Photography Basics – Where to focus?

Today we are going to talk about some simple tips for you to get tack sharp photograph for both portraits and landscape photography.

For serious portrait photography, very often we are going to use large aperture to get shallow depth of field. The purpose is to isolate the main subject to make it stand out from the background (especially in limited space with distractive background). With shallow depth of filed, where do we place the camera’s focus point to focus is becoming important.

Where do we focus for portrait shot?

Full length portrait shot

p16 Focus on the face

As shown in the photo above, the best point to focus to get sharp, in focus image is to focus on the face as the most important part of portrait is the face which has to be in focus.

For half-length portrait shot or head shot

If we move in closer to the subject, focus on the face is no longer sufficient especially if we are using large aperture which has very shallow depth of field. Relatively, eyes are more important than other features in portrait so we need to focus on the eyes. Eyes in sharp focus with out of focus nose or lips are better than out of focus eyes.

If the subject is close to the camera and is not squarely facing the camera (which is nice to have in portrait photography to create more flattering image), the tips is to focus on the eye that is closer to camera. Under this situation, we are not able to keep both eyes in focus if we are using larger aperture and the solution is just keep the closest eye in focus and sharp.

Below are some examples of where to focus for half-length portraits:

p17 Focus on the eye / closest eye

p18 Focus on the closest eye

Many photographers are used to use the center auto-focus point; half press the shutter release to focus and then recompose to get better composition before releasing the shutter to take the shot. This is generally okay for most shots except when extreme shallow depth of field is introduced by lens with every large aperture like F2.8 and below. Slight change of plane of focus can cause the image to be soft due to out of focus. The better solution is to switch the camera’s auto-focus point.


Where should we focus when taking landscape photography?

For landscape photography, generally we would like to keep almost everything in focus, from foreground to the background in distance. To achieve this, we need to dial down the aperture setting by using small aperture, i.e. F11, F16 and F22. Besides the aperture setting to get the maximum depth of field possible, where we focus also play a role to get more range in focus.



The general guideline is to focus on a point that is one-third of the way into the scene to get the maximum depth of field. Focus closer if there is obvious foreground that you think must be sharp. For landscape that has a specific point of interest, you may ignore this general guideline and place your focus point on the main subject instead.

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