Basics - Back Button Focusing

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Many photographers will never have heard of Back Button Focusing and even fewer will use it, but personally I think it is possibly one of the most important tips I was ever given.

What is it

So what is back button focusing (or I guess back button auto focusing is more precise)? Well to put it in the plainest terms I can think of (I find this makes remembering it easiest) it is changing the setup of your camera so that instead of the shutter release button focusing the camera one of the buttons at the back of your camera takes this responsibility, (I guess I could have said it is using a back button to focus!).

This does not mean that this rear button fires the shutter. No what this means is that you can have a button to focus you camera (and set off your light meter working) that is seperate from the shutter release button and doesn?t risk you accidentally releasing the shutter (not a big deal in the digital world I know but there are other advantages). It also means that the shutter button no longer focuses the camera, and important fact, you will see why in a minute.

But Why

The big advantage of using back button focusing is that because your shutter button no longer focuses the camera, if you set up a shot at a set distance, your camera will not try to refocus every time you go to take another picture an press the shutter release button. This is great for portrait photographers or in situations where something else might creep into the viewfinder that might take over as a focal point otherwise (a situation that can often arise for sports or wildlife photographers).

So that is the practical reason, but many people who use back button focusing also find it makes taking panning shots much, much easier. I guess this is because you can keep focus far more easily (personal opinion I know), while your trigger finger, so to speak, only has to be used for the actual firing of the shot. Or it may be down to how you naturally hold a camera and the button being in just the right spot? I don?t really know, but I do know that very few people who try back button focusing ever go back to the normal shutter release focus system.

How do I set this up?

You set back button focusing through your Custom Function menu, and, well, this is a time when I?m going to advise reading your manual or asking on a forum for your camera system as they will all be different. I know Canon, I would not like to guess at Nikon or Pentax settings and advise you incorrectly sorry.

Once you are set up it may take a little getting used to, but once you are comfortable with using this setup you will appreciate why I have recommended this as a tip in our how to shoot section.


I would ONLY recommend this tip to people who are comfortable with their camera, if you are still shooting in auto modes, DON?T try this yet, I do not want to disappoint you or confuse you further.

If anyone can provide me with details of how to set up their camera in this way I will gladly post instructions on here as well. Use the feedback for at the top to get in touch (or find my email in the contributors section).

Ashley Beolens