EDITOR’S NOTE: We’d like to welcome Bryan Esler to our team at Photofocus. This is his first post.

It’s not everyday you come across a feature that’s built into your camera that can significantly change the way you capture photographs.

I’ve had my Nikon D800 for a few years now and until recently, I held the shutter button down halfway to focus, and recomposed before I took my shot. It wasn’t ideal, and it meant a few missed or soft-focus shots that I didn’t deliver on.

Back button focusing changes all that. By using the AF-ON button on the back of your camera (or on some cameras, the AE-L / AF-L button), you can focus with ease while leaving the shutter button to do what it does best — take pictures.

Say Goodbye to Manual Focus

No more need to switch your lens to manual focus mode, because the camera will no longer refocus when you press your shutter! I find this especially useful while shooting long exposures or architectural photographs on a tripod, where my focus point won’t change for a while.

No more switching to manual focus for long exposures! Use back button focusing to set your focus, and then just stick to the shutter button.
No more switching to manual focus for long exposures! Use back button focusing to set your focus, and then just stick to the shutter button.

No More Switching Focus Points on the Back of your Camera

This was a big one for me. I always found it tedious to use the arrows on the back of my camera to change the focus point. With back button focusing, I can recompose my shot again and again, as long as the distance between the subject and myself stays the same.

Say hello to constant continuous servo mode shooting

By holding down the AF-ON button, you can track your subject as it moves, meaning you can always keep a constant focus on a subject. This is really handy, as it allows you to focus on your shot even faster than before, whether your subject is moving or not. It means keeping your camera in AF-C (Nikon) or Ai-Servo (Canon) mode all of the time, rather than switching back and forth between focus modes.

This also leads to more precise focusing when your subject is moving. This can be super helpful when photographing sports, kids or wildlife. I find it helpful while shooting events as well, especially as people are engaging with each other during candid photographs. It means I don’t miss a shot because someone suddenly moves their head.

Back button focusing is perfect for capturing action, allowing you to follow your subject and retain focus.
Back button focusing is perfect for capturing action, allowing you to follow your subject and retain focus.

Conclusion

For me, the less I have to fiddle with camera settings, the better. Taking advantage of back button focusing means I don’t have to constantly change focus modes, leading to more engagement with your subject(s), and delivering more photos that are crystal sharp to your client.

For most cameras, back button focusing is configured in the custom menu options, but be sure to check your user manual, as setup varies from camera to camera.