As simple a concept this may seem to most, it is one of the most common mistakes and imperfections found in portrait photography. It is said that with digital photography that the number of humans taking photos has risen 90% (consider mobile phones, flip phones, point and shoot cameras and this number is quite believable). If people are going to present themselves as photographers, it is not enough to just own a fancy camera… you MUST learn the basics of the art and master the technology. Of course this is not at the expense of your own creativity but remember that breaking the rules without first knowing the rules is called a mistake. Breaking the rules after having mastered the craft is called art.
We have all had days where we just knew we were taking the most amazing shots ever captured only to find later that they were not actually in focus… even when we used our super fast lens, our high tech auto focus function, shot at a low ISO, and had enough lighting to fire off a few 1/1000 shutter speed shots.
What went wrong? Well, more often than not it is because we either aren’t sure where to set our focus or we simply focused accidentally on the wrong area of the face.
The golden rule of portrait photography is FOCUS ON THE EYES. This was the secret of Rembrandt, who always had the eyes of his subjects in focus with sharp detail. Art critics have said this was the secret to his paintings. The human eye is drawn to the eye and it will be the first thing that people look at in your portraits. If the eyes are in focus the rest of the photo will come together nicely.
If you have inadvertently focused on the nose, ear or forehead and you are shooting wide open at an aperture of F1.4 – 2.8 (which gives you a very shallow depth of field) it will mean that the eyes will then be out of focus. Most auto focus features work great and I know professional photographers who use auto focus. However, it is good practice to know how to use the manual functions of your camera. Using manual focus ensures that you are focusing on the right thing. Like manual transmission in an automobile, it gives you more control over how your camera functions.
If you are using a zoom lens it is VERY important to zoom all the way in (as close as it allows you) and get your focus (while zoomed in). Then you can zoom back out and be sure that you have the tightest focus possible. Next, if you are not accustomed to shooting handheld (meaning you are not a pro at it) then use a tripod. Any slight movement in the camera can throw your sharpness (focus) way off and you will not notice it until you are back at the lab and its too late.
#1: Use a tripod
#2: Zoom in
#3: Set your focus on the eyes
#4: Zoom back out to the desired shot framing
#5: Take the photo
This may seem simple and a bit trivial to most. However, it is one of the most common mistakes made in portrait photography. This technique is for “portrait” photography and also applies if you are photographing animals.
Remember, out of focus photos and lack of sharpness (due to camera movement), bad framing/composition, bad lighting and lack of story are the most common signs of the novice. Master the BASICS and you’ll be shooting like a pro in no time.. iA.