Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

“Do I have to?” Chapter Three; Back Button Focus (and Zion)

What a pleasure it was to meet and learn from Charlie Cramer in Zion National Park last week.  As it turns out, we have at least one thing in common; back button focus.

Charlie is one of those photographers who came up shooting medium and large format film and has made the transition to digital very well.  He’s a master at printing and digital workflow and otherwise quite technically savvy as well.

So, what’s back button focus?  You may have noticed that by default your DSLR camera is focused by using the shutter button.  The problem with this is that metering (determining the amount of light, or exposure) and focusing were accomplished with the same button.  Modern digital cameras can be customized in many ways.  One of these moves the focus function to another button which is, you guessed it, on the BACK of the camera and operated with your right thumb.

Why would you want to make this change?

·          * As I mentioned, it uncouples focus from metering.  You might not want to focus on the same part of your composition as you’d like to meter. There’s no need to maintain the shutter button halfway down when you focus and recompose. 
·         * You can leave autofocus-enabled lenses set to autofocus.  If you’re like me and like to manually focus landscapes, the old system will refocus when you activate the shutter button, if you happen to forget to flip that switch.  That's unnecessary frustration.
·         * You can set the focus mode on your camera to servo/continuous and leave it there.  That’s another setting that I don’t need to remember to fiddle with. Just tap the button for single focus and hold it for continuous.

The only argument I've heard against this is that it’s hard to learn.  Really?  The learning curve on this one is about 6 shots. I've noticed that I can't hand my camera over to just anyone but I'm pretty sure I don't want to do that anyway.

Tutorials on making the change are easy to find.

End of lesson.
Back to the pretty pictures; here are some of my favorite images from the Zion trip.  The Rocky Mountain Maples at higher elevations were resplendent and we had a delightful rainy day.  More are at