Why Won’t My Camera Take Photos?! is adapted from the Digital Photography for Moms Guided 365 photo project. It’s one of the 32 lessons devoted to teaching you how to take the sharpest possible photos.
How many times has this happened to you? You dial in all your camera settings, compose your photo for a tight close-up, and then push the shutter button – only to find that your camera won’t take photos. Odds are that you have butted up smack-dab against the minimum focusing distance!
OBJECTIVE: DETERMINE THE MINIMUM FOCUS DISTANCE FOR YOUR LENSES
The minimum focus distance is the closest distance at which your lens can focus. I’m sure you’ve all come up against it already – you are trying to take a close up, but your camera just won’t shoot when you press the shutter button. Or maybe the lens whirs around without being able to find focus. But if you take a step back, everything is good.
The minimum focus distance will be written somewhere on your lens. It might be written on the side, like on the 12-50 I use on my Olympus. Its minimum focus distance is .35 meters or 1.15 feet. Its maximum focus distance is infinity (∞).
My 70-200 f/4 is similar, except that this lens offers options. You can see that I can select a minimum focus distance of 1.2m or 3m. Why would I make my minimum focus distance farther away? Sports moms, take note! Use this switch to make sure your camera doesn’t focus on the parent who walks in front of you as you are trying to focus on the player out on the field.
My 50mm doesn’t make it quite so obvious to find the minimum focus distance. If I look inside the focus distance window and spin the focus ring all the way to the opposite side from infinity, I see that the minimum focus distance is .45m, or 1.5 feet.
Here’s something interesting. The minimum focus distance is measured from the focal plane mark on the side of your camera. Did you know you had one of those? It should look something like this:
The great thing about this mark is that it tells you that the minimum focus distance needs to be between this mark and your subject – it doesn’t matter how close your lens is. So, if you are having trouble focusing because you are too close and you are shooting with a zoom lens, back up a bit and then zoom in. As long as this mark on the body of the camera is the minimum distance away, the lens itself can get as close as you want and your camera will still be able to attain focus.
If I look on the side of my 24-70, it tells me that it’s a Macro and its closest focus distance is .38m or 1.3 feet.
What’s a macro, you ask? Well, in simple terms, a macro allows you to shoot more close up than other lenses. In other words, its minimum focus distance is shorter. But of course, that definition is an oversimplification.
More technically, a macro lens is a lens that allows life size or greater reproduction of your subject. Say you were photographing a matchbook that is exactly the same size as your sensor. A macro lens would allow you to get close enough to fit only that matchbook in your image, with none of the surrounding area.
A non-macro lens, on the other hand, would require you to take a step back and include some of the table the matchbook was sitting on in your photo.
Beyond the minimum focus distance, there are other variables like the camera’s sensor size that factor into whether a lens is technically a macro lens or not.
Today, experiment with your closest focus distance. See exactly how close you can get to your subject without losing the ability to focus.
Other Reasons Your Camera Won’t Take Pictures
What if you take a step or two back and your camera still won’t shoot? There are a couple of other issues that can cause your camera not to shoot – you might have to dig into your camera settings menus to find them.
- Some cameras have a setting that prevents them from shooting if you forgot to put a memory card in. Look in your camera manual (or those menus) for something similar to “Release Shutter Without Card” if you want to turn this setting off. I like keeping it on, personally.
- Ditto for exposure. If it’s too bright or too dark for your camera to make exposure, it might refuse to shoot. Different cameras will communicate this to you in different ways. My Canon 6D has a flashing triangle that appears on the right side of the meter if the combination of the light and my settings mean that the photo would be completely overexposed. The flashing triangle on the left indicates that the combination of the light and my settings would produce a completely underexposed photo.
Students in the Guided 365 have an assignment section at the end of each lesson just like the one you see below. You are welcome to participate in this one. Use the hashtags below to post your homework on Instagram and look at what everyone else is doing. Want to read another Guided 365 lesson? Here’s one about capturing natural skin tones in your portraits.
And if you’d like to sign up on the waitlist for the next Guided 365, click here.
- What to Shoot: Small writing.
- How to Shoot: On manual mode as close to your lens’s minimum focus distance as possible.
- Hashtag: #Guided365, #Day137Guided365
- Include with Post: Your settings.
- Carry forward from this assignment: Don’t worry about specific distances. Just know that you might need to step back if you can’t find focus while shooting close up.
- Explore today’s photos on Instagram.