AF Tip – Autofocus for Portraits

Posted November 25th, 2015 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink

Using the correct autofocus settings will help you create great holiday portraits.

Note: Part of this article is an excerpt from our new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time. It has been modified to include information on both Canon and Nikon DSLRs.

The holiday season is coming up and we’ll be taking lots of portraits of friends and family over the next two months. It is time to brush up on your autofocus skills for holiday portraiture.

The most important thing to focus on when you shoot portraits is the subject’s eye. Humans learn a lot about a person by looking into their eyes, so in a photograph, the eye must be critically sharp. Therefore, I generally like to use single-point AF area for my portraiture. This allows me to accurately select my focus point (eye) where a different autofocus setting like auto-area or group-area might pick a different point of focus.

Single AF

Single point autofocus allows you to focus on a specific object like an eye.

Group Area AF

Be careful when using other autofocus patterns like Group Area AF. As you can see in this photo, the pattern focused on the tip of the nose, causing the eyes to be out of focus.

If you shoot with a fast lens, like the 85mm f/1.4 lens with the aperture wide open, then you need to be particularly careful about critically focusing so you don’t accidentally focus on an eyebrow or the ear. At f/1.4, your DOF (depth of field) is so narrow that if you don’t focus directly on the eye, then it will be out of focus and the viewer will reject the shot.

Group Christmas Portrait

For group portraits, focus about 1/3 of the way into the group from front to back.

When you shoot groups, use a smaller aperture like f/8 or f/11 to gain more DOF, and focus about one third of the way into the group to maximize the DOF. In group portraiture, you don’t necessarily focus on any specific person; rather, you focus into the group to maximize DOF. One third of the DOF occurs in front of the focus point and two thirds of the DOF occurs behind the focus point.

When shooting portraits, you frequently need to focus, then recompose so the subject is on the left or right of the frame. Therefore, you’ll need to set your autofocus motor to single servo. On a Nikon, this is called AF-S, and on a Canon, this is called One-shot. If you if you are a back-button focuser (you know who you are), then you’ll set the camera to AF-C or AI-Servo for Nikon and Canon respectively.


For shots like these, I focus first, then recompose for the best composition. I also shoot in burst mode to try and capture the best expressions.

I keep my camera in continuous high (CH on Nikon, Continuous on Canon) frame rate so I can shoot bursts if necessary. Even in portraiture, there are times when it makes sense to shoot a quick burst of images in order to get the shot. If you use flash in your portraiture work, I suggest staying in single-shot mode; otherwise your flash units won’t be able to recycle fast enough to keep up with a fast frame rate.

Nikon Autofocus Book

Interested in learning more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.


The Nikon Autofocus System eBook at Rocky Nook


The Nikon Autofocus System at Rocky Nook

The Nikon Autofocus System at Amazon

Autographed Copies

The Nikon Autofocus System – Autographed Copies

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Autofocus Tip – Live View AF

Posted November 17th, 2015 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink
Live View

These happy photographers are using Live View to frame up their photographs of mushrooms in Iceland.

Note: This excerpt from our new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time has been edited to include information on both Canon and Nikon DSLRs.

Live View Overview

Most newer Nikon and Canon DSLR cameras have a Live View mode that you use for capturing video and still photography. Live View in early Nikon & Canon cameras was a bit cumbersome to use. These early bugs have been worked out in newer cameras and now Live View is a breeze to use. Even though focusing in Live View mode is slower, it is definitely the most accurate way to focus for non-moving subjects.

There are many reasons to use Live View:

– Composing product and still images for magazines and advertising

– Obtaining critical focus for macro shots

– Composing images when the camera is low to the ground to avoid lying down to look through the viewfinder

– Composing images when you hold the camera overhead, like when you take a photo over a crowd of people

– Shooting video

Activating Live View

Most newer Nikon and Canon DSLRs use either a Live View button or a Live View switch. For models like the Nikon D810 or Canon EOS 5D Mk III that capture both video and still photographs, you’ll need to make sure you select the correct capture mode. Autofocus generally works the same way in photo Live View mode or video Live View mode, but be sure to set the camera for still photos if that’s what you will be shooting.

D810 live view

Here’s the Live View button and Live View selector switch on a Nikon D810.


Canon Live View

Here’s the Live View button and Live View selector switch on a Canon EOS 7D.

The Difference Between Focusing Systems

Live View uses a different AF technology than regular AF on Nikon and Canon cameras. Live View uses contrast detection from the camera’s imaging sensor, as opposed to the phase shift sensors used by the camera’s AF sensor system. Live View AF doesn’t use predefined focus positions so that means the focus point can be located anywhere in the screen, or field of view.

D750 live view

The Live View AF sensor can be positioned anywhere on the screen. Here, the focus point (red box) is located at the lower left on a Nikon D750 monitor.

Focusing with Live View is more accurate because you are able to focus the lens with the actual plane of the imaging sensor. If the imaging sensor (CCD or CMOS) looks sharp, the resulting photo will be sharp. In traditional focusing with the camera’s autofocus module, you must trust that the AF sensor is calibrated. When the AF sensor thinks the subject is sharp, that is how the image will be captured on the imaging sensor after the mirror flips up and the shutter curtain moves out of the way. Focusing on the imaging sensor with Live View removes the AF sensors and the mirror from the equation.

The camera’s traditional AF system is very fast and allows you to track moving subjects. Of course, you have to look through the viewfinder to keep the sensors on the subject. Live View focus, on the other hand, is very slow in comparison and doesn’t work well with moving subjects. It works best when you focus on static scenes and the camera is on a tripod or very stable.

Best Practices

Here are some best practices for using Live View photography and video modes:

1. For still photography in Live View mode, I recommend setting the Live View AF system to AF-S (single servo) mode and normal focus area. These two settings result in the most accurate focus and is easiest to use.

2. To initiate focus in Live View, press the shutter-release button halfway or press the AF-ON button (back focus button). Look for the focus box to turn from red to green. When the box is green, the camera has achieved focus for the subject inside the box. When the box is red, the camera thinks the subject is out of focus.

3. To obtain critical focus on the subject, press the zoom button on the back of the camera. It allows you zoom in to the subject on the LCD monitor to really dial in the focus. At this high magnification, you can manually or automatically focus to make sure the shot will be crisp.

Zoom buttons

Zoom in to the Live View screen with the zoom buttons to help you achieve critical focus.


4. For shooting videos, I recommend turning off the AF system. The Live View AF modes that allow subject tracking are not reliable and often result in focus hunting, which makes it nearly unbearable to watch the resulting video.

5. Live View automatically actives the VR/IS (vibration reduction/image stabilization) system in your lens. Any time the Live View screen is on, your lens is actively reducing vibration. If you are using a tripod to shoot video, I recommend turning off VR. If you are handholding your camera in Live View mode, keep VR turned on to either the normal or active setting.

Nikon Autofocus Book

Interested in learning more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.


The Nikon Autofocus System eBook at Rocky Nook


The Nikon Autofocus System at Rocky Nook

The Nikon Autofocus System at Amazon

Autographed Copies

The Nikon Autofocus System – Autographed Copies

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Autofocus Tip – AF and Hyperfocal Distance for Landscape Photography

Posted November 12th, 2015 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink


I’m sure each of you have experienced a similar scenario: you’re at a beautiful location, perhaps the American Southwest, and are ready to take a photograph at sunset that captures the beauty of the scene in front of you. The colors are popping, the clouds are red and your adrenaline is flowing while you set up your camera. Then, it hits you … where should you focus the camera? Obviously, the entire scene is beautiful, but you can only pick one distance to set your focus.

The crazy thing about landscape photography is that your goal isn’t necessarily to focus on any specific thing, rather you should focus so the majority of the scene appears to be sharp. Landscape photography is all about maximizing depth of field (DOF), which will hopefully produce sharpness from the front to the back of the image.


For this scene in Sedona, Arizona, I focused at the hyperfocal distance to maximize sharpness from the foreground to the red rocks in the background.

Rather than focusing on a specific thing in the scene like a mountain or a flower or a river, you want to focus at a specific distance. This distance is called the hyperfocal distance.

Hyperfocal Distance

The term hyperfocal distance is defined as the focus distance that places the farthest edge of the depth of field at infinity. In other words, if you focus at the hyperfocal distance then the mountain in your scene will be in focus (infinity) as well as objects close to your camera. More specifically, focusing at the hyperfocal distance for your photograph keeps everything from infinity to half of the hyperfocal distance acceptably sharp. To better understand what this looks like, see the figure below.


This graphic shows how setting focus for hyperfocal distance will render everything from infinity to 1/2 hyperfocal distance in focus.

In this scenario shown in this figure, let’s say the photographer chooses an aperture of f/16 with a 24 mm lens. The hyperfocal distance for this combination is 2.7 feet from the camera. In this example, everything from infinity to half of 2.7 feet (1.35 feet) will be in sharp focus.

I have a section in my new book (The Nikon Autofocus System) on hyperfocal distance that includes a hyperfocal distance table, but here are two web resources for you to calculate hyperfocal distance if you aren’t planning on purchasing the book:

Cambridge in Color Discussion on Hyperfocal Distance


Cambridge in Color article on DOF.

DOF Master Hyperfocal Distance Calculator


DOF Master depth of field calculator


To set your focus distance to the correct hyperfocal distance, simply use your focus markings on the lens barrel. In the example I described above, just rotate the lens’ focus ring to 2.7 feet, then take the picture.

But Mike, Give Me Something Easier!

If all this technical discussion makes you want to pull your hair out, then I have an easier answer for you. Don’t worry about the hyperfocal distance calculations or tables. Rather, just set your lens aperture to f/16, then focus about 1/3 of the way into the scene.


To approximate the hyperfocal distance, just focus approximately 1/3 of the way into the scene.

Obviously, this method requires a bit of guesswork, but after you’ve framed the scene with composition you want, then focus about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom edge of your composition. This will approximate the hyperfocal distance and your brain won’t hurt from looking at tables or plugging numbers into a calculator.

Autofocus Settings

Since the scene doesn’t move around in landscape photography, go ahead and set your camera to AF-S mode. AF-S stands for single servo. This means the camera will focus once then lock the focus while you take the photograph. The common approach is to focus with the AF sensor pointed at the hyperfocal distance – or 1/3 or the way into the scene – then recompose the photograph before taking the picture.

For your autofocus pattern, I recommend using single-point AF. Again, since the scene doesn’t move, the single focus point allows you to precisely choose a focus point that maximizes DOF.

Nikon Autofocus Book

Interested in learning more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.


The Nikon Autofocus System eBook at Rocky Nook


The Nikon Autofocus System at Rocky Nook

The Nikon Autofocus System at Amazon

Autographed Copies

The Nikon Autofocus System – Autographed Copies

Nikon AF cover

Autofocus Tip – Theater, Plays and Stage Productions

Posted November 4th, 2015 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink

Don’t be that photographer who takes blurry pictures at this year’s Christmas play. Use the correct AF settings and shutter speed to get great pics.

Imagine this scenario. Your 7-year-old granddaughter has been selected to be a maiden in this year’s Christmas play. You are excited to photograph this momentous event, so you get to the venue early and set up in the front row with your camera and long lens.

As the play starts, you begin taking pictures and notice that the resulting images all look blurry and soft. In a panic, you set the camera back to Automatic mode in the hopes that the camera is smart enough to figure this out on its own. Unfortunately, the camera’s automatic settings don’t help, so you come home from the play without a single decent photograph of your granddaughter’s Broadway debut.

Don’t be THAT photographer. Instead, use the autofocus and shutter speed tips I outline here to create great images of theater and stage productions.

More Than Just Autofocus

It is a little known fact among newer photographers that one of the most important camera settings for getting sharp photos during stage productions is to use a fast shutter speed. That’s right. Your autofocus settings don’t matter one bit if your shutter speed is too slow.

In my book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, I write extensively about the interaction between autofocus settings and shutter speed. You can have all your focus settings properly configured, but if you shutter speed is too low, then it is all for naught. I’ll get into the details of shutter speed later in the article, but for now, let me discuss the best autofocus settings on the camera.

AF Settings

Before moving to shutter speed details at least get the AF settings correct before talking about shutter speed. Most stage performances are fairly slow moving, so you don’t need your camera’s wide area dynamic autofocus modes to track moving subjects. These would be analogous to settings such as dynamic 51-point, 3D, or auto-area autofocus. Quite often the problem with using these larger area autofocus patterns is that they will mistakenly focus on bright objects in the background.

Rather, it is better to use something like single area autofocus or dynamic nine-point auto focus area. These settings allow you to pick out an individual actor and focus on their face.

Again, since the action is relatively slow, you might want to use AF–S, which is a single servo autofocus. This allows you to focus on the subject and then recompose before taking the photo.

Shutter Speed

Now that your autofocus system is set up properly, the next thing to consider is your shutter speed. There are two types of movement you have to consider when working to achieve a sharp photograph – subject movement and camera shake.

Subject Movement

Subject movement is motion from the actors as they move about the stage in dialog or while walking and dancing. Each of these activities has a different level of movement and requires a different minimum shutter speed to freeze the movement. Here’s a list of movements and the corresponding shutter speed you’ll need to freeze the action:

  • General conversation = 1/60 sec.
  • Walking around on stage = 1/100 sec.
  • Waving arms during a scene = 1/250 sec.
  • Jumping up and down in excitement = 1/500 sec.
  • Dancing during an ensemble = 1/1000 sec.

You might be able to get away with longer shutter speeds than I mention here, but using these shutter speeds will almost guarantee freezing the motion of the actor/actress.

Bethlehem star

Most action on the stage is fairly slow, so you can use AF-S (single servo) and single-area focus.

Camera Shake

Camera shake is caused by the photographer while handholding the camera. The longer the lens you use, the faster the shutter speed you’ll need to get a sharp picture.

The general rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should equal your focal length. In other words, if you are shooting at 100mm zoom, then you need about 1/100th second shutter speed. If you are shooting 50mm, then you need 1/50th second shutter speed. A 300mm lens requires approximately 1/300th second.

You can get around this rule of thumb by using a monopod or by using your lens’ built in vibration reduction. Usually, VR (vibration reduction) or IS (Image Stabilization) settings will allow you to use shutter speeds 2 to 3 stops longer than normal. So, if you are using a 300mm lens, then VR might allow you to use a shutter speed of 1/30 second or 1/60 second.

VR/IS is all well and good, but you also have to consider the subject movement that I mentioned above. If your VR allows you to handhold the camera at 1/60 second but you are trying to photograph a dance, then you’ll still get a blurry photo because of the subject movement.


Even Sacajawea approves of these camera settings.

Use High ISO and a Wide Aperture

The only way to get fast shutter speeds during a stage production is to use high ISO values like ISO 1600, 3200, 6400 or higher. If you try to shoot at low ISOs such as 100, 200 or 400 then your shutter speeds will be around 1/2 to 1/15 second. At those shutter speeds, you are bound to have a lot of subject movement.

I know, the purists among you scoff because you know that cameras produce more noise & grain at higher ISOs. However, you can always deal with the noise in software like Adobe Lightroom but you can’t deal with a blurry photograph. So, use the higher ISOs in order to get your shutter speeds up to 1/125 second or higher.

The last piece of the puzzle is to use a wide aperture to let as much light into the lens as possible. I suggest using an aperture of f/2.8 or larger. If your lens is a lower-cost model then at least use f/4.5 or f/5.6.

Ok, that’s it for this autofocus tip. Want to learn more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.


The Nikon Autofocus System eBook at Rocky Nook


The Nikon Autofocus System at Rocky Nook

The Nikon Autofocus System at Amazon

Autographed Copies

The Nikon Autofocus System – Autographed Copies

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Autofocus Tip – AF for Panoramas

Posted October 29th, 2015 by   |  Photography, Software  |  Permalink



Eimskip ferry boat in Westman Islands, Iceland.

Creating panoramas with digital cameras is easier than ever these days. Since most image editing software packages have panorama stitching utilities built in, building the final image is often as simple as selecting the photograph sequence and then clicking “merge to panorama.” Even though the software side of things is fairly simple, making sure your camera’s focus settings are configured properly will make a big difference in the final quality of your panorama.


New York City skyline panorama from the Staten Island ferry.

As most of you know, the process of taking a panorama with a camera requires you to capture a sequence of photos horizontally or vertically. In other words, take a photo on the left side of the scene, then pan the camera to the right a little bit and take another image. Repeat this sequence until you’ve captured the entire scene in front of you. You’ll use these photos in your software program to stitch together the final single image.

With respect to autofocus, the most important thing to consider is to make sure the focus distance remains constant from picture to picture in the panorama sequence. If the focus changes from shot to shot, then the software will have a difficult time merging photos. Even if the software is able to merge together images with different focus values, the final image will look weird because one section might be blurry while another section next to it looks sharp.

New York post office

Post Office Building, New York City, NY.

So, the solution is to make sure that you lock focus distance for the entire sequence of shots. Here are four ways to lock focus:

1. Set focus manually. I like using autofocus to acquire focus initially, then I switch off autofocus on my camera body for the entire image sequence. This ensures focus remains constant from picture to picture.

Focus switch

Setting the AF switch on your camera to Manual focus will prevent refocusing before each shot.

2. Use the AF-L (autofocus lock) button on your camera. Press and hold the AF-L button on the back of your camera to lock focus during the sequence.


The AF-L button can be programmed to lock focus.

3. Use back-button AF. If you’ve programmed your camera to operate with back-button autofocus, then you don’t need to change any other settings on the camera. Basically, take the photographs and the camera won’t re-focus from the shutter release button.

AF-ON button

If you use the AF-ON button on your camera, then release your thumb from the button while shooting. This will lock AF.

4. Press and hold the shutter release button in AF-S (single servo) mode. If you focus your camera the traditional way with the shutter release button, then you’ll need to press and hold the shutter release button for the duration of the photo sequence. This is difficult to do since you’ll be panning your camera between shots and you might accidentally lift your finger from the shutter release button at some point. Then, when you go back to press the shutter release button, the camera will re-focus. The easiest thing to do if you focus with the shutter release button is to switch your camera to manual focus.

Cheney Stadium

Cheney Stadium at dusk. Tacoma, Washington


Want to learn more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.


The Nikon Autofocus System eBook at Rocky Nook


The Nikon Autofocus System at Rocky Nook

The Nikon Autofocus System at Amazon

Autographed Copies

The Nikon Autofocus System – Autographed Copies

Nikon AF cover


Autofocus Tip – Dealing With Interference

Posted October 22nd, 2015 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink

In celebration of our new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, I have another photography tip for sports and wildlife photographers.

If you have ever photographed your children playing sports, then you’ve no doubt come across the scenario where another player on the field gets in the way of your shot. Typically, what happens is that you are tracking focus on your daughter when another player crosses between you and your daughter. This of course causes the camera’s autofocus to jump to the other kid, resulting in a missed shot.

Focus tracking

In this photo sequence, I’m tracking AF on the player with the ball. The other player closer to the camera is about to get in the way. Change your focus tracking menu and add a long delay to deal with this issue.

Nikon and Canon have a solution for this in the menu systems on most of their higher-end cameras. The Nikon menu item is called Focus Tracking with Lock-on and can be found in custom settings menu a3 or a4. The Canon menu item is called AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity and can be found in menu AF 1 on cameras like the EOS-1D X and 5D Mark III/5Dr.

The purpose of these menus is to help the camera better track focus on subjects that are moving through busy or cluttered environments. These menus let you adjust the amount of time the camera waits to refocus on a new object that passes between the main subject and your camera.

Focus track

Nikon’s focus tracking menu is titled Focus Tracking with Lock-on.

Canon tracking

Canon’s focus tracking menu can be found in AF 1. It is titled Tracking sensitivity.


Let’s say you’re photographing a team sport, and your intention is to photograph a specific player such as your daughter. The first step is to set your focus servo to AF-C (Nikon) or AI servo (Canon) so you can track movement.

Now, suppose your daughter is running on the field and you’re doing your best to track her as she moves. At some point during the game, another player is bound to run between your camera and your daughter. This presents a dilemma for your camera’s AF system. Should it immediately jump to the new player, or should it let that player pass while maintaining focus on your daughter?

In this example since you’re trying to photograph your daughter, you want the camera to let the other player pass by while maintaining your intended focus distance on your daughter. To accomplish this, set the menu item to a long delay, which allows temporary objects to pass by, thereby keeping focus on the original subject.

With the long setting, the autofocus system waits approximately 1.5 seconds. In other words, if the interfering player stands between you and your daughter for less than 1.5 seconds, the autofocus system will keep the focus distance on your daughter’s position. If the interfering player stands between your daughter and the camera for more than 1.5 seconds, the autofocus system will refocus on the new player.

Most higher end Nikon cameras have up to six settings for this menu item while the Canon cameras have 5 settings. In my experience, photographers either need to set menu item for a long delay (1.5 seconds) or they wanted to set for no delay. The available settings are as follows:

5 (long): About a 1.5-second delay
3 (normal): About a 1-second delay
1 (short): About a 0.5 second delay
Off: No delay; the camera refocuses instantly if another subject comes between you and the main subject

Another example of when to use this setting is when you photograph a lion on the Serengeti Plane of Tanzania. Suppose you are tracking a lion as it walks through tall grass. You’re doing your best to keep the autofocus point on the Lions eye when it saunters behind a tuft of grass. In this situation, you don’t want the autofocus system to jump to the tuft of grass; you want it to stay focused on the lion. Again, set the menu to long delay to tell the camera to ignore the grass as it passes by the autofocus system while you track the lion.

I encourage you to try these settings on your own to see what works for you.



Want to learn more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.


The Nikon Autofocus System eBook at Rocky Nook


The Nikon Autofocus System at Rocky Nook

The Nikon Autofocus System at Amazon

Autographed Copies

The Nikon Autofocus System – Autographed Copies

Nikon AF cover

Autofocus Tip – AF-S Lens Mistakes

Posted October 15th, 2015 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink
Start of XC race

Autofocus was working just fine at the beginning of the cross country race. Nikon D750, 70-200 f/2.8.

I was out photographing a cross-country race last night and had one instance where my lens would not track focus on some runners that were coming right towards me. AF tracking of runners is something that is very straightforward for the Nikon D750 autofocus system coupled with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. This combination is excellent for sports photography and should have done a great job in this situation.


At one point during the race, the autofocus stopped tracking the runners.

I had the camera set for group-area autofocus, which means there are five AF sensors that work together in a group to track the subject as it moves. I also had the camera set for continuous autofocus (AF-C) and continuous high (CH) frame rate. I was holding the camera in the vertical orientation with the shutter release down towards the ground, while holding the lens with my left hand cradling the lens barrel.

After the camera didn’t track focus for one set of runners, I immediately looked at all my settings to make sure they were correct. Sure enough, all the lens switches were set correctly and all the camera settings were set correctly. Hmm.

My next troubleshooting step was to see if my lens was mounted correctly. Sometimes if the lens isn’t fully clicked in place the electronic contacts can prevent auto focus. I wiggled the lens a little bit in the mount and found that it was okay as well. Hmm.

So, what was causing the autofocus problem? Well, on the next set of runners that came through I held the camera in exactly the same orientation, looked at my left hand and noticed that my fingers were resting on the manual focus ring of the 70-200mm f/2.8. Aha! With a silent wave focus lens like the Nikon AF–S lenses, if you rotate the focus ring while trying to autofocus, then the autofocus system will stop and the camera will immediately revert to manual focus.

XC Runner

Once I fixed my rookie mistake, I was back in action.

This is generally a good thing and I use this technique all the time when photographing wildlife. It allows me to autofocus quickly on the animal’s body, then I can rotate the focused ring manually to fine-tune autofocus without having to change my composition. In the case of the cross-country runners last night, I simply bumped the manual focus ring, which kicked me out of autofocus for a short period of time. I made a rookie mistake and I won’t be making it again.

The moral of the story is when holding an AF-S lens, make sure you know exactly where your hand is placed and don’t rotate the focus ring when trying to autofocus.

Female XC runner


Want to learn more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.


The Nikon Autofocus System eBook at Rocky Nook


The Nikon Autofocus System at Rocky Nook

The Nikon Autofocus System at Amazon

Autographed Copies

The Nikon Autofocus System – Autographed Copies

Nikon AF cover

Light L16 Camera Combines 16 Cameras for 52MP

Posted October 8th, 2015 by   |  Photography, Technology  |  Permalink


New camera company light announced today their L16 point and shoot camera. Their claim is that users will experience DSLR quality in a camera the size of a mobile phone. They plan to accomplish this with an array of 16 different cameras built into the main body. At any given time, 10 of the 16 cameras will be taking the photos, then their algorithm pieces together a final image to form an image file up to 52 megapixels.


Here are some of the interesting specs from the camera:

– 35-150mm equivalent optical zoom

– 52 megapixels

– Ability to shoot RAW (DNG), JPG, or TIFF

– Operates on Android, so you’ll be able to use any Android app.

– Ability to adjust focus and depth of field after taking the shot

– Wi-fi download of images

– 4K video

– Excellent low-light performance

– Wide dynamic range

This is sure to be a game changer.

If you want to order your own, please use this special “friends and family code” from my friend Michael Rubin who works at

Friends and family link: Light L16 pre-orders

Friends and family discount code: FFMR96.



Light image exporter

Light image exporter

Light image exporter



Light image exporter




What a Private Photography Workshop Looks Like

Posted October 6th, 2015 by   |  Photography, Workshops  |  Permalink

One of my favorite things to do is lead private workshops for individuals who want to take their photography to the next level. I’ve been teaching photography and running photo workshops since 1998 and find that sometimes the best way for a person to learn a specific topic is via one-on-one mentorship.


Practicing long exposure techniques using a 10-stop neutral density filter.

I like to think of of private workshop sessions as a great way to turbocharge someone’s photographic skillset. Some individuals thrive while learning in a group setting while others learn best in a one-on-one environment.

The advantage of a private workshop is you get to learn exactly what is most important to you. Over the years, I’ve taught photographers just about every photographic topic imaginable.

Individuals have wanted to spend an entire day learning off-camera flash, so we set up a studio and did exactly that until they fully learn the process. Others have wanted to learn best practices for landscape photography, so we traveled to a beautiful location and practiced exactly that skill. Many individuals have just purchased a new camera before taking a vacation to Europe. Together, we spent a day setting up the camera’s menus and buttons while also learning the overall operation.


Learning camera operation and Autofocus technique in the field.

There are a variety of ways I teach private workshops. Each is customizable to your own learning style or photographic interest. Whether it is for an hour, half a day, full day or multiple days in a different country; you name it, I’ve done it. Some of the venues where we meet for private workshops are:

1. At my office in Gig Harbor, Washington

2. At the client’s house

3. At the client’s business location

4. Over the Internet via Skype or Google+ video hangout

5. At a predetermined outdoor location like a park or waterfront

6. Over a weekend in the city

7. Over the course of a week in a scenic area or a foreign country

For each person’s private workshop, I put together a learning plan that covers all of the topics the client wants to learn. We talk about the learning objectives in advance of our meeting and then agree to a final plan for our time together. Here’s an example of a learning plan for a 4-hour workshop I ran last week:




As I mentioned above, people have asked me to teach on just about every photo subject. Here are a few stories of people I’ve recently worked with:

3-Day Intensive

Michael V. flew in from California for three days of private instruction. His goals were to learn the Nikon D810, learn Lightroom CC, and learn autofocus techniques in the field. Each day was planned out in great detail to help him learn digital photography from the ground up. He used to shoot extensively with his collection of Nikon F film cameras, but stepped away from photography for a few decades to focus on his career. Now that he’s retired, he wants to get back to the joy of photography. After three days, he was all set to move forward in his photography after feeling comfortable with the operation of the Nikon D810 and comfortable working with Lightroom CC. This three-day private session was just what he needed to get over the steep digital learning curve.

Kids and Travel

Scott J. and Matt J. are a father and adult son who both own Nikon DSLR cameras. They travel quite a bit and each has family that they love to photograph. They spent a day with me to learn their cameras, better understand exposure control, and set up their autofocus menus properly for children’s sports and international travel. Matt’s young daughter has started playing youth soccer, so one of his goals for the private session was to improve his camera skills in order to get great photographs of his daughter in action. Scott travels with his wife all around the world. They are planning on taking a three-week-long European river cruise and wanted to make sure everything was set up with his camera system before leaving on the trip. He also wanted to practice autofocus techniques as they pertain to travel photography. We set up scenarios to mimic sports photography and travel photography so each could practice their craft under real-world situations.

Camera Operation and Exposure Theory

Hannah D. and Angela C. live in northern Washington State, about two hours from my office. We met at a lakefront park mid-way between our towns to go through exposure control, metering usage, autofocus techniques, menu setups, and video usage. Both wanted to become better with landscape and portrait photography. Both Hannah and Becky are hands-on learners, so we spent the entire private workshop outdoors, going through real-world scenarios.

Dentist Office

Dr. B. is a cosmetic dentist who wanted to set up a photo studio in his office to photograph before/after shots of his surgical clients. We spent a few hours setting up the studio including lighting equipment, backdrop, gels, camera, etc. Then, we allocated the rest of the day to working on photographic technique and digital asset management.

Monthly Mentorship Over the Internet

David S. is a photographer in southern California. We schedule one-hour Internet sessions approximately once a month to go through camera technique, image reviews, Lightroom methods, and lots of other photo-related topics. We use Google+ hangouts to host our meetings since it allows us to share video, share screens, while communicating in a very natural way.

Google+ Photo Mentoring

David and I meet about once per month via Google+ hangouts for online photography mentoring.

Photoshop and Computer Setup

Ray V. is a retiree in Florida who is a very active photographer. He hired me to come to Florida for a three-day private session where we spent the majority of time learning Photoshop techniques, improving his digital asset management system, and setting up his computer for optimal performance.

Computer setup

Ray wanted to spend three days learning Photoshop and setting up his computer system for optimum performance.

Street Photography

Sam B. from Chicago, Illinois wanted to learn how to be a better street photographer. He travels quite a bit for business and loves to photograph the cities he visits along the way. He was feeling a bit insecure about photographing people on the street, so he flew to Seattle, Washington so we could spend a day together. We walked the city streets while photographing people and street performers, while working on his people interaction and photography skills.

Street performer

Photographing street performers and tourists in Seattle, Washington at the Pike Place Market.

New Camera Operation

Tom G. flew in from San Diego for four hours of private instruction on his Nikon D750. We met at a waterfront location in Gig Harbor and spent the morning going through camera operation and autofocus technique. We also worked on setting up portable lighting equipment for location portraiture. He flew back to San Diego that evening learning exactly what he wanted to know.

Backcountry Hiking and Photography

Ron L. is a businessman from the southern USA. He loves hiking and has always wanted to photograph the wild areas of Washington State. I set up a photo itinerary for Ron that included scenic vistas, beautiful seascapes, and towering mountains. Together, we’ll spend four days hiking and photographing the best of Washington State.

Sports Photography

Sarah M. is a high school sports photographer who was having trouble consistently getting sharp photographs at football games. We set up a private workshop where we spent a few hours going through technique and camera setup, then the remainder of our time together we spent at an actual Friday night football game on the sidelines. We photographed the game together, going through technique and method while reviewing shots in real time.


If you are interested in a private workshop, feel free to email or call and we’ll set up a date. For more details on private workshops, check out our workshop page here:


Happy shooting!

Taking notes

Bring a notebook because you’re going to learn a ton!

The Nikon Autofocus System eBook is Live

Posted September 4th, 2015 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink

Nikon AF cover

Our newest book, The Nikon Autofocus System, is now available for sale as an eBook over at the RockyNook website. Use coupon code NIKONAF to get 40% off the eBook when ordered from the Rocky Nook website:

The Nikon Autofocus System

The hardcopy version will be ready for deliveries in November, 2015. You can pre-order your hardcopy at the RockyNook site or at

Book Description

With today’s advanced camera technology, achieving focus on a photographic subject seems like it should be a straightforward task. But many photographers know that it can be deceptively difficult, especially when shooting moving subjects or in challenging situations. Now, there is a complete guide available for Nikon shooters that will help them get tack-sharp photos every time.

In The Nikon Autofocus System, photographer Mike Hagen, author of the bestselling The Nikon Creative Lighting System, takes his deep knowledge of Nikon technology and concentrates on its focus features. In this book, which covers all current Nikon DSLR models, Hagen fully explains how Nikon autofocus works, including detailed discussions of all the autofocus modules, drive systems, and camera buttons and menus. He also devotes an entire chapter to explore how focus works with Nikon’s lenses.

Armed with this general knowledge, Hagen then dives deep and offers camera setups, settings, and best practices for specific field techniques that address the photographic genres that are notoriously challenging for focus: action and sports (indoor and outdoor), wildlife (including birds in flight), and macro photography. He also covers genres such as portrait, landscape, underwater, low-light, and street photography. Hagen not only advises on the best ways to set up the camera and focus systems, he gives helpful tips and tricks throughout the book.

The Nikon Autofocus System also covers:

• Live view autofocus methods and settings
• Achieving great focus in video
• AF tracking
• AF shooting styles, such as back-button AF and shutter-release AF
• HDR, panoramas, and other techniques for shooting with a tripod
• An entire chapter on additional terms and techniques, such as hyperfocal distance, calibrating lenses, focus and flash photography, and more

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