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Back Button Focus for Wildlife Photography: Complete Guide

As a wildlife photographer, you know how challenging it can be to capture sharp and focused images of fast-moving animals. One of the ways to improve your chances of getting sharp images is by using back button focus. In this blog post, we’ll explore why back button focus is beneficial for wildlife photography and how to set it up on your camera.


What is Back Button Focus?


Back button focus is a technique where you use a dedicated button on your camera to focus instead of half-pressing the shutter button. By default, most cameras are set up so that when you half-press the shutter button, the camera will focus and then take the picture when you fully press the button. With back button focus, you assign a button on the back of your camera (usually labeled AF-ON) to focus instead of the shutter button.



Why Use Back Button Focus?


Separating Focus and Shutter Release


Using back button focus separates the focus and shutter release functions, which can be beneficial in wildlife photography. When you half-press the shutter button to focus, the camera will refocus if you accidentally release your finger, meaning you need to keep your finger held down for the whole time you want to maintain focus.


This can sometimes cause you to miss the shot or end up with an out-of-focus image. By using back button focus, you can focus once and then release the button, allowing you to recompose and take the shot easily without worry.


Continuous Autofocus


Another advantage of back button focus is that it allows you to use continuous autofocus (AF-C) mode more effectively. In AF-C mode, the camera continuously adjusts focus as the subject moves. With back button focus, you can keep the focus locked on the subject while shooting. This is especially useful in wildlife photography, where animals are constantly moving.


The best thing about back button focus however, is the ability to easily do both the above mentioned things without changing focus settings. There is no need to switch between single and continuous focus.


Keep your camera in continuous focus mode, focus on your subject and recompose, if your subject then starts to move just hold down the focus button again to track it.



How to Set Up Back Button Focus:


Setting up back button focus depends on the camera you’re using. Here’s a general guide:


1) Go to the Custom Functions menu on your camera.


2) Look for the option that allows you to customise the function of the AF-ON button (or another button of your choice).


3) Set the AF-ON button to “AF-ON” or “AF” (depending on your camera model).


4) Turn off the option that allows the shutter button to activate autofocus.



Once you’ve set up back button focus, you’ll need to get used to using it. It might feel strange at first, but with practice, it will become second nature.


In conclusion, back button focus is a valuable technique for wildlife photography. It separates the focus and shutter release functions and allows you to use continuous autofocus more effectively. Give it a try and see how it works for you. Happy shooting!


If you are a wildlife photographer who wants to improve your skills whilst capturing images some of the most incredible animals on earth, check out my Costa Rica workshops here...


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