Composition: Focus. Frame. Shoot!

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UPDATE: Here’s a quick video overview…

Be a photographer, not an assassin.

I’m doing a lot of traveling right now, and when I’m snapping photos of my family at some scenic stop, it’s not uncommon for a kindly stranger to offer to take a photo of me and the fam using my camera.

I can usually guess within seconds what style of camera they likely own. How? Because those unfamiliar with DSLRs point the camera at us like it’s a gun, and then press the shutter button like it’s the trigger.

Your viewfinder is not a scope

…and consequently our faces get positioned right smack dab in the middle of the frame. (I don’t mean to sound like such a photo-snob; I truly am grateful for the kind gesture!)

But do you know what I see when it’s an experienced DSLR user?

Focus.

Frame.

Shoot.

Now, some of you may be whining thinking, “Really? A blog post about how to snap a photo? How hard can it be to push a button??”

And therein lies the reason behind those bad family travel photos. So stay with me. Let’s start with Focus.

Focus.

First, you’ll need to make one setting change to your DSLR. Here’s the deal: every DSLR camera has several auto-focus points that it uses to focus an image, and you want to shut them all off except for the center one. On my Canon, I change this in the “AF point selection” setting but it may be called something different on your camera.

Seriously, don’t skip this. Don’t rely on your camera to guess at what you want to focus on because it will guess wrong at some point. Focusing is your job, not your camera’s. And one more thing: at least with Canon DSLR cameras, you have to be in one of the so-called “creative modes” for this change to go into effect (but you’re already using one of those modes, right?? ;)

Canon modes - Good and bad

Now it’s just you and the lone center auto-focus point. Aim your camera and hold the shutter button halfway down to lock in the focus on your subject. Keep that finger still; now you’re ready to frame your shot. (TIP: when taking a photo of a face, lock the focus on one of the eyes. Not the nose. Not the mouth. An eye.)

Frame.

It’s darn near impossible to talk about framing without getting into the principles of photo composition (how you position stuff in your photo). We’ll get to photo composition in a future sim (I’ve already started building it), but for now let’s just focus on the mechanics of snapping the photo. Just know that wherever you point the camera to get focus is hardly ever the right place for a nicely framed photo.

Shoot!

Once you have good focus and have framed up a nice shot, just push the shutter button the rest of the way down to capture your prize photo.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound like a lot to think about because it’s not. And before long, you’ll have the muscle memory down and it will be second nature.

Until then, may a little voice chatter away in your head:

“Focus. Frame. Shoot!”

If you want to practice right now, jump back to the sim up top.