I've been experimenting with street photography lately and - while I'm getting some decent shots - my biggest pain point is staying in focus. For example: With the following subject, I nailed a pretty interesting low-movement shot because it was easy - she was staying still. But then I said something stupid and missed a great opportunity with the following one despite trying to half-press the trigger to focus in the moment. I have set the camera to use single-point (center) focus so I can be more precise with my focusing.

In-focus, low-movement Damnit!

I think my options are

  1. Use a more narrow aperture and say goodbye to that sweet, sweet bokeh, but also manage decreased shutter speed so then I get motion blur instead of focus blur!
  2. Shift to shutter-speed priority, increase the speed, and up the ISO, perhaps introducing grain
  3. Get better at using focus (somehow)

What are some other options/techniques that I can employ to more consistently nail those in-motion shots with this lens?

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    I find even for moving shots that my back-button (plus continuous) focus is still more useful than shutter button focus. But that could just be me. It is something you could experiment with, though. Mar 21, 2016 at 17:17
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    As a side note: if you're shooting street photography, you rarely want to have a wide open aperture. That said, you're shooting in a dark place here so sometimes you have no choice. Mar 21, 2016 at 19:36
  • @lidocaineus not to sidetrack - but why is that? I should also clarify that by "street photography" I mean "candid portraits of random people on the street". I should also tell you that I am a bokeh addict and undergoing treatment. Mar 21, 2016 at 19:57
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    Traditionally, street photography is done at closed down apertures. This is because normally you do not have time to focus down to very specific points because stuff on the street moves extremely fast and the (to use an overused term) decisive moment will literally last less than half a second (if that). Secondly street photography is all about context, so large DOFs are very desirable and bokeh is not. Note that what you described is more portraiture, not street photography, so this might not apply; if that's true, for future reference you may want to more accurately convey your genre. Mar 21, 2016 at 20:55

2 Answers 2


For the best chance of getting sharp shots with a MOVING subject, typically you should use continuous AF (AI Servo on Canon), coupled with continuous shooting mode (to capture multiple shots so you can choose the best one later). Up to you if you want to use single focus point or auto focus point - they both will work if there is nothing between you and the subject to worry about. However, for portraits, it's more accepted to use a single focus point ... placed over the eye nearest the camera.

For a STILL subject, "One Shot" focus mode should work fine (not AI Servo). And it's your choice if you also want to use continuous shooting to get multiple shots.

In either case, the depth of field will be extremely narrow at 1.8 aperture, and it's very easy to get misfocus if you move the camera off plane even slightly. For such a narrow depth of field, you should continue using a single focus point (as you stated in your comments), and get the single focus point over the eye closest to the camera. Additional things that help with sharp focus is your camera holding technique, steady hand, steady base, smooth shutter press, etc.

I agree with Harry's comment that photo #2; however, does not suffer from a missed focus point. If you were using single focus point and missed focus - SOMETHING in the shot would be in focus - just not the thing you wanted. In photo #2, the entire picture is out of focus. Even with a narrow aperture of 1.8 and you missed her eyes for some reason ... her nose or face or hair, something would be in focus. With the entire picture out of focus, something else must have happened to change the focus significantly. Maybe you have a lens that allows full-time manual focusing, and you bumped or turned the focus ring significantly before taking the 2d picture.

In direct response to your listed alternatives, you should be well able to get sharp pictures, with great bokeh at wide apertures. Portrait photogs make their living with this type of setup. The wide aperture will also give you a relatively faster shutter speed, depending on your lighting situation. So, I don't think #1 or #2 are the best options. #3 is where you should focus (oops, no pun intended). Use Aperture priority (up the ISO as needed if you don't like the shutter speed the camera provides) and improve your technique with focusing and camera holding.

  • Wow! Thank you. I think what happened with the second one is that I focused at the moment that she was bent over towards the camera, and then this is her straightening back up as the shutter clicked. Focusing effectively seems like a skill that could take a LONG time to master - I need to learn how to use AI Servo for sure. Thanks for the tips. Mar 21, 2016 at 19:22

On moving targets, using a half press to autofocus is likely to cause the out-of-focus effect, as it increases the delay between focusing and the shutter activation. On most cameras, just pushing the shutter release all the way in will focus, and then immediately take the photo - making it more likely that you'll be correctly focused on a moving target.

Some cameras may have a "continuous AF" mode, which may work better for you (personally, I find it's worse)

A narrower aperture will help with focus issues, when the focus misses slightly - but picture 2 is way off, it wouldn't fix that problem.


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