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WHY I LOVE BACK BUTTON FOCUS – Seattle Wedding Photographer

Oh, my beloved back button focus (BBF), I am so glad you exist!

It all started about a year ago. My photog friend, Ashley, and I were at the Wedding & Portrait Photography conference (WPPI) and we had a discussion about how we both hated how we constantly had to toggle to our desired focal point and how we wished there was an easier way. A few days later, she sent me an article about BBF and I have never gone back to shutter focus!

Here are the reasons why I love  BBF:

1. You can set your focal point and quickly recompose (move your camera around) while remaining in focus.

2. It separates the focus and the shutter, which means I don’t have to constantly toggle to my focal point! This saves me a lot of time when I need to quickly photograph something.

3. BBF is AWESOME for moving objects! You can press and hold the BBF button (AF-ON for Nikon, * button for Canon) to achieve continual focusing. This is especially helpful during first looks:

Seattle Wedding Photographer, Back Button Focus

And wedding processionals and recessionals:

4. If you press and release the BBF button, you achieve single focus.

5. If you don’t press it at all, you can manual focus.

WARNING: You have to be sure to stay in the same distance between you and the subject unless you lock in the focus (continue holding the BBF button, which on a Nikon is the AF-ON and Canon is ! This can be tricky if you are shooting with a shallow depth of field.

How to set BBF:

For Nikon Users…

1. Press menu

2. Scroll down to the pencil icon

3. Choose a) Autofocus

4. Scroll down and choose *a5) AF Activation

5. Choose AF-On only

For Canon users…(there may be other settings on newer Canon’s that I’m not familiar with since I’m a Nikon girl)

1. Go to custom function 4 and set it to setting 1 (setting 0 is the default).

2. Turn your AF setting to AI Servo.

Taking these steps will make the AF-ON button (on Nikon) on the back of the camera function as your focusing button. You will no longer focus with the shutter button. The shutter button’s only purpose will be to take the photo.

If you are trying BBF for the first time, make sure you practice this before going to a photo shoot! It can take some time to get used to it. Trust me, though, it will be worth it!


Nikki Closser, Seattle Wedding Photographer



February 25, 2013 - 7:23 pm

Stephanie Dyane - This is super helpful info for photogs Nikki! I love it. Good post. I think it will help a lot of photographers. :)

February 25, 2013 - 7:24 pm

Yasmin Sarai - I LOOOOVE BBF… When I learned about it last year it totally changed my life!

February 25, 2013 - 7:28 pm

Cory Parris - I completely agree with your technique. A couple features of Canon gear you may not be aware of is that the newest cameras also have a “AF-On” button now as well as the “*” button. There is also the option to change the depth-of-field button to toggle between One-shot and Servo Autofocus modes. This allows you to be in one-shot mode most of the time and instantly switch to a servo autofocus if someone were to walk towards you. I find this to be incredibly useful. Thanks for the article!

February 25, 2013 - 7:28 pm

Sue McFarland - Nikki, if you make the changes and plan to use BBF will the shutter focus if you don’t use it???

February 25, 2013 - 7:32 pm

nikkiclosser - Sue, no…the shutter will no longer focus if you are set to BBF. That’s why it’s so important to practice with it before a session. It won’t take long to get used to it, though :)

February 25, 2013 - 7:33 pm

nikkiclosser - Thanks so much for the info, Cory!

February 25, 2013 - 9:08 pm

stacy gendreau - Such a great post. I heart my back button focus more than anything!!!!!!

February 25, 2013 - 9:56 pm

Whitney Lane - I love BBF too :) Although I find it stressful if they are moving a lot ( such as walking down the aisle) My goal this year is to always use it and practice mas!

February 26, 2013 - 10:32 pm

Lindsey McClennahan - oooOOOooOOO A new trick I need to add to my belt! I love how you used the walk out of the wedding part, I love running backwards and taking photos at the same time haha

February 27, 2013 - 12:48 pm

Teresa - BBF is my BFF! :D

February 28, 2013 - 5:33 pm

Lauren Reed - I cannot wait to try this. Thank you Nikki! You’re the best!

March 1, 2013 - 12:32 am

Tosha - I am going to learn this. STAT! Thank you for sharing Nikki!!

March 7, 2013 - 1:03 am

barb - best.tip.evah!!! I’m sure I’ve heard this before, but never entirely understood how to get there! Thank you!

March 7, 2013 - 4:19 pm

Megan - LOVE this post! I can’t wait to try it!

March 16, 2013 - 4:03 am

nikkiclosser - Barb, I’m so glad it helped!!

March 16, 2013 - 4:03 am

nikkiclosser - Yay! Let me know how it goes, Megan!

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