Here is how I have my DIY style setup:

enter image description here

Water is dropping where the coin is, I put the coin there with the hope that it can focus on the coin but it couldn't. I am on AF-S , S and use AF-ON button to focus and shutter to take the picture, it was never able to focus so didn't even fire one shot. Very frustrating. How do I get it to focus?

P.S: I don't have friends or assistant to help me for example with holding his finger in there until I focus on his finger, etc...

Also please per my setup picture, if you have suggestions to improve the setup please tell me.

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    – Rafael
    Jan 8, 2017 at 11:27

6 Answers 6


So, there are a number of steps to take that will help you nail the picture. Some immediate tips on this include:

  1. Fill the pan to the top or very close to it. Have a spill-over pan underneath if you want to avoid water splash on your surface.

  2. The depth of the pan will affect the nature of the splash a bit. I like a bit of depth, about an inch.

  3. Don't focus on a coin at the bottom of the pan, you want to focus where the drop is striking the water. The trick I use for this is a bolt. It will stick out of the water and you position it so that the drops are striking it and then focus manually on where the bolt and water meets. Use live view if you can, you'll be more accurate.

For a more general guide, I've got a couple of articles on my blog that might help you:

Note too: a macro lens or one that allows for closer focussing will help a lot. Extension tubes are an option to consider here if you don't want to spend the money on a new lens.


I would turn off auto focus. Set the focus manually and you can adjust your focal plane manually.

Make sure you can have the drop land in the exact spot every time. If you know where the drop falls, then you can stand up an unsharpened pencil or something similar and use that to focus manually. Then leave AF off so you don't disturb the focus.

Good luck.

  • who is gonna hold the pencil there if I am behind the camera to focus on it?
    – Brandon
    Mar 25, 2015 at 4:05
  • 4
    An unsharpened pencil is flat on the end, so you can stand it up on a flat surface. Or tape it to an object that will stand by itself, like a small drinking glass. Or sharpen it and jam the point into a rubber eraser, ball of clay, blueberry muffin... This is not a difficult problem to solve.
    – Caleb
    Mar 25, 2015 at 5:43

If you're not able to achieve focus lock, it sounds to me like you might be too close to the coin/water drop -- closer than the lens's minimum focus distance. Look at your lens or in the manual for the lens to find the minimum focus distance. I suspect the easy/immediate answer to this is to back the camera off so you can focus, then take the photo and crop tighter in post.

It might be worth pointing out that close-focusing to take photos of small objects is the realm of macro lenses (not to be confused with having a lens that supports a faux macro range), which allow you to focus much closer. Additionally, extension tubes, reversing rings, close-up lens filters, and teleconverters are sometimes used to help focus closer.


Use Manual focus. Focus on the coin manually and then leave the focus set as is. Also consider using a cable release or remote to take the picture to avoid bumping the camera and upsetting the focus. Also check that the subject is far enough away for your lens to focus on it.

  • I did put both lens and camera on Manual focus and started turning the lens focus ring but never got able to focus at all. Maybe camera was too close? there was a 70-200mm lens on it, set on 70mm . I also have a prime 35mm, does that help? I am not aware of distance and focal length how get related
    – Brandon
    Mar 25, 2015 at 4:02
  • Your lens surely has distance marks on it that will show you the distance at which the lens is focussed. Turn the ring to the minimum focus distance -- the mark will tell you how far you need to be from the subject.
    – Caleb
    Mar 25, 2015 at 5:45
  • 3
    @Blake Somewhere on your lens (or in the lens' manual) there should be a minimum focus distance stated (do not confuse Focal Length, the 70-200mm, with focus distance, they are very different). Your subject needs to be further than this distance from the camera. Mar 25, 2015 at 8:04

If you're taking a picture of the drop hitting the pan, put a small coin or something on the landing point. Manual focus on the coin and leave the focus set.

Looks like fun, post a picture with your solution!

UPDATE, if you're using a 70-200 zoom the minimum focus length is typically over 4 feet, so try your 35mm lens instead.

  • It appear that he has already tried this Mar 25, 2015 at 8:05

Quick and simple way to keep using AF but to tell the camera to take the shot whether or not it has confirmed focus: hit the "Menu" button, look for Custom settings (the pencil icon in the leftmost column), go to a2: AF-S Priority Selection and change it to "Release". Reference - page 307 in the manual.

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