Understanding Back Button Focus

What’s all the hype?  A focus button?  That’s what I’ve got my shutter button for!

NO, this is the olive in my martini … it’s what makes me faster, more efficient and sharper!  If you are not using this you may want to take moment to hear me out ...  


What is back button focus and where can I find it on my camera?

This is a customized button located on the rear of your camera that allows you to focus with your thumb, just as you do when you hold your shutter down half way prior to shooting away.  Hence the name “back button focus”. Back button focus simply separates the focus function from the shutter button, giving you more precise timing because you won’t have to “wait” for your camera to focus and get things right.  


This just seems like an extra step, since I can do this by just pressing my shutter halfway prior to taking a shot!

Not true!  It’s not an extra step, it’s just your thumb holding a button while you shoot.  Nothing more complicated than what you are doing now.  Also, the shutter focus method allows for blurry images because it does not lock in the focal point.  If something enters the frame or if your subject moves you may get a blurry image.  

Nothing is stationary in real life photography, locking is the key to a sharp session. When using the shutter button method, as you did in the past, you needed to use your thumb to recompose the shot with your “joystick focus point selector thingy”.  Translation to my jargon:  without back button focus you have to use the up, down, left and right arrows on the back of your camera to move around the spot focus points each time you wanted to recompose.  This actually takes MORE time! Now you can quickly recompose by moving the camera and not moving over spot focus points with the joystick on the back of your money maker!  


Why back button focus rather than the standard half-compressed shutter button for focus?

Easy, preserving focus with less work!  Back button focus, BBF, locks in your focus so you can recompose!  Nothing better than getting your focal point and then being able to move your frame to your liking. When using BBF to focus your subject, no matter what happens in the frame, the camera does NOT try to refocus. How I use it:  When I start to compose my shot I use the back button focus, AF-ON, located in at the back of my camera to get my subject in focus, it doesn’t matter where they are in my frame at this moment (nice!!).  Now I can recompose my shot to make my subject off-center, in any direction (great for rule of thirds).  This is wonderful because I can quickly get two different looks for my client by recomposing the shot a couple of times.  


How can I set up back button focus?

Each camera has different settings but there are a few items you can look for on your camera.  AE-Lock or AF-ON.  Back button focusing is engaged using the custom menu within your camera.  Again you may need to do a little reading in your camera manual to find your button but you are very close to saving yourself TIME when shooting and making your images SHARPER! Note:  If you don’t have AF-ON, on the back of your camera it doesn’t necessarily mean you do not have back button focus.  All you need to do is customize in your menu a “free” button that is offered on the back of your camera.  


Tip for using BBF

Having your camera set to continuous focus or focus tracking is best when using back button focus.  The reason for this is your camera is locking focus and tracking the subject, perfect for moving kiddos!


  • Diane

    Ok…trying to get a better understanding of BBF.
    Do you keep your thumb on the BBF thru recomposing then
    lift then take the pic?

  • Stacie Jensen

    Yes, I sure do. Love it. Let me know how it works for you!

  • Stacie Jensen

    Yes Marie did my bridal shoot :) It was three years late but soooo appreciated!

  • Martha Burns

    Thank you so much for this! I’m going to practice this tomorrow at our family Easter get together. Also sharing with my sister in law who is my shooting buddy. Been following you on FB for awhile now. You rock!!

  • meghan

    Thank you! I keep hearing about back button focus and I keep wishing I could get my images sharper…. AND I very frequently use the rule of thirds, with my kiddos, and on single focus (because I hate the focal point moving!) — I think you just answered all of my questions & I am so excited to try this out today!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Binge read these posts