Use Back Button Focus to Capture the Action

One of the best tips I've heard to improve your speed and efficiency when taking photos is using Back Button Focus (BBF). Most DSLR cameras these days allow you to remove the focusing functionality from your shutter button, and program a button on the back of your camera for focusing and exposure instead. This leaves your shutter button free for just taking photos and allows you to channel more of your energy towards composition your photograph. To give you an idea on how this might work in real life, here are a few scenarios where I believe BBF may come in handy:

Note: To set this up for your individual camera, I would recommend doing a quick Google search such as "[Your camera model] back button focusing" to get step by step instructions.

Recomposing Portraits Without Refocusing

We've all been in those situations where you're taking a portrait but you'd like for your subject to not be in the center of the frame. In order to make sure they're in focus, you hold the shutter button down half way to focus on the eyes, and then still holding the shutter button, you recompose the shot. If you are taking multiple photos, you may need to remove your finger from the shutter button, which means the camera will need to refocus when you press the shutter button half way down again. 

To save you from having to do this constantly, you can use BBF to grab focus once, let go of the back button to lock the focus, and then recompose the photo and shoot with the shutter button. Then, when you want to take more photos, you can simply shoot with your shutter button and you won't have to worry about auto focus getting in your way each time.

Tracking a Moving Subject

This is one of my favorite uses for BBF, since my favorite furry subject is always on the move. Additionally, this functionality becomes very useful for many occasions such as wedding photography, wild life, sports, events, street photography, etc.

Simply set your camera to Continuous Focus Mode (Ai Servo for Canon cameras) and hold your focus point over your subject as it moves. This will keep the subject in focus since the camera will be tracking and adjusting focus automatically, leaving your shutter button free to take all of the photos you'd like. With this technique I was able to capture the photo of Maia below.

Maia running in Astoria Park

Maia running in Astoria Park

Mixed Situations

Finally, let's say you're a photojournalist and your subject is giving a speech. Normally, you would set your camera to single focus mode, since they're standing still. However, after the speech is done, the subject will begin walking off stage and you want to take a few photos of them walking through the crowd. This means you'd want to switch to continuous focusing mode to make sure they stay in focus. However, switching modes will mean that you will lose a few photo oportunities while fiddling with your camera. Well here's another way that BBF can save the day. Simply set your camera to continous focus mode from the begining. When your subject is standing still, giving their speech, lock focus by using the back button once and letting it go, then use your shutter button to recompose and take the shot. Once the subject begins to move, you can just hold down the back button to focus, and the camera will adjust automatically since you're already in continuous focusing mode.


I hope you give Back Button Focusing a try. It can truly help you take photos faster and in a more convenient way in a variety of situations. Let me know what you think in the comments and please share this with anyone you think will find this useful.