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How to Use Focal Lock to Find Perfect Focus

Hello friends, here Debs again. And today I want to answer one of my readers’ questions about How to Use Focal Lock to Find Perfect Focus taking pet pictures.

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How to Use Focal Lock to Find Perfect Focus

Well, to start and be honest, the “damn focus” (LOL!) is the number one photographer’s issue to deal with…

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Inside the Photography Masterclass, you will find all the tricks to master photography at your own pace and you’ll have to spend as low as a couple of McDonald’s Menus… 😃

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How to Use Focal Lock to Find Perfect Focus

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How to Use Focal Lock to Find Perfect Focus

But now, let’s dig into the article and discover How to Use Focal Lock to Find Perfect Focus! Are you wondering about it, eh?

How many times have you taken that perfect shot, only to find later that your subject was out of focus and other areas of the photo were sharp?

Are you trying – and failing – to create those awesome, shallow depth of field shots that really isolate the subject of a photo?

You’re not the first or only victim of these problems and there can be several causes. What’s more, even the most expensive, sophisticated equipment won’t solve these problems for you.

Fortunately, almost all modern digital cameras have a feature that can help. In this tip, I’m going to explain how and when to use the focus lock.

Your camera manual may refer to this feature as a focal lock or with a different term, and you may find it in the index under “Focusing” as “Recompose“. No matter what it’s called, using the focus lock is actually a matter of prefocusing and recomposing your shot.

How to Use Focal Lock to Find Perfect Focus
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When Should you Use the Focus Lock?

The most concise answer to that question is, “anytime you’re using autofocus and want to be sure one part of your photo is in focus“. Obviously, that covers a lot of territories and that’s the point.

More specifically, you’ll want to use it when your subject isn’t going to be lined up with an active AF point in your viewfinder when you press the shutter release. That can happen in almost any shooting situation and at any focal length.

If you’re not properly understanding what’s in this article, once again I recommend enrolling in the Photography Masterclass here: you’ll learn a lot and every following tip here presented will surely be much more clear to you!

Composition and Focus Lock

If you’ve been reading some articles on composition, you know that it isn’t always such a good idea to place your subject directly in the center of the frame.

Unfortunately, whenever you place your subject a little to the right or to the left, you open up a whole new problem when you press the shutter button to focus.

Instead of focusing on your subject, your camera ends up focusing on some unimportant piece of the background.

It happens all the time, especially when you hand your camera over to your inexperienced friend.

Your camera doesn’t know that you’re trying to get an image of a smiling face. Every time you press down the shutter button, your camera not only resets the focus, but it also tries to focus on the center of the frame.

How to Use Focal Lock to Find Perfect Focus

Fix the Problem with Focal Lock

How can you prevent this common problem? It’s surprisingly easy. The focal lock is programmed into most digital SLRs, and even point-and-shoot cameras, these days.

To activate it, simply press the shutter button halfway down. This causes the camera to keep its focus on the original point you decided to focus on. If you release the shutter or press it all the way down to take your picture, you’ll reset the focus.

Here’s how most photographers use the focal lock to keep their cameras focused on the important parts of the scene.

First, pick where you are going to focus on with your camera. Next, center your camera on that point and then hold your shutter button halfway down. Then while holding the button you can reframe your shot to produce something more visually appealing.

Photographers are always reframing their shots. It’s the best way to produce an interesting composition.

Most pictures with the subject in the center fail to excite viewers. It’s probably the way we’re wired, but we tend to enjoy images where the subject is slightly off of center much more. Some people like to call this the rule of thirds.

Not sure you’re understanding?

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After you reframe your shot (remember, you’re still holding the shutter button halfway down), you can press the shutter all the way down to take the picture.

Usually, if your camera is in continuous fire mode, you should be able to keep taking one picture after the next with the same focus settings. But be careful about this. As soon as you hear the motor noises coming from your lens, your camera is “trying” to focus on something else.

For further info about shooting in manual mode, read my article here to better understand how to set up your camera for super manual photographs.

Tricks to Setup Focal Lock

You can use the focus lock when you’re shooting through the viewfinder or using the camera’s LCD, but the procedures are slightly different. 

💡 Note: You may need to adapt these instructions to suit your particular camera make and model, but they will apply in general to most popular brands and types.

Zoom to Frame Your Shot

If you’re shooting with a zoom lens, line up your camera for the final shot and zoom your lens to the focal length that frames it properly. 

DON’T READJUST THE FOCAL LENGTH AFTER THIS STEP. This step will apply whether you’re looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD.

Use the Viewfinder

Point your camera at the main subject, so that the active focus point in the viewfinder is centered over the most critical area, for instance, the eyes of your subject for a portrait.

Press the shutter button halfway and allow the camera and lens to focus. Wait for the focus spot to flash and/or the beep.

Then, move your camera to reframe your shot, holding the shutter button at the halfway point. When you have the correct framing again, press the shutter button smoothly and fully without releasing it.

Use the LCD

Without moving the camera, move the focusing window in the LCD to cover the main subject.

If necessary, increase the magnification of the LCD (NOT THE LENS) and/or move the window again for a better view of the details you want to focus on.

When you have the view you want, press the shutter button halfway, wait for the LCD and/or beep to verify the focus, then smoothly press the button completely.

📝 NOTE THIS: The LCD method is particuarly useful when you're using a tripod, since it doesn't require you to move the camera after initial framing. To avoid camera shake, use your camera's self timer and let go of the shutter release buton after pressing it. BUT PLEASE ALSO NOTE: with Pet Photography using tripods is very difficult because we're dealing with moving subjects, so better to leave this method to newborn sleeping puppies and kittens or very well trained dogs...

Many DSLR cameras offer a “back-button focusing” option that lets you use a button on the camera back to lock your focus setting. On many models, using this method will allow the camera to maintain the lock for multiple exposures. Check your owner’s manual for this feature, as it may often be more convenient than the shutter button method.


If you need to master photography knowledge, feel free to enroll in this special Photography Masterclass. This is what I found useful for myself.

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Veterinary Surgeon, Labrador Breeder and passionate pet photographer. Blogger for hobby in spare time. I like everything regarding nature and its shapes.

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