Do you: Focus and Recompose, or Compose then Focus?

How do you prefer to shoot?

  • Focus and Recompose

    Votes: 7 63.6%
  • Compose then Focus

    Votes: 4 36.4%

  • Total voters


Been spending a lot of time on here!
Feb 7, 2013
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Atlanta, GA, USA
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I'm curious of the techniques of others and when you use each technique?

I have always been one to focus on my subject then recompose for the shot. I do this because most of my subjects (little kids) won't allow composing first, then focusing. It's even simultaneous at times. It's all I've really ever done for all hand-held photography. Tripod photography is a different story, whereas I set up my camera at the scene and pick a subject to focus on.

I am getting ready to take some family portraits, for which the "Compose then Focus" may actually be better. I've noticed some flaws in my focusing-first technique, especially with shallow depths of field. Moving the lens to recompose shifts the focus off ever-so-slightly to be enough to notice an out-of-focus, missed shot.
Use focus lock
or use a deeper DOF / aperture
I focus and recompose, or compose and move the focus point (lucky to have a wide range to choose from left to right).
For a family portrait you probably shouldn't be shooting shallow enough for it to matter. For any portrait its tempting to blur the background in this way, but as you add more people it is harder to get everyone into the same plane of focus. If you have two rows then you really cannot be shallow at all. Be sure to do some chimping to make sure you are getting both the nearest and farthest person sharp enough.
Depends on what I'm shooting.
Think of the plane of focus and the depth of field like a sheet of paper. The focal plane, is the flat sheet of paper parallel to the front of the lens. The smaller the aperture (bigger f number) the thicker the paper; and the wider the aperture (smaller the f number) the thinner the paper is.

Now if you have it set to a wide aperture (small f number) you'l have a very thin sheet; if you focus and recompose the action of changing the angle of the camera relative to the subject means that there's a good chances the focal plane will move partly or fully off the original focused area.

For very tiny changes and with smaller apertures (bigger f numbers) it can be ok; but you want to be really careful as you can end up moving the focal plane to where its no-longer in focus.
What an interesting question! I guess I do both, at different times. Much of the time I focus, compose, and shoot, all within a half second. If I am fairly close, and the magnification is high, and the depth of field band is skinny, I will usually move the focus point off-center, establish a good focus, and then hold that with the thumb button on the camera, and shoot as soon as things look good. I guess, now that I think about it, I usually try to establish my focus first, so that when I get the framing or expression or timing I want, I am ready to CLICK!

In situations where the action is moving fluidly or rapidly, I am shooting, framing,focusing all in one, continuous process, using AF-C and Continuous High frame advance, with an AF-S lens.
With AF cameras I tend to focus then compose by depressing the shutter release button halfway and holding it there whilst I frame my shot; with older manual cameras the opposite is true and here I choose the framing first and then focus slightly beyond what I want to be sharpest before bringing the focus back to this.
That might be the trouble you're having, you've got the lens so open that it's throwing you off. Especially with kids or other moving objects/subjects.

Get out with your camera and figure this out before you start doing portraits, especially if it will involve younger kids. They aren't going to wait for you to figure this out - do that and practice practice practice before you do a shoot or session.
Most of the time I'm shooting action/moving subjects - I don't get too much choice to focus and recompose - mostly I use the different AF points to try and move focus off-centre - however sometimes its just a lot easier to let the focus be in the middle and then crop in editing.

Most of my pre-focusing tends to be if I've got a known action point where the subject will move through - then I'll prefocus on that point and wait for the subject to come into range. Other times I'm tracking the moving subject and following its motions.

I don't tend to thus do much focus and recompose - most of the time I have done it it tends to be with landscapes where its just a quick grab on the ground and then compose and shoot - not a huge issue since I tend to be closed down a fair bit so I've got a good depth of field (a thick book of pages) to work with.
Does anyone prefer using back button focus?
I use BBF almost exclusively anymore -- Gives you the option to focus then compose or focus then compose or focus while the shutting is ripping at 6.5FPS.

Without focus then compose, most my shot would suffer from poor framing due to the AF module area. Let's say I want to take a picture of a person standing there, of course I'm going to focus on the face. But my AF module is dead center in my frame, even using the farest points they still hug the center, so I'm left with TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNS of space over the subject's head. If you focused, then composed, this wouldn't be a problem.

With your group family shot, you should be using a stopped down lens so they fall generally within the field. You should have no issues focusing then recomposing for this shot. They are going to be fairly straight on to the camera, so I can't see where this would even be a worry. You'll probably want to try to focus on the back row of faces because your focus point is somewhere within the DOF--more to front. So let's say you lined up 3 rows of people, depending on where you've framed your focus points might only touch the back row, if you focus on them your subjects in the front might easily fall out of the DOF. But if you had focused on the middle row, recomposed, then taken the shot, all would be well.
My approach is usually slightly different (otherwise known as "weird"). I compose (and let's be honest, we all "compose" first though it's usually before the camera ever comes up--we look at something and go "okay, that's an interesting mix of patterns" or "that 5th person from the left is about to do something interesting"). I then put the camera up and compose more specifically (moving closer or further away if it's a prime lens, deciding if it's landscape or portrait, playing with settings like exposure compensation or moving to account for ambient light and shadow). I then focus. I then use focus lock. And I compose again (since I may not want my focal point dead-center...and I usually do a lot of aperture priority shooting).

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