Using the Nikon® Autofocus System

Lesson 12/17 - Autofocus for Portraiture


Using the Nikon® Autofocus System


Lesson Info

Autofocus for Portraiture

Now it's time to play a little bit with autofocus. So the cool thing is we have a live studio model, a fitness model. She's gonna do some modeling for us. We've got a number of scenarios here. We've got portrait, so I'm gonna show you how we use autofocus in the world of portraiture, so we're gonna set up some lights. Then we did some preshoots. A few weeks ago we went up to Gasworks Park in Seattle, and we did a bunch of preshoots out in the real world. So we're gonna show some videos and then we're gonna wrap up at the end with an indoor sports shoot to kind of mimic those of you who have kids in sports like indoor basketball something like that. Show you how to get good results in that scenario. So let's go ahead and start this off with a portrait session. Go ahead and grab the uh, that's our fill light. And we'll just set it about over here. Yeah, great. Alright, come on over. And where I want you to stand is about right here, cool? And I'll be shooting right in between the gap her...

e. And what I'll do is I'll have you maybe move this shoulder, kind of point this shoulder maybe towards the monitor there. Just off that, OK? To do this I'm using the Nikon Creative Lighting System and I just finished recording a new class with Creative Live on the Nikon Creative Lighting System so if you wanna learn how to use it, check out the catalog. Go to, shows you all the details around setting up the flashes, channel to groups, modes, all that good stuff. So I'm not gonna go into super detail here I'm just gonna explain that I've got a master flash, I've got a keylight and I've got a fill light. Now she's a little bit taller than my previous model, so I'm gonna increase the height of the lights here. OK. And again the purpose here is to really just show autofocus not so much on the lighting technique. And as I look at this, you know what? I'm actually gonna change this up a little. I'm gonna make this more of a background light. Go ahead and take about two feet forward. Yep, sweet. OK. Autofocus for portraiture. And to do this, I'm going to demonstrate back button focus, OK? So I'm gonna demonstrate back button focus. Alrighty. So what I want you to do is maybe for this shot, just a little more serious look. You don't even really need to smile. Um and then maybe after that, I'll actually have you smile. Depends on if you're comfortable doing that. Back button focus right. So I'm in AFC mode. I'm in dynamic. And this is the D500 camera. So I'm in dynamic 72. That doesn't really matter a whole lot because she's not going to be moving around, right, for this portrait shoot. So I'm going to focus on her eye. And this is important. If you're a portrait photographer, you need to focus on the eye that's closest to the camera, OK? So don't focus on the back eye, but focus on the front eye. And that's what dynamic area autofocus allows you to do. You get that priority sensor, right? That sensor that's in the middle. I'm gonna use that middle sensor to focus on her front eye. Here we go. One two three. Great. Go ahead and bring your, you know what, I made a mistake. My ISO was too high. My ISO is still like at 6400. Bear with me, I'm just the photographer. Alright, I'm gonna set my ISO for about and my aperture for f/5. and my white balance for flash. And other than that I am ready to go, yep. Alright now we go for real. One two and a half. Great. So lemme look at that photo. Good a nice serious look. I'll show her what she's got goin' on. Looks great. So again I focus on the eye. Here we go, focus. And you notice I bring my camera up so I focus there, and then I bring the camera down to recompose. And now I can move the camera left or right and take the picture, and it won't refocus. It won't, I don't, when I push the shutter release it doesn't refocus. That's pretty cool. So here we go, focus. Compose. Shoot. And the image looks very nice. Just a nice little environmental portrait here. Let's say that you're a front button focuser. So you're the type of person you're like, you know what Mike, I don't use back button, rather I use front button. OK, the way that you're gonna change up here, is you're gonna push your focus mode and then you're gonna rotate 'til you get to AFS mode and then you're also gonna deactivate remember your AF on button? You have to make it so your front button will focus. In that situation then, you will focus with the front, hold down your shutter release, and then compose and shoot, alright? But since my camera's still kinda set up for back button I won't actually demonstrate that now. Alright so there's a portrait scenario autofocus using the back button focus technique.

Class Description

The best photo moments often present themselves to us when we least expect it. Every photographer knows the feeling of lining up what they believe will be the perfect shot, only to realize after the fact that their focus was off. Nikon cameras have a built-in autofocus system for these situations. 

Join Mike Hagan, Nikonians Academy Director, to learn how to make the most of this often-overlooked function of your digital SLR. In this class, you’ll learn:

  • How to set your focus within the menu settings and overall various camera settings
  • How to use autofocus patterns and area modes
  • How to use servo modes and lens configurations
Mike will help you configure the autofocus system for portraits, sports, wildlife, and landscapes. Relying on autofocus will also let you concentrate on lighting and composition, and help you take advantage of those fleeting moments.



Good course! I am a beginner and this course helped me a lot. I agree with some students that a better work could have been done in preparing the presentations. It seems to me that Mike is great in having informal live workshops. However, for recorded classes like the ones we buy in Creative Live, the teaching technique should be adjusted. Overall I am glad I bought this course.

Catherine Lucas

After having my camera D800 for 5 or 6 years and never really got the focussing down I can finally do it. This video should be included with every Nikon sold. I am so happy that I am finally get the fullest out of this great camera, I am more of a visual person. Reading the manual is not the same as actually see it done... Thanks Mike, you rock! I have watched the sequences over and over and learned so much. Thanks. And always welcome when you pass in New Mexico...

Janie Anderson

Thanks, Mike! I will go on tomorrow's shoot with my new Nikon D500, using autofocus with much more confidence thanks to this excellent class. I especially want to master birds in flight, so that module was of particular interest, as was the detailed review of back-button focus.