Want sharp focus? Use Live View to get up close and really, really personal . . .

This technique for achieving razor sharp focus in your digital SLR camera came to me by way of the very wonderful Algonquin Park photographer Andrew Collett.

I haven’t mentioned it before as it only applies to cameras with a Live View function that allows you to view your subjects ‘live’ on your LCD screen instead of through the viewfinder. This Live View function is now available in pretty much all the new Canon and Nikon models and probably all the others as well – so it now applies to a much wider group of amateur photographers.

So what’s the secret?

  • First, get your camera on a tripod and your flip your lens to ‘manual focus MF instead of AF autofocus’.
  • The switch for this will be on the barrel of your lens as shown in the image to the left.
  • Switching to MF means that you will be turning the focus ring on the lens to focus on your subject.
  • When it’s on AF, the lens does the focusing for you.

With me so far?

  • Now switch your camera to Live View mode. You’ll know you are in Live View mode when the world suddenly appears on your LCD screen, somewhat as if your camera was a point and shoot.
  • For most cameras this will involve a trip into the menu along the lines of ‘Live View’ ‘Enable”, and then pressing the designated button on the back of the camera to activate.
  • No this is NOT hard – it’s just a couple of buttons, just find out where they are, you’ll see, it’s totally worth it!


As promised – razor sharp shots:

  • Turn Live View on and set your camera up to focus on a (static) subject. Rotate the focus ring on your lens until your subject appears pretty sharp on your LCD.
  • Notice that there is a focus box of some kind on your screen and that you can use the buttons/joystick on the back of the camera to shift this box around the frame. Move the box to the area of your subject that you want to be the most sharp.
  • You are now in a position to magnify your subject using the same buttons on your camera that allow you to zoom in when your are reviewing your photos. These buttons (example shown left) will usually have a ‘magnifying glass’ icon containing a ‘+’ and ‘-‘ in the centre. They are often positioned top right. To magnify or zoom in, press the ‘+’ button.
  • Press the button once and you’ll see your subject magnified on your LCD. Try adjusting the focus ring to get your subject even sharper than it had previously appeared.
  • Press the button once again to really magnify your subject and you’ll see that you can still adjust your focus even a little bit more.
  • Your subject is now as sharp as possible – and by the way – really cool to see.
  • All that’s left to do is press the shutter and take the shot.


A Live View focus comparison

Here I’ve taken two quick shots of a little jeweled lamp shade that I have. One using my lens’ autofocus (and it’s a very fast, very sharp lens) and the second using the Live View technique. I have cropped to only a fraction of the original image so you can see the difference in the edges. Apologies for the deteriorated appearance caused by the extensive magnification.

The second photo is sharper and if this is not immediately apparent looks at the texture of the material on the shade and you can easily see how much clearer it is. Extra sharpness at this level will give you incredible sharpness throughout your image (although this will of course be affected by your choice of aperture). This will be particularly fabulous for landscape and macro shots, which are more typically the ones where you might be using a tripod and shooting a ‘static’ image. This is not going to help you for portraits unless your subject can sit completely still (unlikely!)

I’ll add a few more examples later but for now let me encourage you to work through the settings and give this a try. Believe me as soon as you see the magnified image on your screen you’ll be hooked!

Love your camera and it will love you back . . .