I've been trying to take some self-portraits, but I often have to struggle with the auto/manual focus. I don't miss by a lot, but I really want sharp focus in the eyes. I'm using a 50mm/1.8 around 2/2.2. What are some good techniques to get the camera properly focused when dealing with narrow DoFs?

  • 1
    Not sure if its quite a duplicate, but its very close to photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2640/…
    – rfusca
    Jan 13, 2011 at 16:49
  • Does your camera come with an app for remote control by computer? If so, that's a good solution.
    – whuber
    Jan 13, 2011 at 19:38
  • @rfusca, although it's about the same subject, I don't think it's a duplicate because it specifically asks a narrower question which is not addressed by the other question. Just my thoughts.
    – AJ Finch
    Jan 14, 2011 at 15:18
  • 1
    Ed01, are you currently activating the autofocus whilst you're in position (using a cable release)? If not that's definitely a good place to start!
    – Matt Grum
    Jan 14, 2011 at 15:32

5 Answers 5


Having taken quite a few self portraits lately, I'd recommend the following...

  • If you're trying for a shallow DoF to blur out the background, increase your aperture to 2.8-3.2 and move further from your background - it'll be it alot easier to nail the focus on your whole face.
  • If you have a face detection in Live Mode, try that.
  • Try setting just the center focus point on the camera and line up on that.
  • Make a mark where you're going to stand, pick an object you're always going to point your body towards. Pick another object you're going to point your head towards, and then look at the camera. Its probably going to take a few tries, so you want to be as consistent as possible.
  • The tip about moving further from the background is a point I often forget
    – Ed01
    Jan 13, 2011 at 16:58
  • Matt's definitely right about the cable release as well. I had kind of assumed thats what was being used, but if not, make sure you are!
    – rfusca
    Jan 14, 2011 at 16:48
  • I have a remote control. Isn't that essentially the same thing?
    – Ed01
    Jan 15, 2011 at 13:30
  • @Ed01 - Yes, it is.
    – rfusca
    Jan 15, 2011 at 14:12

Firstly you need a long enough cable release so that you can activate autofocus whilst seated in your final position (focussing on a surrogate object is not accurate enough with this aperture), without having to stretch out an arm as this will make it difficult to remain still.

Using a bit of trial and error you need to select a focus point that will cover your eye (or whatever you want in focus) having the camera display the focus point on the rear LCD image is good for this. Use your reflection in the lens front element to make sure your head is in the same place each time when finding the right AF point to select.

Finally, persevere as this type of shot is very difficult!


As I have had minimal experience with portraiture myself, and only taking photos of subjects while I am behind the camera, you can take this with the appropriate grain of salt. ;) An off the cuff idea, however, might be to print out a sheet of paper with a scale on it. Perhaps just an inch or centimeter scale with fractional divisions (inches) or millimeters. A 2D scale that covers both dimensions of the page would be best. (If you can throw in a light graph across the whole page that matches your inch or cm marks, that would be ideal.)

Hang this paper on a string or attach it to a small stand, about where you want your head to be. Angle it 45 degrees across the plane of focus. Now you have a specific target to set your focus against. Adjust focus, set the correct aperture, and preview your DOF if your camera allows. Try to keep the middle point of your DOF (the focal plane) centered at the center point on your paper scale. Once your camera is set, it should be simple enough to sit down and position your face right next to the paper (without bumping it). I would try to line up your eyes with the center point of the paper. Once you are situated appropriately, take down the paper, and use a wireless remote shutter release to take your shot.

  • I'm just really going to be surprised if a surrogate of any kind will work for this. At 50mm, f 2.2 (his listed f-stop) and about 4 feet away (a head shot), you've only got a DoF around 2 inches. Thats a very narrow gap to hit. That said, I may try this out just to see.
    – rfusca
    Jan 13, 2011 at 17:53
  • I would be just as surprised to see AF nail it very often, as AF points, even the center point, are "fuzzy" in what they lock onto. Face detection would definitely help, however neither solution is going to be perfect. At least with a surrogate, preferably one on a stable stand, will at least let you SPECIFICALLY set focus exactly where you want it before taking the shot. AF will not be consistently the same. With an accurate surrogate like I've suggested...you can take 5 shots, and move your head a little forward and a little back, and pick the best of them all.
    – jrista
    Jan 13, 2011 at 20:02

I would try the following...

  • Use manual focus
  • stand on a mark
  • shoot, check focus and reshoot

Also, try a smaller aperture - at f/2 the DOF really is very small indeed (as, I guess, you are finding out).


Try placing some tall object, i.e. a lamp, where you plan on standing/sitting. Then, focus on the object, move to your planned position and take the picture. Be sure to have your eye pretty much exactly where the object was.

  • Thats pretty nearly impossible at that shallow of depth of focus - if you tilt your head too much one way or the other, you'll be out of focus (I tried that first). Not having anybody else around means you don't know if you're EXACTLY where the object was.
    – rfusca
    Jan 13, 2011 at 16:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.