  It was my second time shooting it, and I thought for sure I had just invested my life savings into something worthless!  Ends up I was just dealing with one of the following major 4 reasons I find that the autofocus decides to take a vacation:

1.  You’re too close to your subject.

Each lens has a comfort zone.  If your subject is too close to the lens it won’t focus.  Quite similar to our own eyes and comfort zone of focus:  for example, put your hand directly in front of your eyes (less than an inch away)…how well defined do you see your hand?  Now slowly move it further away from you until you can clearly focus on your hand.  See the comfort zone of focus?  Your lens is the same way (and all lenses vary in their comfort zones… some allow you to get closer than others).

2.  There’s not enough contrast.

Sometimes there isn’t anything to actually focus on!  If I am trying to focus my lens on a close up of a brides dress, there may be a chance that all the camera is seeing is “white”.  If the lens is having trouble focusing, I’ll look for a fold in the fabric which will provide some shadow or gradation of color.  Putting my focus box here, helps the lens have something to “grab” hold of to focus.

3.  There’s not enough light.

Just like our own eyes have a hard time focusing in the dark, the lens can as well.  Similar to not having enough contrast, it just can’t see well defined objects enough to latch onto something to focus.

4.  Too much light–shooting directly into the sun.

Again–just like our own eyes don’t want to focus looking directly at the sun or a bright light source, our lens is the same.  Its being blinded, and therefore can not find detail in which to grab focus.

When shooting into the sun, here are two tips to help you get the focus you need.  Both will provide a very different look.

A)  If you want the hazy look, shade the lens from the sun with your hand, push the shutter release half way down to lock your focus, then move your hand away and finish taking the image.


Tip your lens enough that the sun is not directly in the frame of the image.  You’ll still have that soft sunny feel, but your focus will work and you’re less likely to get un-attractive lens flare.

B)  Shade your lens with your hand, a long lens hood, or have someone stand over you with something to provide some shade.  You’ll still see the beautiful back light, but you’ll be rid of the haze (since your lens won’t be getting as much direct sun) and focus easily on your subject.  (You’ll notice in the upper right corner of the following image the slight orange?  Thats my hand shading the lens from the sun.  Had I remembered to book an assistant for this shoot, I would have had them stand over me with a reflector to provide the same effect so I wouldn’t have my hand in the way 😉 )

*Like 99% of the images on this blog, these images have not visited Photoshop.  They are a result of basic simple edits in Lightroom, manual exposure on the camera, and working with awesome beautiful light.  Trying to become photoshop and action free!

Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. She recently learned how to yodel so she could perform upbeat polka songs in the kitchen for the baby boy she is smitten with. Her delightful husband sings bass and does a great oom pah line to accompany the yodel chorus. She wrote an opera once, and dabbles in cowboy poetry.

Brooke teaches private photography lessons as well as monthly photography classes in Logan, Utah.

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8 Responses

  1. These are great tips! Thanks! Also, I read your blog in google reader, so I don’t comment often, but I just love all the advice you give! You are an awesome photographer and even better teacher!

  2. I appreciate this post. I’m going to practice both methods! I have gotten pics like the top one by accident mostly:) hehe

  3. I love these pictures so much, I could die! I mean it. DIE! I can’t wait to see more. Such loveliness.

    And thanks for the tips. I totally struggle with sunflare. I just avoid it altogether, but I don’t want to avoid it. Maybe you’ve inspired me to be more brave.

  4. Um, I need to see more. Like yesterday…;) I love these so much already. And boy do I love your subjects. Are they not the cutest?

    Thanks Brooke, your talent is astounding.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! You just answered like 1 million of my questions…most which i didn’t even realize I had in the first place. You’re awesome, brooke 🙂

  6. This makes me want to go out tomorrow and practice all these great backlighting tips. Thanks!

    Oh, and Hayley’s family is much too cute!

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