Photography Focus Tips: Focus and Recompose” is an excerpt from the Digital Photography for Moms Guided 365 project. This lesson is one of the 32 lessons devoted to improving focus in photos. 


When a photographer focuses and recomposes, she sets focus using one of her AutoFocus points. Afterwards, she moves her camera to compose the image as she’d like.

For instance, when I took the photo below, I wanted to focus on the part of the statue’s chest that was bright AND closest to me. I didn’t choose his eyes because they were too close to the edge of the photo – as we saw on Day 118 of the Guided 365, that part of an image is usually softer anyway.

Focus and Recompose

However, with my photo composed as you see it in the photo above, none of my AutoFocus points were over the part of his chest I wanted to focus on.

I composed my photo so that the AF point closest to his chest was over the arrowhead. I pressed down the shutter button halfway so that the camera focused, and then, without releasing the shutter, I composed the photo the way I wanted to originally.

That process is the “focus & recompose” that you hear so much about.

When you focus and recompose, you are focusing and then moving your camera. Does that ring any bells of alarm in your mind?

This focusing technique works well only when your camera moves so slightly that focus won’t change between the time you set it and the time you snap the photo. Another way of saying this is that the focal plane shouldn’t change as you recompose. Remember that the size (or depth) of the focal plane depends on the aperture you’ve chosen.

If you are shooting with a large aperture, focus and recompose is less likely to work.

Some people always use this focusing method. They usually use only the center focus point. They use this focus point because it is a cross-type point (those are the ones that are sensitive to both horizontal & vertical lines). The assumption is that cross-type points are “stronger.” Day 112 of The Guided 365 project tells you all about the the different types of points, if you need a refresher.

However, center points aren’t any stronger than the other points. They might be able to find focus more easily, but once achieved, that focus will look the same whether you use the center focus point OR one of the horizontal or vertical points.

Also, center points don’t achieve focus any more quickly than the other points.

And, honestly, these vertical and horizontal focus points can find tiny lines. An eye, for instance, has horizontal lines (across the bottom of the pupil, for instance) and vertical lines (up the side of the pupil).

My recommendation? I recommend using the Focus and Recompose method only when you absolutely need to. Your photos won’t be any sharper by using the center point only.

And when you do use this technique, don’t feel limited to using just the center point. You can use any focus point that achieves focus.

When are good times to Focus and Recompose?

  • When the point that you want to focus on isn’t near an AutoFocus point in your desired composition.
  • When you can’t achieve focus using the closest AutoFocus point. This can happen because of poor light, or because you are shooting something like a flagpole, whose orientation doesn’t match that of the focus point.

When does Focus & Recompose not work well?

All of these situations can result in soft focus when using the Focus & Recompose method:

  • When you are shooting at a wide aperture
  • When you are very close to your subject
  • When your subject is wiggly or moving
  • When your camera moves too much as you recompose

How does Focus & Recompose affect the “red dot?”

  • The AutoFocus point indicator will always appear on your photo where the AutoFocus point is. So, in my photo above, the red dot would be to the left of the arrow. In other words, the red dot shows the focus point where the camera focused when I pressed the shutter button halfway, not where focus happened to fall after I recomposed.

Today, practice this technique. Tomorrow in the Guided365, we’ll build on this concept to practice shooting sharp photos in low light.

Today’s Assignment (for Guided365 Participants Only)

  • What to Shoot: A photo whose subject is offset from the center.
  • How to Shoot: On manual mode. Use the focus and recompose technique for a sharp photo.
  • Hashtag: #Guided365, #Day121Guided365
  • Include with Post: Your settings. Was your photo as sharp as you’d like?
  • Carry forward from this assignment: Focus and recompose isn’t a technique you need to use for every photo.

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