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Focus Points

Lesson 41 from: Fundamentals of Photography

John Greengo

Focus Points

Lesson 41 from: Fundamentals of Photography

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

41. Focus Points

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of this lesson is focus points in photography.


  1. What are focus points?

    Focus points are areas in the camera where it looks for contrast, details, or lines to determine if something is in focus or not.

  2. How many focus points does a camera typically have?

    Cameras can have a range of focus points, with the minimum being around 9 and the maximum being around 151 or 153.

  3. What are SLR systems sensitive to?

    SLR systems are sensitive to horizontal and vertical lines.

  4. What are mirrorless systems sensitive to?

    Mirrorless systems are more sensitive to general contrast, such as lights and darks.

  5. Can SLRs focus on horizontal and vertical lines at the same time?

    No, SLRs have specific focusing points for horizontal lines and others for vertical lines.

  6. What is the advantage of the center focusing point in SLRs?

    The center focusing point in SLRs is usually a cross type focusing point, meaning it is sensitive to both horizontal and vertical lines.

  7. How can photographers select the desired focus point?

    Photographers can change the focusing point on their camera, either through a joystick or by navigating through the camera's menu.

  8. What are the recommended focus point options for different situations?

    For precise and controlled focusing, a single point focus is recommended. For action photography or subjects that move erratically, a group focus point or a wider focus point may be more suitable.

  9. How do mirrorless cameras differ in focus point selection?

    Mirrorless cameras use contrast detection systems and have a larger focusing area compared to SLRs. They also have additional options like face detection and subject tracking.

  10. What is the recommended autofocus mode for stationary subjects?

    For stationary subjects, using a single point autofocus mode is recommended, as it allows for precise focusing and composition.

Next Lesson: Focus Tracking


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Photographic Characteristics


Camera Types


Viewing System


Lens System


Shutter System


Shutter Speed Basics


Shutter Speed Effects


Camera & Lens Stabilization


Quiz: Shutter Speeds


Camera Settings Overview


Drive Mode & Buffer


Camera Settings - Details


Sensor Size: Basics


Sensor Sizes: Compared


The Sensor - Pixels


Sensor Size - ISO


Focal Length


Angle of View


Practicing Angle of View


Quiz: Focal Length


Fisheye Lens


Tilt & Shift Lens


Subject Zone


Lens Speed




Depth of Field (DOF)


Quiz: Apertures


Lens Quality


Light Meter Basics




Quiz: Histogram


Dynamic Range


Exposure Modes


Sunny 16 Rule


Exposure Bracketing


Exposure Values


Quiz: Exposure


Focusing Basics


Auto Focus (AF)


Focus Points


Focus Tracking


Focusing Q&A


Manual Focus


Digital Focus Assistance


Shutter Speeds & Depth of Field (DOF)


Quiz: Depth of Field


DOF Preview & Focusing Screens


Lens Sharpness


Camera Movement


Advanced Techniques


Quiz: Hyperfocal Distance


Auto Focus Calibration


Focus Stacking


Quiz: Focus Problems


Camera Accessories


Lens Accessories


Lens Adaptors & Cleaning




Flash & Lighting






Being a Photographer


Natural Light: Direct Sunlight


Natural Light: Indirect Sunlight


Natural Light: Mixed


Twilight: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Cloud & Color Pop: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Silhouette & Starburst: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Golden Hour: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Quiz: Lighting


Light Management


Flash Fundamentals




Built-In & Add-On Flash


Off-Camera Flash


Off-Camera Flash For Portraits


Advanced Flash Techniques


Editing Assessments & Goals


Editing Set-Up


Importing Images


Organizing Your Images


Culling Images


Categories of Development


Adjusting Exposure


Remove Distractions


Cropping Your Images


Composition Basics


Point of View


Angle of View


Subject Placement


Framing Your Shot


Foreground & Background & Scale


Rule of Odds


Bad Composition


Multi-Shot Techniques


Pixel Shift, Time Lapse, Selective Cloning & Noise Reduction


Human Vision vs The Camera


Visual Perception


Quiz: Visual Balance


Visual Drama


Elements of Design


Texture & Negative Space


Black & White & Color


The Photographic Process


Working the Shot


What Makes a Great Photograph?


Lesson Info

Focus Points

The next important point, when it comes to focusing, is where you focus. We just talked about how you focus, in the focusing mode. Now, we wanna talk about where you focus, with the focusing points. And so, your camera is gonna have a selection of areas, where it can look for focusing. And I'm gonna go, with a relatively simplistic camera, as an example here, just with nine focusing points. And I know most of you have something much, much more elaborate than this. But, for education-wise, this is nice and simple to look at. So, if you frame up a shot, like this... The camera will not be able to focus. Because, it needs contrast, or details, or lines, in those focusing points, in which to grab onto, and determine if something is in focus, or not. Alright? Now, do you think you can focus, on something like this? Is there something, in the photograph, that you can grab onto? Well, yeah, kind of, but let's look at where the focusing points are. This is where people will point their camera,...

and they'll say, it's not focusing! I don't understand why! And it's because there's no detail, on the inside of those boxes. It has to to be in the box, and you have to be aware of what box is active, and what's it pointed at. 'Cause, if it's pointed at a white wall, or a bright light, or a dark corner, that doesn't have any light in it, or something with no contrast, it's not gonna be able to focus. Alright. Does this look like a good focusing situation? Absolutely! There are lots and lots of details in there, in which you can focus on. The camera loves something like this. This is the easiest as it can be, when it comes to focusing here. So, the focusing systems, between SLRs, and mirrorless, are a little different. And so, I'm kinda talkin' about SLRs, but mirrorless people should probably still stay tuned in, 'cause it relates in some ways. The SLR systems are sensitive to horizontal and vertical lines. The mirrorless systems are sensitive, more to general contrast, so lights and darks. So, kind of, lines are gonna work very well in that category. If you have these lines, outside of the boxes, you will not be able to focus. For the SLRs, only the SLRs, not the mirrorless, there are a lot of cameras, that have things, known as horizontal focusing points, that are only looking for horizontal lines. In fact, they actually fit in those boxes, a little bit more easily. If you were to put a vertical line in there, the camera will not focus. So, if you have an SLR, try this test at home. Find a frame, that you have on the wall. Focus on the bottom of the frame, or the edge of the frame, and see how good that one individual focusing point is, and you'll find that some of them can't focus on the right edge, but they can focus on the top, or the bottom edge of that focusing frame. There are other focusing points, usually towards the middle, that are very sensitive to vertical lines, and they'll pick 'em up, right away. But, if you put a horizontal line through it, it's not gonna work. And, you know, if you have to ask the question, well what if I turn my camera 45 degrees? Well, it's relative to where the camera is. So, it'll probably pick it up, if you turn your camera 45 degrees. And so, that may be a trick, for focusing. In fact, that was a trick, in the early days, because my first camera could only focus on vertical lines. So, if you only had a horizontal line, you'd turn your camera sideways, focus, and then turn the camera back. It just depends on its relative, to the camera. Now, the thing that I have noticed, is that the center type point, on all the SLRs, that I've dealt with, have cross type focusing points, in the middle, which means they're sensitive to horizontal, and vertical lines. So, they just pick up things more quickly, and easily. Now, sometimes, like the Canon one, they are double-crossed, or they're sensitive to a different light level. And in general, with the SLRs, the better focusing points are always tending to be clustered, to the middle. And part of that comes from the fact, that lenses are sharper in the middle, and they're able to put on higher resolution detectors, in the middle, and they're getting less good, clean information, from the edges of the frame, which is why SLRs are a little bit limited, on how far out they go, with their... Detection sights. (person coughing) So, if you could choose one point to focus, simply for accuracy, and sensitivity, well, not so much accuracy. I'd say, sensitivity is a better word here, on picking up these things, you wanna go with the center point. So, it's a really good one. But, you have these other ones, that you can use as well. And it will vary, from camera to camera. Now, the default way, that a lotta cameras are set up, when you get 'em from the factory, is to have all the focusing points, however many there may be, and it's gonna range, right now, the least you're gonna have, is probably nine. The most, I think, is 151, or 153... Focusing points. But, it all works, in the same system. You can have all of 'em selected, and if you have all these focusing points selected, there's a lotta different ways, that it could potentially focus. You could focus on whatever's in the middle. Or, whatever... Is an average, of the near and far, or whatever's in the farthest, or the nearest. But, they're all programmed to do the same thing, and that is, is that they're going to focus on whatever is closest to you. And so, you may want one thing, in focus, but it's gonna focus on something else. And so, if you don't want that to be the case, then you can change your camera to a single point focus, and choose where you want that point to be. And so, this is something you should definitely know how to do, on your camera. And, in fact, you should be able to change it, in seconds, on your camera. The latest cameras have a little joystick, in the back of the cameras. So, you don't need to enter a mode, and choose the focusing system, and then change where it's at. You just press the little joystick, and it changes where you're focused, and that's a really nice system, because the generalized system of focusing on whatever is closest, just doesn't work out well, when you're composing, and you have different subjects in the foreground. Photographers want to be precise, about where we focus, 'cause I said before, you can't change it, you can't fix it, if it's wrong. You gotta get it right, in camera. Another option, is that, well see... The focusing point in the middle, as I mentioned before, is a cross type focusing. So, it's nice to be able to use that one, but if you need to, you wanna be able to go to those other ones. Another option, that's available on a lotta cameras, is something more than one, less than all. I call it a wide point. But, it goes by different names, by different manufacturers. This tends to be really good, for people shooting action, or it's a little hard, to keep that one focusing point, on your subject, as it's moving around. And so, I tend to like to use a single point, when I am very able to precisely point that, at a subject. When the subject's moving a little bit more erratically around, then I wanna use a larger point. As I mentioned, there are a number of cameras, that have many more focusing points, that you can choose from. So, if you have 61 focusing points, it's the same philosophy. It's gonna look at all the focusing points, and it's gonna choose whatever happens to be closest to you. You can then change it around, to any single point that you want, which is nice. And then, the wide point will give you more options, 'cause you might have a five-point option, you might have nine, you might have a 12, or a 21, or a 72. It depends on the system that you might have. And for shooting sports, I really like these wide points. And so, just in summary on this, we have single point, where you wanna be very precise, and you have a lotta control. Group point, if you're photographing action. But, I don't recommend all points, except for, maybe, some very special situations. One special situation, is if you're giving your camera to somebody else, to shoot with, it's too long, to explain vertical and horizontal, and focusing on the closest item. Just here, take this, and it's gonna work fine, most of the time. But, we want it to work right all of the time. The only other time, that I use all focusing points, is if I'm focusing something that's moving, quickly and randomly, and I am really confident, there's not gonna be any interference. The best place, that I have found, for shooting all focusing points, is on the back of a boat, with birds riding in the wave, off of the wake of the boat, and they're kinda movin' all over the place, but I know there's nothing between me and the birds, and they're moving really erratically. And so, that's a good place, where you could use all focusing points, and that would work, spot-on, for that. So, let me show you a couple of focusing situations, and how I deal with it. For subjects, that are moving, I told ya, the first thing I change, when I get to the park, the field, the court, anything like that, is put my camera into the continuous focusing mode. Now, I don't wanna just use a singe point, because maybe that hits a plain spot on their jersey, or they're moving erratically around. It's just very hard to work with. And so, if I want them generally in the middle of a frame, I like something, that's about the size of a human torso, when I look through the lens. So, it depends on what lens I'm using, but, like a nine-box focusing, kind of this medium box area. That tends to work out pretty well, 'cause I can be a little bit off, and it's still grabbing onto the uniform, or the number, or anything like that. Or, the face, on the subject, pretty easily. Now, I do like to have fun with my composition, and put subjects off to the side. It's, sometimes, a little bit more natural, or a certain look I'm trying to get. And so, if you focus in the middle, you're not gonna be able to get your subject over on the side, properly. So, what you need to do, is move those focusing points, off to the side. And so, if you know you want it off-center, then you put it off there. Now, question is, is... How quickly can you move it over there? And you gotta think about this thing ahead of time. And so... When I wanted this cyclist, on the left side of the frame, I didn't make that decision, oh, I want him on the left side of the frame right now! It's like, they're going around the track, for 25 times. That's like, okay, on this lap, I'm gonna photograph him on the side of the frame. So, as they're goin' around the back stretch, I'm... (clicks) Off, to the left hand side. And then, when they come down, I'm shooting 'em over, to the left hand side. Now, there are some fancier systems, that are coming out, that do focus tracking, that allow you to change it, back and forth, but this is with an SLR system, and a lotta systems, where you can choose, specifically, where you want your subject. And so, if you can anticipate, and think what you want your photos to look like, move 'em off-center, but using something more, than just a single point, is gonna make it a lot easier. Now, I could probably, and you could make this argument, I could probably have all focusing points active here. But, what's gonna happen, if I have all focusing points active, is there could be some little error in the system, and it might try to focus over, on the right hand side, 'cause it thinks it's closer. Doesn't happen very often, but by choosing where the focus points are turned on, those are the only places, that it's gonna look. And so, I'm just trying to prevent any other mistake, that may or may not be my fault, from coming along. And if some official was to cross the track, or step off off of the track, 'cause he's waving that cyclist down, or something like that, it's not gonna grab on, to something on the right. And so, this is just preventing the possible problems you might have. For stationary subjects, this is predominantly what I shoot, are subjects that don't move. I mean, I like doing action photography, but most of the stuff... You know, a body in... Motion, stays in motion! (laughs) One that's not moving, is not gonna move! Most stuff is not moving, when I shoot it. And I, frequently, don't want the focusing point right in the middle of the frame. And I want it somewhere a little bit off, to the side of the frame. Now, for quick shots, what I do, is I just have my center focusing point activated, and I'll move the camera over, figure out what, exactly what I want in focus, press halfway down, and then reframe it, as I think it should look, in the final composition, and take the photo. And it's a great system. It's what a ton of photographers do, because it's really fast, and it's very, very easy. So, it's a great system. Now, if you wanna get a second shot, (laughs) well, you kinda gotta go through this whole process, again! And so, it's not too bad, if you take one, two, or three shots. But, if you're gonna take a whole series of shots, this gets like a little bit of an old process, going back and forth through this. Now... There is one technical, little problem, with this, that you can encounter. And that is, that when you move your camera over here, in focus, and you move back, it's possible, something has changed. You could've leaned forward, or back, by just, at a quarter of an inch! And, if you have a shallow depth of field lens, that could make a difference. Now, I've... I've seen some people, who talk about, because where the lens focuses, just turning it, it's gonna cause it, to come outta focus, and I've tried it on a tripod, and I don't think that's the major problem. I think, the fact, is that somebody might just go, okay, I'm gonna move like this, and they've actually moved themselves, the focusing plane, back or closer, from the subject. Now, it's not usually a big deal, on most subjects. But, on a really, really razor-thin depth of field, it could be a problem. On this one... I'll be honest with you, I don't even recall what I did. I might've focus-locked, or it might have used the next technique that I'm gonna talk about here. And that is, just moving the focusing point. And so, if you have a subject, where you know you want the focusing point someplace else... It's gonna take you a little bit more time, to move that focusing point, over to the side, so it's a little bit slower, getting that first shot. But, for all the subsequent shots, it's gonna be really fast. You're gonna be able to shoot it very, very quickly. And so, it kinda depends on what type of subject you're shooting, and how many shots you wanna take. When I know, that I want it here, there, or somewhere else, outside of the center, I start moving that focusing point. But, next to that, it's in the middle, 'cause it's just a good, quick place to have it, for most of the time. So, hopefully, that makes sense, for all of you. Let's talk a little bit about mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras use the contrast detection system. So, it's looking at, essentially, not truly, but essentially, the entire area of the sensor. They don't bother, trying to focus on the very edges. Because, rarely do you need to focus on something way out, to the edge. But, it's the large area, in the middle of the frame, that you're able to focus. Now, I am not able to go through all the different systems. Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji. Canon's mirrorless, Nikon's mirrorless. All have slightly different systems, that are out there. But, in general, you're gonna have the similar type options we have, with the SLRs. One, is the all area, and it's just too indiscriminate. It's gonna focus on whatever is closest. And that may, or may not work, in some situations, but I think it's just looking over too large of area. It's better to narrow that search pattern down. You can do a group, or a larger size box. Some of 'em will just do a big box, in the middle. Some will do... Fuji, I think, now, probably has the best system out there. What they have, is they have a super tiny pinpoint area, and then one that's a little bit bigger, and a little bit bigger, and a little bit bigger, and a little bit bigger, and a little bit bigger, and they have about 10 boxes, that are every in-between size, from everything, to the tiniest point, that you could have, and I think that's about as good as we're gonna wanna have here. And so, you'll have a single point, you'll have group points... In a particular sized selection, and it works very much, like the SLRs. I prefer a single, for stationary subjects, where I am really wanting to choose exactly where I wanna focus. And then, I'll use group, if somethin's movin' around, or I have a less precision, in holding the camera, in tracking my subject. Now, one of the big advantages, to the mirrorless cameras, is that their focusing area is quite a bit larger, than the competing SLR range. The SLR range will vary, from camera to camera. But, with mirrorless systems, you can focus all over the place, which is really nice. And because the mirrorless systems are using the actual sensor, which, in many cases, has 24 million, to 42 million pixels, recording information, identifying what's going on, there's a lot more technical advantages, that we're gonna see now, and going into the future, with these mirrorless cameras. One of the options, is face detection. And so, the cameras can detect faces. I think everything out in the market can do this now, and can focus on a particular face. Some of them also have subjects tracking, where they can track individual subjects. So, all the cameras are gonna have single and continuous. Most of all the cameras are gonna have the auto, auto focus, where the camera makes the decision for you. That's the one, that I don't recommend. I recommend leaving it in single, and then switching it to continuous, when you focus on action work. And then, you're gonna have your focusing points. And we have single, group, and all. And the ones, that I don't really have time to get into, and it gets very manufacturer-specific, is the face detection, and subject tracking.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Fundamentals of Photography Class Outline
Learning Projects Workbook
Camera Keynote PDF
Sensor Keynote PDF
Lens Keynote PDF
Exposure Keynote PDF
Focus Keynote PDF
Gadgets Keynote PDF
Lighting Keynote PDF
Editing Keynote PDF
Composition Keynote PDF
Photographic Vision Keynote PDF

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

Love love all John Greengo classes! Wish to have had him decades ago with this info, but no internet then!! John is the greatest photography teacher I have seen out there, and I watch a lot of Creative Live classes and folks on YouTube too. John is so detailed and there are a ton of ah ha moments for me and I know lots of others. I think I own 4 John Greengo classes so far and want to add this one and Travel Photography!! I just drop everything to watch John on Creative Live. I wish sometime soon he would teach a Lightroom class and his knowledge on photography post editing.!!! That would probably take a LOT OF TIME but I know John would explain it soooooo good, like he does all his Photography classes!! Thank you Creative Live for having such a wonderful instructor with John Greengo!! Make more classes John, for just love them and soak it up! There is soooo much to learn and sometimes just so overwhelming. Is there anyway you might do a Motivation class!!?? Like do this button for this day, and try this technique for a week, or post this subject for this week, etc. Motivation and inspiration, and playing around with what you teach, needed so much and would be so fun.!! Just saying??? Awaiting gadgets class now, while waiting for lunch break to be over. All the filters and gadgets, oh my. Thank you thank you for all you teach John, You are truly a wonderful wonderful instructor and I would highly recommend folks listening and buying your classes.


I don't think that adjectives like beautiful, fantastic or excellent can describe the course and classes with John Greengo well enough. I've just bought my first camera and I am a total amateur but I fell in love with photography while watching the classes with John. It is fun, clear, understandable, entertaining, informative and and and. He is not only a fabulous photographer but a great teacher as well. Easy to follow, clear explanations and fantastic visuals. The only disadvantage I can list here that he is sooooo good that keeps me from going out to shoot as I am just glued to the screen. :-) Don't miss it and well worth the money invested! Thank you John!


Dear John, thanks for this outstanding classes. You are not only a great photographer and instructor, but your classes are pleasant, they are not boring, with a good sense of humor, they go straight to the point and have a good time listening to you. Please, keep teaching what you like most, and I will continue to look for your classes. And thanks for using a plain English, that it's important for people who has another language as native language. Thanks again, Juan

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