A Focus Tip For Landscape Photography

I was working on my next book this past weekend, the chapter on landscape photography, and I thought I would pass along one of the little tips that I wrote about.  It has to do with focusing while using a tripod.  Often times when I am shooting on a tripod I find that my point of focus is resting just outside of on of my focus points, especially if the main subject is in the lower portion of the screen.

Since I am a slave to my autofocus, what I like to do is loosen my tripod head and then put my focus point exactly where I want the point of focus to be.  I press my shutter release and focus the camera.  Then, before doing anything else, I slide my camera into manual focus mode.  Depending on the camera, this can be a switch on the lens or on the camera body.  After the focus is set to manual, I recompose my picture, lock down my tripod and take my shot.  If I hadn’t switched the camera to manual focus, the autofocus system would have tried to re-focus, possibly shifting my plane of focus to an unwanted area.

It’s not a very complicated process but it does make sure I get just the shot that I want.  Next time you are out working with your tripod, give it a try and see if it doesn’t make your life a little easier.


  1. Nice tip!

    Something else you could try that accomplishes the same thing, but leaves your lens in AF mode: (For me this is important. I’m forgetful like all-get-out!)

    Set the AFL to the * button on the back. Canon has this buried in the custom functions menu, I believe, and Nikon has it somewhere on most bodies.

    This means that shooting an image is a little different — press the * to focus (and lock focus), recompose as necessary, then release the shutter. (Exposure is obtained on the half-press.) This means I can focus once on a given point, shoot as many images as I want without refocusing, and then when I want to do something else, I can focus again without having to worry about the mode my lens is in.

    ‘Course, if you like to use AEL (which is the default setting of the * button), you can still accomplish something similar. Focus, half-press, recompose, full-press, and the same effect is achieved, but exposure information doesn’t lock for more than one image.

    And, if someone who doesn’t know your camera is set up this way tries to use it, either hilarity or frustration will ensue. 😉 But for me, all my cameras are set up this way because I found it so useful.

    • +1

      The first thing I ever do with a new camera is set the shutter button custom function to just metering. I then set the * button to focus. If you operate in manual mode, AEL doesn’t really do much for you. For landscape, I don’t think I’ve ever used anything but manual mode. After awhile you get used to the separation of focus and exposure, but even then, every once in awhile you forget to refocus. But to me that’s better than having the camera auto-refocus after spending time perfecting where you wanted focus.

    • Kerri,
      I like what you’re talking about, however, my old brain is having trouble processing. I use a Canon 5Dm2. I took out the manual, but , my learning disability prevents me from understanding Canon’s language. In the “Autotfocus/Drive” folder I have 6 options: 0: AF stop, 1: AF start, 2:AE lock, 3: AF point:M->Auto/Auto->Ctr, 4: ONE SHOT-AI SERVO, 5: IS start. Would you be willing to simplify this procedure?
      Thanks, Doug

  2. Your photo of your camera settings also, possibly inadvertently, gives another tip. When using a tripod, turn off image stabilization 🙂

  3. For the Nikon shooters in the room… Disable focus from the shutter. The AF-on button is the way to go to target focusing and recompose. It makes situations like the one described so much easier.

  4. Don’t mean this to come out like a reprimand, but why the heck don’t you manual focus? Relying on auto focus in a controlled setting is like putting your $4000.00 camera on PROGRAM Mode.

    • Cameras these days aren’t really meant to be manually focused anymore. It is actually harder with today’s focus screens than it used to be to get accurate focus, at least it is for me. But just like anything else in today’s digital world, there’s more than one way to do everything.

  5. T Ready says:

    I try to read your blog when I can……but it’s not always possible. I’m living in Alaska for 5 months and want to get in some photography time. What’s the best way to get snow/sky/water photos? I’m from South Carolina, so I dont’ see much snow… Everything seems to look washed out. Thanks for any suggestions. I have a Nikon D-70 and JUST bought (haven’t even used yet) a D-90.

  6. Thanks again for the blog post.Much thanks again.

  7. Chicagraphy says:

    I know this is a bit late, but if you use Nikon and are taking a landscape shot (or any stationary subject for that matter) you can avoid the auto-focus lock/back button focusing, which tends to be good with moving subjects that are also stationary, i.e. live music photography. All you need to do is set your AF to S, for stationary, move your tripod where you need to focus, half-press and hold the shutter button, move tripod back to correct position and fully press the shutter and vuala, you have your shot! If you just don’t want to have to focus and then hold a button down while you’re repositioning the camera, I think turning the lens to manual is just easier in terms of fumbling. I honestly use a remote trigger as it’s super cheap (Nikon ML-3 is like $12 or so) and is perfect for longer shutter speeds often used in landscape photography. Hope this helps!

  8. Somuingty says:

    thanks, heard it a many times but the way you put it has convinced me that its is a great easy way.


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