tips & tricks Archive - Redding, CA Photographer | Amy McMaster Photography

Category: tips & tricks


April 6, 2011

Nail that focus!

There are a few things I personally do to make sure I nail my focus:
(and this info assumes you are shooting in aperture or manual mode- not auto)

1. for people: focus on the inner corner of the eye closest to you- of the person closest to you. if they are basically side-by-side on the same focal plane then focus on the one in the middle (their eyes) and you can use more open (smaller number) apertures. if you have several people in the shot and on diff planes, bump up that iso, stop down on aperture (make the number go bigger) to get them all in focus. tell them to get squished- you want them really close together- this allows you to keep them more in the area of focus. using the get squished part will not always be possible. but if you are posing- keep it in mind.

2. i seldom use shutter speeds under 1/200 (but try to never dip below 1/125 for hand held unless you are a rockstar). even for still people. my personal rule of thumb is to double the length of my lens to determine my shutter speed setting. my aperture is almost always the first thing i set (since i am a wide shooter and shoot between f/1.4- f/3.2) since i love bokeh. then shutter speed. then iso. i would rather have a grainy shot that is in focus than an image that is is out of focus from being underexposed or from using too slow of a shutter speed (which will cause images to look a little blurry).

if you are taking images of action- then you may use a different order. you might set your shutter speed first.

3. get the most of your kit lens. if that kit lens is all you have. get the most of it. those zooms have apertures that change as you zoom in and out. the bigger the number, the less light your lens is letting in which means you will need to compensate by upping your iso or lowering your shutter speed (be careful- too slow and you will have blurry images).

what should you do? set the lens to 35-50mm if your lens allows it. or if your lens starts at a longer focal length then set it to it’s shortest focal length. this way you can enjoy the widest aperture setting your lens offers. i’d rather be able to shoot at an f stop of f/4.5 than f/5.6. you can use a lower shutter speed or lower iso (which means less grain) that way. use your feet to zoom.

this also helps you to avoid having to adjust SO many settings while you are still trying to learn all of this.

4. try really hard to nail exposure. of you have a cropped sensor camera- the beginner (entry level ones i mean) ones have small sensors that do not handle high iso well without giving you some serious grain after 400-600iso. if you underexpose and have to bring exposure up in post processing- you will introduce MORE noise. not to mention color casts on the skin. a lot of noise can make an image appear less sharp.

better yet- shoot raw and overexpose a teeny bit. back in my crop sensor days this is what i did. i would shoot raw, overexpose a little bit and it helped with my noise issue AND color casts (skin tone issues). then use ACR or LR to fix exposure and even reduce some of the noise. take it easy on noise removal- if overused it also makes an image appear soft- sometimes downright plastic. ew.

5. what i do with my body. not my camera body but ME. i focus, get my settings right, use both hands to steady my camera, try to brace my elbows on my body if i can (depends on where you are- sometimes i shoot on my belly haha and use the floor) and then take a breath, relax your body, with arms braced if you can and then…i hit the shutter button while slowly exhaling. i found my shots were sharper (me personally) when i hit the shutter on my exhale not holding my breath. i read that sharp shooters/snipers, used this method. so i thought- why not me?

6. and disclaimer: just because your lens goes to f/1.8 does NOT mean you should. you will NOT get two eyes in focus on a 50mm opened up to f/1.4 on a close up. i hear so many people buy the nifty fifty and then complain it misses focus and it is usually user error. happens to all of is in the beginning. start more stopped down- like f/2- f/3.2 and nail focus there. then work your way into the shooting wider (smaller number) and see if you don’t start respecting that 50 a little more.

I don’t know ‘it all’. But the above is true for me and what I practice every single day when shooting- even snapshots. <3


  • Michelle Kirnan · Posted April 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm · Link · Reply

    OMG Amy…we must have been separated at birth. Such an awesome post and I practice almost all of it. 😉 I have to remember the double focal length rule – I’d never heard that one but when I think about it, it makes absolute sense. I won’t shoot below 1/125 on my 50mm. :) If only I had read this when I started out. You rock for sharing so many wonderful tips and tricks!

  • Amanda · Posted July 21, 2011 at 3:46 pm · Link · Reply

    Great post, Amy! I did one on focus recently too and will go back and list this post as an additional resource. I gave it a Stumble for you, hope it brings new traffic (and customers) your way!

  • […] Amy McMaster (Olive Juice Shoppe) How to Nail Focus Share and Enjoy: […]

  • Pamela Schafer · Posted July 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm · Link · Reply

    Amanda at Everyday Elements sent me to your site to read this post and it was wonderful! I started out by reading her post on focus and she really answered a lot of questions I had. Now, I see the same information explained just a little differently and that’s a good thing! It’s great to have different perspectives. I really respect Amanda’s insight and she thought enough of your post to share. That’s more than good enough for me. I can see now that I have not been giving enough credit to my “nifty fifty” and have been using my aperture the wrong way. Always moving it down (or up depending on where my brain is at any given moment) as far as it will go and that’s going to change right now! I’m really looking forward to using these incredible tips! Thank you! :)

  • Star · Posted August 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm · Link · Reply

    You are awesome thank you for all of your tips, the double focal length one is the first one I plan on working on.Thanks again.

  • Jessica Webb · Posted August 9, 2011 at 9:45 am · Link · Reply

    Thank you so much for this information. I have only been at this for three years, and I love learning new ways to shoot. I love hearing things that work for others that I can try! Keep the ideas coming. They are refreshing!

  • ashley dellinger · Posted November 13, 2011 at 9:03 pm · Link · Reply

    Great advice…great blog. All stuff I live by to get that image sharp : ) I think its a lot of practice. Many people who are new to photography tend to focus on the subject and not the settings. One of the best things I think is to practice on non-moving subjects until you get those settings down so when you shoot people using your manual focus and whatnot becomes second nature!

  • Jackie S · Posted December 5, 2011 at 9:21 pm · Link · Reply

    Ok. I am going to be honest with you all. First, these tips are totally awesome and I will sleep, breathe, and memorize it. I have been shooting for 6 years and never followed any of these rules (man…I am so stupid). I would set the camera, take a shot, and pretend I knew what I was doing. WRONG!!!

    I should be slapped for this. I am so glad you posted this. I am looking forward for more tips and I will be taking classes soon on Exposure, DSLR 101, and Lighting. See, this is another reason why I could never be a wedding photographer; I have never nailed down the rules and concept of getting sharp and correctly exposed images.

    You are right about “doubting or blaming” the Nifty-Fifty. It was me all along (back to square 1).

  • Melissa Fisher · Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm · Link · Reply

    Thank you sooooo much for this info ! I now understand so many things :) So happy I stumbled upon this on Pinterest no less !!
    I had been having so much trouble with focusing and now I know why …YAY
    I am so grateful for all that you shared with us !!

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fill flash | fill it with flash

April 6, 2011

ok this is not a strength of mine.

i am actually in the process of figuring this out totally. i don’t often deal with artificial lighting so a new skill to learn!

i bought a gary fong puffer to help me take some great snapshots of the kids. altho i am a photographer- snapshots are very dear to me.

they are moments that i want to keep. hold on to. show my kids 20 years from now. first steps, swim lessons, first play….you know – THOSE things?

just because they are snapshots does not mean i don’t care about the lighting, focus, exposure or composition. i am aware of them and do my best in the moment using those skills.

but not batting an eyelash if they aren’t canvas worthy. 😉

so on to the puffer.

i actually have a speedlight but don’t always want to deal with batteries or another thing weighing my camera down when i just want a snap.

you know how when the sun is high you get shadow eyes – even for a snapshot if you could prevent that…wouldn’t you?

now the puffer fits on dslr’s only. it slides into the hotshoe on the top of your camera. it’s basically a little piece of plastic that helps soften and diffuse the light from the flash.

i’ve used it here in the shade.

a sooc (straight out of the camera which means it has not been altered in anyway since it came out of the camera) to show you an example of why i would use it in the shade.

do you see how just that little bit of flash filled in the shadows, brought some light to his eyes AND made the colors a little richer, and image little


  • Michelle Kirnan · Posted April 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm · Link · Reply

    Yet another great post Amy! I’ve been reading about fill flash and of course lived by it when I had only my point and shoot. But I haven’t yet tried it on my DSLR because I’m not really sure how. :( How would you modify a speedlight for fill??? I’m wondering if I should invest in the Gary Fong sphere…

  • Elaine · Posted April 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm · Link · Reply

    Love this, will have to look into that piece of equipment… Would love to see you do a ‘tips and tricks’ on back lighting Amy, would love to hear your ideas on how to get those shots…

  • Luciliam · Posted April 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm · Link · Reply

    Hi Amy! I discovered you blog and I am just loving it! This post makes me think… in fact it is a old doubt of mine.. What do you Americans call “snaptshot”… what exactly is it? Here in Brazil we call “shot” every pictyre we take. I notice that you have a diference… This photo of the wonderfull boy… why is it a “snapshot” and not just a “shot”?

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