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mommykim

I just ordered my first DSLR camera!

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Is there a way to keep focus on the object you are trying to take a picture of? I keep losing focus to what is behind or even in front of it. I'm using the 70-300mm 1:4.5.6.3G ED on the NikonD3400.

 

It’s a matter of mastering how your autofocus system works, has nothing to do with the lens.

Learn how to place your focus points where you want them, and understand the difference between af-c and af-s.

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Without knowing what focus area you're using, it sounds like you may be using a wide or matrix focusing area on your camera...that means it's attempting to use a fairly big amount of the frame to look for what to focus on - and that means if there's something in the background that might have a bit more contrast, it can steal the attention of the focus system. You want to narrow the focus area to a mode such as 'center focus' or 'spot focus', which turns off all of the box grid of focus points and just relies on one or a few points near the middle of the frame - then you can point the center of the frame at a target and the camera will only try to focus on what's there - ignoring the background that falls outside the focus box.

 

When you are trying to 'pick out' a subject that has bright or contrasty stuff behind it, as well as in front of it, a wide focus area leaves it up to the camera to decide what looks most obvious - it doesn't know what you want to focus on - so smaller focus areas tells the camera to look at a smaller space to find something to focus on. With birding, this is a common issue, since birds are usually in dense forest and among branches and leaves both in front of and behind. I usually use 'spot' focus, which relies on one very small focus point in the dead center of the frame...I use AF-S focusing mode, which is 'single' focus, meaning when I half-press the focus button and achieve focus on my subject, the focus stops and locks, and I can move the lens around to reframe the shot without the focus trying to readjust itself...

 

original.jpg

 

In the above example, there is a very bright, contrasty branch reaching right across the frame in front of the bird - the bird being mostly black and dark blue, has little contrast and highlighting, so a wide focus area would surely focus on that branch in front. And if it misses that, it would probably pick up on the very well lit leaf behind the bird. By choosing spot focus, I tell the camera to only look where I'm pointing, which is on the bird's eye.

The smaller the 'spot' point your camera has, the more you can use autofocus to pick out a specific subject through enormous amounts of obstruction. I believe your camera has a single point focus area option, which can let you focus at just one small focus point and ignore or turn off all the other points. Here's an example of a single focus point allowing you to focus through dozens of branches crossing through the frame to pick out a bird's eye through a narrow gap in the branches:

original.jpg

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Thanks for the replies on my focusing problem. I have been trying to take pictures of birds through the kitchen window and the bird will come into focus and right when I go to take the picture focus goes to the branch behind. I will definitely try spot focusing.

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Sounds too like you might be set to 'continuous' autofocus...if you get the bird into focus and go to take the shot and the focus moves, that means the focus never 'locked'...it's still always active and looking for a moving subject. AF-C is also sometimes called 'servo' if you have a Canon. You might try setting to AF-S, or 'single autofocus'. This will mean that once you half-press the shutter button and hold it down, the focus will lock on that initial subject and stay there - you get a 'beep' and usually some kind of green light or lighted dot over the focus point and no matter how you move around or if a branch strays in front or behind, the focus won't move as long as you keep the shutter half-pressed. Just fully press to take the shot.

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Sounds too like you might be set to 'continuous' autofocus...if you get the bird into focus and go to take the shot and the focus moves, that means the focus never 'locked'...it's still always active and looking for a moving subject. AF-C is also sometimes called 'servo' if you have a Canon. You might try setting to AF-S, or 'single autofocus'. This will mean that once you half-press the shutter button and hold it down, the focus will lock on that initial subject and stay there - you get a 'beep' and usually some kind of green light or lighted dot over the focus point and no matter how you move around or if a branch strays in front or behind, the focus won't move as long as you keep the shutter half-pressed. Just fully press to take the shot.

 

In focus mode it was on AF-A Auto-servo AF. The only other choice available was manual focus. I was using sports mode in case the birds were moving. I have the Nikon D3400.

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In focus mode it was on AF-A Auto-servo AF. The only other choice available was manual focus. I was using sports mode in case the birds were moving. I have the Nikon D3400.

 

Sounds like Sports Mode eliminated your choice of Focus Modes. If so, and you were using Sports Mode to achieve higher shutter speeds with moving subjects, you can select your own shutter speeds in Shutter Priority (S) mode, which will also give you the option to choose any of the Focus Modes (including AF-S).

 

BTW, if you haven't seen it, here's an article about the D3400's Focus Modes:

https://camerajabber.com/how-to-set-nikon-d3400-af-modes/

 

Enjoy your camera!

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I'd agree with Turtles - when using specific scene modes, they usually block out the ability to control a lot of the settings. You may be forced to choose one of the AF continuous modes only, and may also be limited to zone or wide focus areas too, depending on the camera and how that scene mode is set up. Typically, when you are in the P, A, S, or M modes of a DSLR, you maintain full access to and control over all settings...so going to S mode would probably be your best bet - choose a reasonably high shutter speed to freeze movement (1/500 for walking or still animals/people or relatively still birds, 1/800 for a hopping or faster moving bird on the ground or faster animals, 1/1000 minimum for larger flying birds or running animals...sometimes even higher is needed to freeze really small, fast erratic birds in flight, but that's a seriously difficult acquired skill anyway, so I'd say 1/1000 shutter speed would work for most of your needs). In S priority, you can choose your focus area setting, and can choose AF-S or AF-C as needed...as well as pretty much any other setting you need to change.

 

I don't know enough about your camera model to know if it offers a minimum shutter speed setting in Auto ISO - some cameras do, and that can be useful because it will allow you to set the slowest acceptable shutter speed for the camera to choose before it moves the ISO up - this lets you have some control over shutter speed even in Program Auto or Aperture Priority mode when shooting things like animals.

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Not sure if it's mentioned already (I don't have time to read through 10 pages of posts) but David Busch's camera-specific books are great for beginners, not only does he cover the specifics of the camera, he also does a good job of explaining the basics of photography (exposure, depth-of-field, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, etc.). The one for the D3400 is on Amazon here:

 

https://www.amazon.com/David-Buschs-Nikon-Digital-Photography/dp/1681982307

 

 

Tony Northrup's "How To Create Stunning Digital Photography" is also a great book if you're just getting started:

 

https://www.amazon.com/How-Create-Stunning-Digital-Photography/dp/0988263408

 

 

Just a word of warning...now that you've got the "bug"....there's no turning back :')

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Thanks again everyone! The spot focus didn't really work today on Sports mode. I'll try the S mode. I appreciate the examples you gave me for shutter speed because I wouldn't know where to start. I've been trying to get pictures of hummingbirds. I've been reading Nikon D3400 for Dummies. I know I should be reading Digital Photography for Dummies first,since I don't know anything about photography (expect I like taking pictures) but I really wanted to start using my camera.

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I tried S mode several times today. I'm not having any luck with it at all. At 1/1000 there was no picture just a black screen. I kept changing it and it kept saying :subject is too dark". Even at 1/40 the pictures come out darker than I would like and the bird is blurry. ISO is at 100.

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Now your problem is that it's too dark for ISO 100 and a fast shutter speed. Depending on how overcast or dim, or if you were in the forest or under tree cover, you need to compensate for the faster shutter speed with a bigger aperture, higher ISO, or both. Typically when using S priority, you want to let the camera be in 'auto' mode for the other elements of the exposure (unless you understand the exposure triangle already). High ISO doesn't have to be as scary as some think - most modern APS-C cameras are capable of some pretty good detail at high ISOs up to 6400 with low noise as long as the exposure is good.

That said, 1/1000 may be faster than necessary for a still bird or a bird on a branch - so if it's still too dark even with the higher ISO, that's a good time to lower the shutter speed a bit until the exposure looks good. 1/800 to 1/500 shutter can still be fine for most wildlife that's not flying or running.

On the sample photo I posted on the last page of the blue and black bird, that was at 1/500 shutter speed, and the ISO was at 2,500...so I was 1 stop slower than your shutter speed, and nearly 5 stops higher with the ISO level - a total of nearly 6 stops more light which is why yours was too dark and mine properly exposed. At ISO100, my shot would have been almost all black as well!

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I tried S mode several times today. I'm not having any luck with it at all. At 1/1000 there was no picture just a black screen. I kept changing it and it kept saying :subject is too dark". Even at 1/40 the pictures come out darker than I would like and the bird is blurry. ISO is at 100.

 

 

This article might help understand the exposure triangle.

 

https://fstoppers.com/education/exposure-triangle-understanding-how-aperture-shutter-speed-and-iso-work-together-72878

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I tried S mode several times today. I'm not having any luck with it at all. At 1/1000 there was no picture just a black screen. I kept changing it and it kept saying :subject is too dark". Even at 1/40 the pictures come out darker than I would like and the bird is blurry. ISO is at 100.

 

You have been given good advice and I will add another piece. Try going into the Nikon menus and setting Auto ISO to 'on'. It is set off by default. Now if you set the camera to S (shutter priority), it will automatically select what it considers to be the proper aperture AND ISO. I know some of the purists will argue this point, but I usually leave Auto ISO on and turn it off when I want it off (e.g. when on a tripod.)

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You have been given good advice and I will add another piece. Try going into the Nikon menus and setting Auto ISO to 'on'. It is set off by default. Now if you set the camera to S (shutter priority), it will automatically select what it considers to be the proper aperture AND ISO. I know some of the purists will argue this point, but I usually leave Auto ISO on and turn it off when I want it off (e.g. when on a tripod.)

 

If by purists, you mean the ISO 100 or nothing shooters, you are right, they will disagree. They also miss a lot of shots! :)

 

 

I agree that auto-ISO is invaluable for S-Mode or A-Mode for that matter. Whether A-Mode for aperture or S-mode for shutter, I let the little supercomputer in the camera decide the other two.

 

 

 

Cruises42: Set the camera to S-Mode - 1/1000s and auto ISO. the camera will choose the aperture and ISO to properly expose the image.

 

 

Dave

Edited by pierces

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Thanks again! I'll try tomorrow. I found that when I was in S mode I could not change the aperture at all. I kept trying and the number just kept blinking at me. Is that normal?

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Thanks again! I'll try tomorrow. I found that when I was in S mode I could not change the aperture at all. I kept trying and the number just kept blinking at me. Is that normal?

 

S mode is Shutter priority mode which means you can change the shutter speed and the camera controls aperture and ISO.

 

A mode is Aperture priority which means you can change the aperture and the camera controls shutter speed and ISO.

 

If you want to control all three aspects of exposure, then you need to me in manual mode, where the camera let's you decide the exposure of the shot.

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I’m sorry to keep bothering everybody but I really don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. I have ISO set to auto, focus mode is AF-A Auto-servo, AF-area mode is single point AF and shutter was set to 1/800

 

93930406ce111c9e19cacc3f75a84a54.jpg

 

f898ee4ec6f7bca7dd9968124480be16.jpg

 

In both pictures I was trying to get the hummingbird and it would not focus on it no matter what I did. One is zoomed in more than the other one. These are taken through a window.

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S mode is Shutter priority mode which means you can change the shutter speed and the camera controls aperture and ISO.

 

A mode is Aperture priority which means you can change the aperture and the camera controls shutter speed and ISO.

 

If you want to control all three aspects of exposure, then you need to me in manual mode, where the camera let's you decide the exposure of the shot.

 

I guess I was confused because you can change the ISO so I just assumed you could change the aperture.

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I’m sorry to keep bothering everybody but I really don’t understand what I’m doing. I have ISO set to auto, focus mode is AF-A Auto-servo, AF-area mode is single point AF and shutter was set to 1/800

 

93930406ce111c9e19cacc3f75a84a54.jpg

 

f898ee4ec6f7bca7dd9968124480be16.jpg

 

In both pictures I was trying to get the hummingbird and it would not focus on it no matter what I did. One is zoomed in more than the other one. These are taken through a window.

 

Your focus point isn’t on the bird.

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Your focus point isn’t on the bird.

 

How do I get it on the bird? That is where I am pointing and it seems like it's in the center of the viewfinder.

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How do I get it on the bird? That is where I am pointing and it seems like it's in the center of the viewfinder.

 

You can use the directional pad (the round thing on the back of the camera) to move the focus point.

 

This video might help

 

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You can use the directional pad (the round thing on the back of the camera) to move the focus point.

 

This video might help

 

 

I don't see a directional pad on my camera and it is not listed in the index of the Nikon D3400 for dummies book I'm reading. I'll check out the video. I also use the viewfinder, not live view for taking pictures.

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I don't see a directional pad on my camera and it is not listed in the index of the Nikon D3400 for dummies book I'm reading. I'll check out the video. I also use the viewfinder, not live view for taking pictures.

It is the ring (for want of a better word) around the “OK” button.

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I don't see a directional pad on my camera and it is not listed in the index of the Nikon D3400 for dummies book I'm reading. I'll check out the video. I also use the viewfinder, not live view for taking pictures.

 

It's also call the "multi-selector"

 

nikon-d3400-back.jpg

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I don't see a directional pad on my camera and it is not listed in the index of the Nikon D3400 for dummies book I'm reading. I'll check out the video. I also use the viewfinder, not live view for taking pictures.

 

Books are great, but there are tons of (free!) informational videos and other resources on the internet. They are extremely helpful, especially when you are trying to find out how to do "x" on a new camera.

 

If you Google "change focus point on Nikon D3400," you should come up with some tutorials. And do the same as you learn other features of your camera.

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