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Focus Tracking

Lesson 42 from: Fundamentals of Photography

John Greengo

Focus Tracking

Lesson 42 from: Fundamentals of Photography

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

42. Focus Tracking

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The lesson discusses the fundamentals of focus tracking in photography, including the use of continuous autofocus, choosing the appropriate focusing area, and utilizing back button focusing. The instructor demonstrates the settings and techniques for both SLR and mirrorless cameras, and emphasizes the importance of practice and skill in achieving accurate focus on moving subjects. The lesson also outlines different options for customizing camera buttons to activate the focusing system.


  1. What is focus tracking?

    Focus tracking is a feature in cameras that allows continuous autofocus on a moving subject.

  2. How do you set up focus tracking on a camera?

    Adjust the focusing system to continuous autofocus (AF-C) or AI Servo mode, choose a larger focusing area, and use a high-speed motor drive for rapid shooting.

  3. How do SLR cameras and mirrorless cameras differ in focus tracking?

    SLR cameras traditionally have been better at focus tracking, but mirrorless cameras have caught up in recent years. Mirrorless cameras often have face and subject tracking systems, making it easier to keep the subject in focus.

  4. What is back button focusing?

    Back button focusing is a technique where the focusing system is turned off on the shutter release button and assigned to a separate button on the back of the camera. This allows for separate control of focusing and taking photos.

  5. What are the benefits of back button focusing?

    Back button focusing allows for faster and more efficient focus and recomposition, especially when the subject is off-center. It also saves time when taking multiple photos without needing to refocus each time.

  6. Can back button focusing be customized on all cameras?

    It depends on the camera model. Some cameras have dedicated buttons for back button focusing, while others may require customization of existing buttons. The newest cameras often have customizable buttons, making it easier to set up back button focusing.

Next Lesson: Focusing Q&A


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Photographic Characteristics


Camera Types


Viewing System


Lens System


Shutter System


Shutter Speed Basics


Shutter Speed Effects


Camera & Lens Stabilization


Quiz: Shutter Speeds


Camera Settings Overview


Drive Mode & Buffer


Camera Settings - Details


Sensor Size: Basics


Sensor Sizes: Compared


The Sensor - Pixels


Sensor Size - ISO


Focal Length


Angle of View


Practicing Angle of View


Quiz: Focal Length


Fisheye Lens


Tilt & Shift Lens


Subject Zone


Lens Speed




Depth of Field (DOF)


Quiz: Apertures


Lens Quality


Light Meter Basics




Quiz: Histogram


Dynamic Range


Exposure Modes


Sunny 16 Rule


Exposure Bracketing


Exposure Values


Quiz: Exposure


Focusing Basics


Auto Focus (AF)


Focus Points


Focus Tracking


Focusing Q&A


Manual Focus


Digital Focus Assistance


Shutter Speeds & Depth of Field (DOF)


Quiz: Depth of Field


DOF Preview & Focusing Screens


Lens Sharpness


Camera Movement


Advanced Techniques


Quiz: Hyperfocal Distance


Auto Focus Calibration


Focus Stacking


Quiz: Focus Problems


Camera Accessories


Lens Accessories


Lens Adaptors & Cleaning




Flash & Lighting






Being a Photographer


Natural Light: Direct Sunlight


Natural Light: Indirect Sunlight


Natural Light: Mixed


Twilight: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Cloud & Color Pop: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Silhouette & Starburst: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Golden Hour: Sunrise & Sunset Light


Quiz: Lighting


Light Management


Flash Fundamentals




Built-In & Add-On Flash


Off-Camera Flash


Off-Camera Flash For Portraits


Advanced Flash Techniques


Editing Assessments & Goals


Editing Set-Up


Importing Images


Organizing Your Images


Culling Images


Categories of Development


Adjusting Exposure


Remove Distractions


Cropping Your Images


Composition Basics


Point of View


Angle of View


Subject Placement


Framing Your Shot


Foreground & Background & Scale


Rule of Odds


Bad Composition


Multi-Shot Techniques


Pixel Shift, Time Lapse, Selective Cloning & Noise Reduction


Human Vision vs The Camera


Visual Perception


Quiz: Visual Balance


Visual Drama


Elements of Design


Texture & Negative Space


Black & White & Color


The Photographic Process


Working the Shot


What Makes a Great Photograph?


Lesson Info

Focus Tracking

Because some of them have got quite good. Sony has done a really good job at subject tracking where they will have a green box around a subject and as their moving, this box follows them. In some cases they'll have face tracking, but the face needs to be big enough on camera to see that and so in order to show you what this looks like more in the real world, we went out and recorded a video of me shooting action and so I want to show you what it like to shoot with action with an SLR and in a mirrorless experience as well. And so we're going to take a look at that video now. Alright we're going to set our cameras up for Focus Tracking. What we're going to do is have a cyclist coming towards us and we want to get a series of photos where the subject is in focus. And there's a number of changes, this is actually one of the more complicated things that you can do on a camera, but it's something that sports photographers do every day of the business. So, the first thing that you need to do ...

is that you need to adjust your focusing system so that it is constantly adjusting and tracking the subject. Now, in most cameras, this is call "Continuous Autofocus" (AF-C). On this particular camera Cannon calls is AI Servo. So, we're gonna change our cameras over to AI Servo but most cameras will call it AF-C for continuous autofocus on that. That way, the lens will be constantly adjusting as your subject's getting closer to you. Now, the other thing is that in a situation like this, you often don't know when the best shot's gonna be, so you want to be able to set your camera up for rapid shooting. So, having the camera in the high-speed motor drive or low-speed motor drive is probably gonna be advantageous. And so, I'm gonna change my drive-speed on my camera to my high-speed drive. Most cameras will shoot at three to five frames a second, this camera shoots at eight, some cameras will shoot up to 20 frames a second. So, subject's coming towards us, and we gotta track it with focusing. Now, most of the time, I recommend using a single-focusing point. But in this case, the subject might be moving around a little bit, we have less control over the situation because we're kind of focusing on a moving subject. So, it's better to use a larger box of area. So, on this particular camera, we have lots of different focusing points we can choose. And normally when I want to be precise I choose just a single point; but, in this case, I'm gonna want to choose a larger focusing area, and so on this particular camera I have a choice of five, three, or up to twelve boxes depending on where they are in the frame. And so I want to get a medium sized box that's about the size of the torso of my subject that I want to be on. I don't want it to be picking up other subjects to the side of it or that might be crossing in front of it like you might have with a soccer player, with referees or other players going in-between. So, it's a medium size box, I'm gonna put that box right where I want the subject in the frame, and then I'm gonna press halfway down on the shutter release and it's gonna track that subject moving towards me and when I press all the way down on the shutter release, in theory, every one of those photos should be in focus. Now, this is a very tough thing to do, so there's a good chance that some of those may not be perfectly in focus, but there's a good chance that you're gonna get most of them in focus. So traditionally, the SLR cameras, for instance from Nikon and Cannon have been the best at focus tracking. But, now the mirrorless cameras have caught up in many ways, and the settings are gonna be slightly different, but it's kinda similar. So, going through the same settings with the Fuji XT2 here, I wanna get the camera on the continuous focusing. So, there's a little knob right on the front where we can go form single to continuous, so that's one of my first thoughts. And then the second thing is, normally the camera is gonna be choosing a single point in the middle, and I'm gonna want to choose this to a larger sized box, in fact this camera can go up to almost any size box I want. But, like many of the mirrorless cameras out there, this has a tracking system, an intelligent system that can pick up faces, and since we're gonna be photographing a person this is a great situation to use face tracking, we want the face in focus. So, we're gonna use this mode and this one is gonna have a small box on screen that we're gonna be able to see as the subject moves around in the frame. And so it's gonna be a very smart system. And so it tends to be a little bit easier to use, but for the highly skilled photographer they still prefer to use SLRs, but this is something that constantly changing with the cameras as they improve over time. Now, finally I'm gonna switch my camera into the continuous-high setting so that I can shoot a lot of photos with this. And so now we've got our SLRs set up, we've got out mirror less set up, so let's run through and see how this works in the real world. Alright, so in just a moment, Rachel's gonna come zoomin' by here on her bike and I wanna have my camera set up, and the only final change I made is I was choosing all the center points, so I'm just gonna put Rachel in the middle of the frame., and when she gets into the right area that has a nice background, I'm gonna lay down on the shutter release and I'm gonna try to get as many good shots in a row as I can. Okay, Rachel let's do it. Here we go. (camera shutters) And I can see the boxes in the frame, they were flashing on right as she was coming closer, so I know the camera was tracking for that. It also looked good in the camera, so I think we got a good take on that one. So, when working with the mirrorless camera it's not that different than working with an SLR these days. The big advantage on a lot of the mirrorless cameras, like the Fuji XT2 here, is that is has a face and subject tracking system; and so what it'll do, is it'll look over a large area for a face or human subject, and it will stay locked in and track that subject. So, let's go ahead and see how well this does in this particular case. Okay, Rachel, let's get it started here. Alright, so I'm gonna zoom in, and I can tell the camera's picking it up right now and she's getting close enough. (camera shutters) And you can see those boxes blinking and it's doing a good job, and in this case it was just doing a general tracking, you would see the box come around her face where it was detecting the face, only when she got pretty close to the camera there. So, it was definitely doing a very good job, and if we take a look at some of the photos we'll see, and looks like it's in focus, let's zoom in. You always want to check and zoom in to see if it's really sharp after the fact, and, yep, her face is nice and sharp. And so, mirrorless cameras are doing a great job at this along with the SLRs. Okay, so focus tracking will do this for you, you don't have to do any work at all. Not really. The fact of the matter is, that if I were to supply all of you with big 600 f/4 lenses and top of the line cameras and we went down to the stadium and photographed a local pro sports team, you would find that there was a very big difference between the ways that some of us would perform; even though we all had the same equipment, that in theory is all gonna do it for us. But, it's amazing how just holding the camera when you press down on the button the exact way that you work you work with the system, and so it's getting to learn the system really important. It's gonna help out. This enables the average photographer to get way more photographs in focus of a moving subject than the old days of manual focus. But, skill is still a part of it and it's very important. When I first got my first big lens, this is back in the days of manual focus, I went down to the park and I focused a soccer game, I did not shoot the game, I just focused the game. All I did is went down there and I practiced focusing, for an entire game, I didn't take any photos. I might have taken a couple, but all I did was just focus for about an hour just practicing with subjects back and forth. And even though this seems fully automated and people are like, 'wow, I'll just use technology to solve all my problems,' nope, you still need skills out there, you still need to go out there and you need to practice; you need to figure out which focusing pattern works best for the types of lenses and action that you shoot, 'cause what one person uses for shooting basketball is gonna be different than what another person uses for shooting mountian bikes coming down a hill side. And so you gotta play around with your system and see what works for you. The other factor that we'll talk a little bit about is that some lenses have faster focusing motors than other lenses, and so it tends to go with kind of money, it also tends to go with the maximum aperture of the lens, as to how powerful a motor they put in there. But, let's say a 300 millimeter f/4 lens, it's not gonna focus as fast as a 300 2.8 in most cases, because a 300 2.8 is designed for professional suiting sports so they put a really powerful motor in there for it to work well. And so, it's not just magic technology that works on its own, it works really, really well but it needs a guiding hand in order to get it exactly right. The way we control it is also important, and this is a matter of personal preferences and I'm gonna try not to tell you what the right way to use your camera is, but I do want to tell you about the options that are available and what other people are doing and why they like that. So, the three buttons that will potentially be able to be used in a focusing system is: the shutter release which is pre-programmed to activate the focusing system; some cameras will have an AF-ON button or they will have a button that you can program to be an AF-ON button; and then another button that is an autofocus-lock button, or maybe a button that can be programmed to do the AF-Lock funciton, it will vary from camera to camera. Now, normally on a camera I've said, maybe too many times so far, is that when you press halfway down on the shutter release it activates the light meter, it lights the camera up, but it also activates the focusing system. SO, you have to focus before you take a picture with a modern camera. Now, some cameras will use an AF-Lock button on the back of the camera. So, rather than pressing halfway down and locking, you could press this other button on the back of the camera. Some people, they don't have a real good control of their shutter, of their index finger, they just want to slam down, but they want to have another button for locking focus; and this locking focus can be very handy when you're in sports photography, and you have continuous focusing. So, let's say you're photographing sports, you're continuously focusing the action in front of you, but then you go over to the coach, who's standing there, and you don't want him in the middle of the frame, you want him off to the side looking at the rest of the team. You focus on the coach, you lock it in, move it out, and you take the picture even though your camera's in continuous, this lock button has overridden the continuous function on the camera. So, you've just temporarily wanted to lock it off, and then you can take a picture at that point, and as many pictures as you want because you've locked it in with that AF-Lock button. Now, as they say, there are some cameras that will actually list this on the back of the camera, there are other ones you dive into the menu system under the button and menu controls, and you will see that you can program custom function button two, or this button or that button to perform this function. Now, another way of focusing is what is know generally as back button focusing. And this is where you turn off the focusing system on the shutter release system so that when you take a picture the camera will not focus. There is a separate button somewhere else on the camera, usually on the back of the camera, that's the name, where you would focus first and then take a photo. And this, when it was first introduced to me was very counterintuitive, as I think it is for most people who are new to photography. It's like, why don't you want to focus before you take a picture, Isn't that kind of a convenience thing? Yeah, in many cases it's a convenient thing to be able to focus and then take a photo, but there are some reasons why you don't want to do that and I'll show those to you here in a second. And so, you would focus and then you could take a picture and then you could take as many pictures as you want. So, you will see these buttons on the back of the camera, so for instance, for those of you who own Nikon, here's just a little thing, you have an AEL AFL on some of your cameras. Okay. So typically this works as an auto exposure lock button, but not focus-lock, unless you go into the menu system and program that button to do it. So, it's the potential for doing autofocus-lock, but it doesn't necessarily do it, your camera may vary, so you gotta check your cameras, there's a lot of different options out there. Cannon has this little star button here, which is an exposure lock, but it can be a focus lock on certain cameras if you program it. But, both of these cameras here have an AF-ON button. So, if you're focusing on a subject that moving around, so say maybe you use multiple points in that, and you're gonna press halfway down for focusing, you're gonna be able to track the subject coming towards you, and if for some reason it stops or you decide you want to reframe the composition and not track that subject anymore, that's when you would press down on the autofocus-lock button. Now, I'll be honest with you, I don't use this system because it gets a little, I don't like to have too many, I'm not good at playing guitar, there's too many things you've gotta be pressing at the same time, and so some people are much better at this than I am. Clearly, there are many other talented people who prefer to have, you know, this kind of control, but it's there as an option. You can then recompose and then put your subject off to the side of the frame. And so, in order to do this, you need to make sure that this it turned on in your camera. In general, it's not naturally turned on. It's one of the custom functions in your camera. And so, if you're normally tracking a subject but then it stops, and you kinda want to do an unusual composition, that works well. And so, getting a subject off the side of the frame when you're normally in a continuous mode is a good time for this. And so, it's a real good system for some photographers. The AF-ON back button is something that I recommend for almost all photographers. If you're brand new to photography, don't worry about it. But, if you're kind of maybe intermediate level or above, I would say you'd definitely need to give it a try. Now, I was forced into doing this. That's right, I was working with a team of photographers and this is how the pool equipment worked with the team, and I had to do it, and I did not want to do it, and I did not like this system. Wow, it kinda works kinda nice after about a week. So, it takes a little while to get used to it, it's something that you gotta give yourself a little bit of a chance to get used to it. So, on this system, you'll find this on more and more cameras, Sony has finally put a direct AF-ON button on the back of their camera. There are other cameras that you can program it to be AF-ON, but I bet you in more and more cameras going forward we're gonna see this AF-ON button right there in a nice convenient place for the thumb on the back of the camera. So, the idea here is that you press down on this button for focusing, and you press it down as long as it needs for focusing, and then you can go over to the shutter release and press and take pictures whenever you want, and this is really convenient when you want to focus on a subject off center; you don't have to go back to refocus on that subject. Now, the important thing for this to work is that you need to turn off the focusing of the shutter, and somewhere in your camera is some sort of control. For instance, let's see if I can remember Sony's, it's like shutter AF is in the menu system, you turn it off. I don't want the shutter to activate the focusing system. With Cannon, it's in their custom controls. Nikon has it somewhere in their focusing system where you deactivate the focusing system. And so the beauty of this system is that you want a subject off the side of the frame, you don't want them in the middle of the frame. And so, you can go focus on them and normally what you would do is you would press halfway down to focus, recompose, and then take the photo, and if you want to take another picture, you gotta do the whole process again and again. With back button focusing, you focus on your subject, and you are done focusing. And so if you want to take a hundred pictures, you'd just recompose and you press down on the shutter release as many times as you want to take a photo, and the focus is not gonna change because if you're not changing position and your subject's not changing position, why go through the whole process of focusing again and again and again. And so, this is really good for subjects that are stationary in this regard. You can of course use back button focusing for continuous action as well, and that's perfectly fine as well. But, this saves you a lot of time when you want to get a subject off the middle of the frame, and you want to separat these two functions. Now, the downside is that you're gonna have two different functions: you're gonna have one for focusing and one for taking a picture, and you have to remember to press that back button to focus; and this system is really, really bad if you were to hand your camera to a stranger to take your photo. Alright. So if you wanted to have them take a photo of you and your friends, well it's just gonna take a picture and it's not even gonna worry about focusing. So, I kind of have my camera that I can quickly switch it, or you switch it into a special easy mode to turn that particular function off, it's kinda one of those secret things, 'hey, don't touch my camera, you don't know how to work my camera.' But, once you get used to this, oh it's fantastic because the way I work, at least, I see a subject and then I figure out where I want to shoot that subject, I focus, and then I'm gonna play around with composition, and then I might move my position, I'll refocus, and then I'm gonna play around with my composition for a few shots. And, if you do that as well, back button focusing is just gonna speed the process up 'cause you'll just focus once and then you're done with it, you can move on from there. I just want to know, with this last thing you explained about the back button, if you do that you still can still change things like ISO or anything if you have that pressed on. Yes, so if you have that button programmed for back button focusing, you can still have full control of everything else on your camera, the only exception might be is if that button was dedicated to do something else. Sometimes cameras have a limited number of programming buttons, and I know when I get a camera I love to customize it, and there is never enough buttons for me to get all the things I want on there, and so sometimes I'm making hard decisions, you know, what's more important, this or is it more important that I change the drive system, or the ISO, or the focusing points, or something else on the camera? And so, it depends a little bit on the camera and which buttons can be customized. More and more cameras have gotten word from the users, all of us, that we like to customize cameras, and so the newest buttons on cameras are the C1, C2 buttons. Different companies will have different names, but this is a customizable button and my preference is for the companies that actually put an AF-ON button and makes it really obvious, and I like it, you know, a nice, big, easy to reach button. Some camera companies have kinda smaller buttons that can be of multitude of things. You have to take a look at your camera, but even some of the lowest end cameras can now back button focus without interfering with anything else.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Fundamentals of Photography Class Outline
Learning Projects Workbook
Camera Keynote PDF
Sensor Keynote PDF
Lens Keynote PDF
Exposure Keynote PDF
Focus Keynote PDF
Gadgets Keynote PDF
Lighting Keynote PDF
Editing Keynote PDF
Composition Keynote PDF
Photographic Vision Keynote PDF

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

Love love all John Greengo classes! Wish to have had him decades ago with this info, but no internet then!! John is the greatest photography teacher I have seen out there, and I watch a lot of Creative Live classes and folks on YouTube too. John is so detailed and there are a ton of ah ha moments for me and I know lots of others. I think I own 4 John Greengo classes so far and want to add this one and Travel Photography!! I just drop everything to watch John on Creative Live. I wish sometime soon he would teach a Lightroom class and his knowledge on photography post editing.!!! That would probably take a LOT OF TIME but I know John would explain it soooooo good, like he does all his Photography classes!! Thank you Creative Live for having such a wonderful instructor with John Greengo!! Make more classes John, for just love them and soak it up! There is soooo much to learn and sometimes just so overwhelming. Is there anyway you might do a Motivation class!!?? Like do this button for this day, and try this technique for a week, or post this subject for this week, etc. Motivation and inspiration, and playing around with what you teach, needed so much and would be so fun.!! Just saying??? Awaiting gadgets class now, while waiting for lunch break to be over. All the filters and gadgets, oh my. Thank you thank you for all you teach John, You are truly a wonderful wonderful instructor and I would highly recommend folks listening and buying your classes.


I don't think that adjectives like beautiful, fantastic or excellent can describe the course and classes with John Greengo well enough. I've just bought my first camera and I am a total amateur but I fell in love with photography while watching the classes with John. It is fun, clear, understandable, entertaining, informative and and and. He is not only a fabulous photographer but a great teacher as well. Easy to follow, clear explanations and fantastic visuals. The only disadvantage I can list here that he is sooooo good that keeps me from going out to shoot as I am just glued to the screen. :-) Don't miss it and well worth the money invested! Thank you John!


Dear John, thanks for this outstanding classes. You are not only a great photographer and instructor, but your classes are pleasant, they are not boring, with a good sense of humor, they go straight to the point and have a good time listening to you. Please, keep teaching what you like most, and I will continue to look for your classes. And thanks for using a plain English, that it's important for people who has another language as native language. Thanks again, Juan

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