Learning to use back button focus to improve your photography

Tim Wells
3 min readJun 25, 2021

If you’re into photography and part of photography communities on social media then no doubt you’ve come across the term “back button focus". Maybe though you’re still not sure what it is. Basically it lets you separate the task of focusing and taking the photo while providing some other benefits at the same time. Let’s look at the benefits of back button focus (BBF) and why it’s something you should learn to use.

What is back button focus?

Most cameras by default will focus when the shutter button is half pressed. This means with the one button you can focus as well as take the shot.

Back button focus is a configuration where the focus is moved from the shutter button half press to a button on the back of the camera that can be pressed easily with your thumb. Many modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras provide a dedicated button for this despite the default behavior still being to use the shutter half press. It can be easily enabled in the settings.

This means that instead of half pressing the shutter button to focus before taking the shot, you can press a button on the back to focus and the shutter button simply takes the picture.

Photo by Christof W. on Unsplash

What are the benefits of doing that?

That might seem like extra work. I mean before you only had one button to press, now there is two. Right? Well it’s not that much extra and the benefits make it worth it.

Being able to trigger the shutter while also focusing is one such benefit. This comes in very handy if you’re photographing moving subjects. It could be wildlife or people, it doesn’t matter. Traditionally you would lock focus and then take the shot with the same button. This meant the shot was taken after the focus was set. In many situations, such as a posed portrait, this might not matter. However, when shooting moving subjects it can make the difference between sharp and not quite sharp.

You can leave the camera in continuous focus mode but have the benefit of single focus mode. By pressing the focus button on the back to get the focus where it should be you can then take you finger off the focus button and it’s locked in place. At least until you press it again or…

Tim Wells

Self taught software developer and photographer.