How to Take Photos That Are Always in Focus

One of the most common problems photographers face is nailing focus. It’s always annoying when you think you’ve taken a good image on location and then go home to find your subject is slightly blurry. Here’s how to make sure your photos are always in focus.

Focus is super important for photography. It’s a big part of taking sharp images and also a way to guide the viewer’s eyes. Humans are automatically drawn to the sharp areas of an image. If you miss focus, something will look subtly wrong, like in this shot of mine.

I messed up and focused on the guy’s hands. I love this shot otherwise but, sadly, since the focus is off, all I can do with it is use it as an example of my failings! Let’s make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you.

Select the Correct Aperture

Focus and depth of field are related. The greater the depth of field, the more of your image will appear in focus. This means that aperture is a big part of focus—or really, a big part of how easy it is to focus.

Photojournalists and street photographers have a maxim: “f/8 and be there.” In other words, at f/8 with a normal lens, as long as you don’t focus on the background or the extreme foreground, everything in your shot will be in focus.

Conversely, if you’re using a long lens and a wide aperture like f/1.8, the depth of field could be just a few centimeters. We looked at this in full in my article on how to focus with wide aperture lenses.

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How to Digitize Your Old Film Photos

I’m a big fan of film photography, but one problem is that physical photos are hard to share. Everyone uses Instagram or Facebook now. Thankfully, it’s relatively simple—though not necessarily cheap—to digitize film photos. So, whether you’ve found a box of old photos in your parent’s basement you want to put online, or you just shot a roll of 35mm film last week, here’s what to do.

Film photos come in two forms: developed photo prints and the original slides or negatives. Photo prints are easier, and cheaper, to digitize but you’ll get better results with the negatives. If you’ve got both, which you go with is up to you.

If You’ve Got the Photos

If you’ve got the photo prints, then things are really simple. You can just take a photo with your phone if you want—but let’s look at the better options.

Use Your Scanner

Most modern scanners are more than capable of scanning photos. A good one will probably have a dedicated photo scanning mode. You might need to make some small color adjustments or crop away any border, but it’s easy and reliable, if not necessarily a quick option.

If you do go with your scanner, the best thing to do is add all the photos to a catalog app like Apple Photos or Adobe Lightroom. They’ll keep them all sorted, and you can also use them to make whatever color fixes are needed.

Use Google Photoscan

Google’s Photoscan app, available for iOS and Android, is one of their lesser-known projects. It uses your smartphone’s camera to scan and digitize photos by taking a series of images to eliminate glare and then combining them. Here’s a photo I scanned with it today.

Photoscan is a clever app that removes glare well and is pretty quick to use. Unfortunately, I found it washed out my images—especially skin tones—a bit too much. I think it’s designed for use with older, faded images, rather than the brand new prints with which I was working.

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What are Crushed Shadows and Blown Highlights?

“Crushed shadows” and “blown highlights” are both common exposure problems in photography. Let’s look at what they are, how to identify them, and what you can do about them.

Crushed shadows and blown highlights are two sides of the same coin. When you crush your shadows, you underexpose your image so much that there are large areas of pure black in your image, like in this shot.

When you blow your highlights you do the opposite: you overexpose your image so much that there are large areas of pure white.

The problem with crushed shadows and blown highlights is that you can’t recover them in post-production even if you shoot RAW images. Here’s the underexposed shot brightened up, see how the shadows are still black? All brightening up did is add lots of digital noise to the darker areas.

And here’s the overexposed shot, darkened down. The sky has just gone grey. There just isn’t any image data to recover.

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Is the Rule of Thirds Really a Photography Rule?

The “rule of thirds” is a concept that you’ll find in a lot of Intro to Photography books and guides. The idea is that you imagine a grid that divides your composition into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, like this. (Although some cameras will now overlay a grid for you).

Supposedly, a strong composition is one where the important elements sit as close to the intersection of the thirds, or the third-lines, as possible because that’s where a viewer’s eyes are naturally drawn. Here’s that photo without the lines.

Yeah, it’s a pretty good photo. The skier and the main mountain peak are both on the first vertical third-line, each sitting at an intersection with the second horizontal third-line. The second mountain peak sits nicely on the second vertical third-line close to an intersection. So, is it a good photo because it fits the rule of thirds so well? Let’s find out.

The Problems With the Rule of Thirds

Alright, the answer is no. The rule of thirds is actually a pretty weak compositional guideline. It does more to stop you making bad mistakes than guide you to making strong compositions.

There is a lot more to good composition than just placing the main parts of your image at arbitrary points on a grid. Things like contrast, color, leading lines, and people’s faces—and especially their eyes—all direct where someone will look.

Another big problem is that you can kind of slap a thirds grid over the top of almost any image and find important parts that sit under one of the third lines. Like this image.

Read the remaining 26 paragraphs

Is the Rule of Thirds Really a Photography Rule?

The “rule of thirds” is a concept that you’ll find in a lot of Intro to Photography books and guides. The idea is that you imagine a grid that divides your composition into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, like this. (Although some cameras will now overlay a grid for you).

Supposedly, a strong composition is one where the important elements sit as close to the intersection of the thirds, or the third-lines, as possible because that’s where a viewer’s eyes are naturally drawn. Here’s that photo without the lines.

Yeah, it’s a pretty good photo. The skier and the main mountain peak are both on the first vertical third-line, each sitting at an intersection with the second horizontal third-line. The second mountain peak sits nicely on the second vertical third-line close to an intersection. So, is it a good photo because it fits the rule of thirds so well? Let’s find out.

The Problems With the Rule of Thirds

Alright, the answer is no. The rule of thirds is actually a pretty weak compositional guideline. It does more to stop you making bad mistakes than guide you to making strong compositions.

There is a lot more to good composition than just placing the main parts of your image at arbitrary points on a grid. Things like contrast, color, leading lines, and people’s faces—and especially their eyes—all direct where someone will look.

Another big problem is that you can kind of slap a thirds grid over the top of almost any image and find important parts that sit under one of the third lines. Like this image.

Read the remaining 26 paragraphs