Finicky Focus  

Finicky Focus

Finicky means, “Showing or requiring great attention to detail.” With regards to focus, a photographer needs to show great attention to detail to make sharp photographs. Herein lies the premise of this week’s OP Tip. What depth of sharpness needs to be reached? Where should the active focus point be placed? How sharp is sharp? What if the photographer wants to imply motion? You get the idea. The degree of sharpness is dependent upon the photographer’s desired outcome.

As you can see, sharpness can mean different things in different photographic situations. In this particular tip, “finicky” will be reserved for selective focus. It’s a technique used to draw the viewer’s eye to a precise point within a photo. It sends a message that the peripheral out-of-focus areas aren’t as significant as the part that’s sharp. The eye is directed to the point in the photo the photographer wants to emphasize, and the rest of the elements become secondary.

Finicky Focus

To accomplish the look, use as wide open an aperture as your lens allows. The faster the lens, the greater the diversity. These lenses go down to 2.8 and lower. I own a 50mm 1.8 that provides amazing selective focus capability. Try to get the subject as far away from background and foreground elements to add another aspect of control. Additionally, use a long lens as they inherently provide less depth of field. Finally, the closer you can get to the subject, the better. The subject becomes more magnified which, in turn, narrows the range of sharpness.

Let’s assume everything is in place. You’re armed with a fast lens, it’s somewhat telephoto, you can get close to your subject, and you can control its placement relative to the foreground and background components. Now it’s time to look for subjects that have depth so just a single plane can be rendered sharp. If the subject is one-dimensional and resides on a flat plane, the entire photo will either be in focus or out of focus and show no depth. Find a compositional element that stands out and carefully place the active focus point precisely upon it. The result you see in the viewfinder will be the result you get in the picture since you’re viewing it with the lens wide open and it’s set to its widest aperture. If you like what you see, press the shutter and confirm the look on the LCD.

Finicky Focus

If you desire to bring selective finicky focus to the next level, enter the macro world and get super close to a single flower, spoon, small statue, or anything else. Every subject is fair game. Find the part of your chosen object that most intrigues you and move the camera back and forth to find the precise point of focus. It’s best to use manual focus, as you don’t want auto to override the part you choose to render sharp. When the look is right, press the shutter.

Get on the finicky focus bandwagon and enter the selective focus world.

Visit for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.

Photography is what motivates me to move through life in a positive way. Photography is ͞All About The Light͟ and it’s the first thing I seek out before I press the shutter. Optimally, I pursue great subjects in great light, but if there’s an ordinary subject in great light, I still press the shutter. I love to share the photographic knowledge I’ve accumulated and I hope my enthusiasm is contagious so I can motivate others to feel the same way I do about my photography.


    In the photo of the man it appears that the eyes are not real sharp. In a portrait wouldn’t you use an f- stop like F/5.6 or f/8 to make the eyes, nose and mustache all sharp? But then you would have to back off the background to gain your desired effect. But maybe you didn’t want the eyes to be very sharp?

    Easier for me to use center focus on the intended spot, hold shutter half way, and then move the camera, especially if its wildlife and may move in the next second or two. Also, i have the option to view the lcd, zoom in, refocus on the intended place (i.e. center of flower, eye of subject), then back to original size before shooting. This works good for anything that stays put! At least on MY camera this is easier than adding another tweak in the mix.

    Bob and Dennis – trust me – the eyes are sharp. It’s a low res image. There is no way I’d illustrate any of my Tips of the Week with photos that are technically flawed.

    My apologies if I indicated that your image was technically flawed. That certainly was not my intent. I have always admired the clarity and sharpness of your images and have endeavored to emulate them. They seem to “jump off the page” to the viewer. To me the images of the antelope and flower in this article have that feel. In an earlier response you said that the portrait of the man was a low res image. Will you let us know the resolution of that image?

    Thanks for coming up with articles that always seem to help my shooting.

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