How to use back button focusing

  • Today we have Lisa Tichane, Click Pro and joy-filled family photographer, joining us to share just a few of her favorite things.

If you are an active member of the Clickin Moms photography forum, you have probably heard of it several times.

When members are asked what their major AHA moment was, Back Button Focusing is often on top of the list.

It was definitely one of my very own major light-bulb moment when I discovered it.

So what is back button focusing?

It’s a very simple thing that might change the clarity of your images forever.

When you auto-focus with your DSLR default settings, here is how it basically works: you press your shutter half way to auto-focus, and when your focus is OK you press your shutter a second time to take the picture. There is an alternative to this focusing method: you can decide that another button (the famous BBF, or “back button focusing”) will handle your focus.

Depending on your camera, you can use the AF-ON button (this is the one I am using on my Canon 5D MarkII), or the AF-L button for Nikon users, or even the star (*) button.

learn how to use back button focus on your camera

Why would you do that?

Simply because it separates your focusing from your shutter. Instead of asking your index finger to deal with two different things one after the other, you give it one single task (pressing the shutter at the perfect moment) while your thumb will deal with focusing.

There is a debate about BBF. Some have tried it and swear that they don’t see any difference. If you mainly photograph landscape or still life, it’s very likely that BBF won’t change your life. On the other hand, if you are a portrait photographer, and if your model is potentially moving fast (those who have a toddler at home, I can feel your attention growing!!), BBF is probably going to be your best friend.

Let’s try to understand why. Here is an image of my boys being wild and carefree on the beach. They’re happily running towards the lens.

What is back button focusing? Here's everything you need to know!

If you place your focal point on the first boy, press your shutter half way to focus and then press the shutter, there is a fraction of seconds between those two steps. This very short moment can be long enough to let the first boy step out of your focus zone. Especially if you were using a wide aperture, thus having a very shallow depth of field. As a result, you will get an unsharp image.

Fortunately, I was using BBF when I took this image (I use it all.the.time). I was also using a dynamic autofocus mode (Ai-Servo, the equivalent is AF-C if you are a Nikon user). Thus, I kept my thumb on the back button all the time, allowing my camera to continuously autofocus and follow the boy’s movement. When my index hit the shutter, my thumb was still pressing the back button so both actions happened simultaneously. As a result, my focus was spot on.

So BBF will guarantee a more precise focusing with any image involving a fast movement, like Emy flying with her Dad or my kangaroos on the trampoline.

What is back button focusing? Here's everything you need to know!
What is back button focusing? Here's everything you need to know!

This is why BBF is very often used by sports photographers, or wildlife photographers (in order to capture a flying bird for example).

Note: this article is not covering all the aspects leading to sharpness, but don’t forget that to get a crisp image with a fast moving subject you also need a high shutter speed in order to freeze motion, like 1/500s or 1/640s in the two examples above.

Another interest of BBF is that it locks your focus.

If you press your thumb on your back button and release it, your focus won’t change until you press the button again. This is something that I use a lot with my recent self-portrait project.

Let’s look at this image of my sons and me:

What is back button focusing? Here's everything you need to know!

I placed my camera on a tripod in front of my bed. I asked my sons to sit on the bed, and used them as targets to meter and focus. Once my exposure and focus settled, I didn’t touch my camera anymore.

I joined them on the bed (making sure I was standing close to the focal plane they were in when I focused), and the only thing I had to do is snuggle with them and snap away with my remote.

We took a series of 10 images without having to care about anything else than having fun, my focus was locked so I knew it would remain faithfully where I wanted it to be!

How do I start?

How to set BBF depends on your camera, so check your user manual.

On my Canon 5D Mark II menu, it is found in custom function IV (C.FnIV), and I selected the 3rd option (AE Lock/Metering + AF start).

If you are a Nikon user, you should go into your custom settings menu, select A (autofocus), select A5 (AF Activation) and then choose AF-ON only.

For those of you already using BBF and loving it, please share your settings in the comment section of this article to help new users find the right path!

So, now it’s your turn! Switch to BBF and play to your heart’s content. You might need a few days to get used to it, but soon enough you will wonder how you could live without it! I swear it’s worth trying because I’ve been nailing my focus ever since I discovered it.

Happy BBF!

About the Author:

Lisa Tichané is a lifestyle photographer specialized in kids, babies and family photography. Based in France she is also traveling internationally for commissioned advertising projects. Her style is fun, energetic and playful with a touch of mischief. She thrives to capture real life, true joy and wild carefree moments. She is a published author and the instructor of the Capturing Joy online workshop.


  1. Abi Ellson Dec 31 2012 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Thank you for explaining this so clearly – will definitely be giving it a try! Happy New Year x

  2. Courtney D. Dec 31 2012 at 11:44 am - Reply

    This is a great post. I have been using BBF for a couple months now, but this reaffirms that I have been doing it correctly. I was super confused at first on which custom setting to use. I have a Canon 60D and have been using Setting 2 (b/c my thumb seems to be too short to make it past the * for focusing). 😉 What is the reason you chose setting 3? I am trying to figure out what is the best solution and wondering if I should change settings. Also, thanks for showing the example of you and your boys. So often I am behind the camera and my hubby is too scared to pick up my camera for me to be in a picture – I want to get a tripod and remote to try this out. Would you mind sharing how you focused? Did you use the center point focus or did you have it on automatic selection where all focus points are selected? Thanks again for sharing! – Courtney

    • Aga Jan 08 2013 at 5:27 pm - Reply

      Courtney, I also have canon 60d and was wondering about which setting I should use. Does the setting 2 work for you?? I’m not sure how to check which one is correct.

  3. Kim Dec 31 2012 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Thank you for your article! I have a question. In the image of the boy running towards you… You press the back button let’s say setting the focus point on him – then hold it down as he comes toward you and you snap your pictures. He’s moving – do you have to keep the focus point held on the same point on him as he moves? Does that make sense?

  4. Shannon Dec 31 2012 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Thank you! I am constantly moving while Photographing children. I am excited to try this out!!

  5. Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Dec 31 2012 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Thank you all <3

    @Courtney D. : setting #3 is for the 5D Mark II body, but menus are not always the same from one camera body to another, so I don't want to give you the wrong advice for your 60D. I hope a 60D user will pop in 😉
    Regarding focusing, I always use single point focusing, and I toggle my focal points to choose the one that will fit my composition needs.

    @Kim: Yes, you are perfectly right! I follow his movement, making sure that my focal point remains on him all the time to ensure perfect focus when I press the shutter 🙂

    • Courtney D. Dec 31 2012 at 3:03 pm - Reply

      Thanks Lisa. I find it had to do the single point focus when photographing my moving boys. I can’t seem to keep it on the point I want it to. Maybe I need to increase my shutter speed. I will play around with it. Thanks again for your advice and for responding! 🙂 Happy New Year!

  6. Julie Dec 31 2012 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    On the D3100 you press the menu , and go into the setup menu. Then scroll down to Buttons, AE-L/AF-L button and then AF-ON and press okay. Then your back button focusing is on.
    Hope that is clear enough 🙂
    Just switched my on and It will take some getting use to but I’m always willing to try new things 🙂

  7. Linda Graham Dec 31 2012 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Do you use AF-S or AF-C. Or do you change between them
    Depending on what you are shooting?

  8. Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Dec 31 2012 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much Julie for sharing!!

    @Linda: I always use Ai-Servo (the equivalent of AF-C) when there is fast movement involved, but I will change it for still portraits.

  9. jennifer Dec 31 2012 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    Thank you for these tips Lisa! Love your work!! <3

  10. mommaceleste (Celeste Pav) Dec 31 2012 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Great tutorial Lisa! I love using BBF and cannot see myself going back! Your pic shares are so fun.

  11. Britneye Ladner Dec 31 2012 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    Thank u so much! For more on settings (especially 60D) look here:

    • Courtney D. Dec 31 2012 at 3:04 pm - Reply

      Thank you! This is how I have mine set, so I am feeling good about the setting I chose. Much appreciated!

  12. Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Dec 31 2012 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for your sweet words <3

  13. Kaylin Dec 31 2012 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Lisa, is that your house?! Gorgeous!

  14. CGR Dec 31 2012 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this great post! I’ve been wanting to try this all year! Playing around with it today- it seems you press AF-ON to lock and then HOLD it down while snapping the shutter. Maybe I set it up the wrong way. Is this correct? You hold the back button the whole time you want to stay locked on the subject? Because then I don’t understand how you were able to do the remote shots (which are AWESOME, I’m never in any pictures and all attempts are out of focus). 🙂

    Thanks again and a very Happy New Year!

  15. Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Dec 31 2012 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    @CGR: You don’t need to hold it down unless you want to constantly refocus (if your subject is moving for example). On a still subject, you just need to press the button, release it, and your focus will remain locked where it is 😉
    Thank you for your kind words <3

  16. sarah c. Dec 31 2012 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    Great article, Lisa!

  17. CGR Dec 31 2012 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Oh that makes sense! Thank you so much Lisa! You’re awesome! Really hoping this will help me achieve some of my 2013 photography goals (I have a 2 & 3 yr old- so YES I’m sure BBF will help!). Many thanks!

  18. Solene Dec 31 2012 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much lisa for sharing this. It will be of a great help !!

  19. Julie Dec 31 2012 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    thank you for a great article! Just figured out how to set my camera & experimented a bit. I think I like it already! Can’t wait to get out & practice with this my kids.

  20. Rachel Dec 31 2012 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this great article! I am excited to try this. I noticed that when I do this, I am unable to select a focus point, is that correct? Should my AF Selection Point be set to Auto Select instead of my usual manual setting? I hope that made sense!

    Thanks again!

  21. Karen O Dec 31 2012 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    This is a GREAT explanation!! Do you get good results with BBF while Shooting wide open? What is widest open you suggest?

  22. Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Jan 01 2013 at 4:07 am - Reply

    Thank you all <3

    @Rachel: something should be wrong with your settings then. I use BBF and toggle my focal points at the same time, so you should be able to select yours. Did you find a solution?
    @Karen O.: if you combine BBF and toggling your focal points, you should be able to nail your shots at any aperture, including the widest. It's a little trickier when your subject is in fast movement though, I generally avoid shooting wide open with wild toddlers 🙂

  23. Vanessa Jan 01 2013 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    So much easier to understand than I thought, thanks for this!

    • Leslie L Jan 06 2013 at 10:09 am - Reply

      I agree! It was WAY easier than I thought it would be, once I figured out how to set it on my camera, and it works SO great. I love it!!!

  24. Rachel Jan 01 2013 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the reply, Lisa! I have my settings on the custom function #3 that says: AE/AF, no AE lock. I think that’s the right one, right? I shoot with Canon. I just needed to play around with it. I will still always focus on the eye closest to me, correct? However, if the subject moves a bit and if I’m using the BBF, then they should still have sharp/in focus eyes, correct?

    Thanks again for this article. I think I’m gonna love this, but just getting used to it will take some practice.

  25. Rachel Jan 01 2013 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    ps…I love your work and am now following you on FB. Thanks!

  26. Lexi Jan 01 2013 at 11:05 pm - Reply

    I use back-button focusing for nearly EVERY picture I take since most of my images involve children. I swear by it! Unfortunately, I used it so much that my button is now stuck and I have to send in my camera to be repaired:(

  27. Courtney Kirkland Jan 02 2013 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    I’ve been shooting for years and never really “got” BBF because no one ever explained it in a way that made sense. This makes perfect sense, so I’ll definitely give it a shot and see if I can tell the difference. I have friends who swear by it and I’ve always wondered if it was all they swore it was.

  28. Catherine Heyres Jan 03 2013 at 12:32 am - Reply

    Thank you for the clear explanation! I know I should try BBF since I keep hearing awesome things about it, I was just scared to leave my focus/recompose rut. I’m going to go set this up on my camera right now 🙂

  29. Natalie Jan 03 2013 at 12:42 am - Reply

    I have tried bbf but always have trouble. This explanation makes me want to try again but I’m still confused. Especially when it comes to using it to lock focus. Once it is locked if I move myself in any way do I have to refocus? If so then how is that better than just using your shutter button?

  30. Monica Jan 03 2013 at 8:52 am - Reply

    This is a very clear, helpful tutorial, Lisa! Thank you! Re self portraits, will the focus stay locked with any remote? I read in some tutorials to focus on something, then switch your lens to manual focus so that it will not re-focus. But your way sounds MUCH easier! Also BTW, I love your work!

  31. Miss B. Jan 05 2013 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    I love learning new ‘tricks’, thank you! The photo of the boys running in caps is magic!

  32. Tish Jan 06 2013 at 12:27 am - Reply

    This is a fabulous article! Thank you so much. I’ve only just recently even heard of BBF and am looking forward to practicing it! I already think I’m going to love it!

  33. Lisa Benemelis Jan 06 2013 at 2:27 am - Reply

    This is a wonderful tutorial, Lisa, thank you. I love BBF and now I should take another step forward and take some pictures with me in the frame with my children. 🙂

  34. Deanie Swynnerton Jan 06 2013 at 11:44 am - Reply

    Thanks for a great tutorial. I have the Nikon D5100. I have set it to AF-ON in the Controls menu and providing I keep my thumb pressed on the AE-L/AE-F button, after I have focused, it does what it is supposed to do. If I however take my thumb off to recompose as you do with your Canon, the shutter button won’t even click! I think this is how it is meant to work, but it would be interesting if there were any other D5100 users out there trying BBF in this way. Then again, please help if I am doing it wrong! Thanks again.

  35. Emily Jan 06 2013 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    I am almost embarrassed to admit that after years and years of practicing photography, I only recently discovered the amazing benefits of back button focusing. It works wonders when photographing my energetic five year old, lol.

  36. Lauren Jan 07 2013 at 10:09 am - Reply

    I have fallen in love with BBF! But I know I still have lots to learn…even after reading this I learned to capture movement I should hold down my thumb while simultaneously holding the shutter, I can’t wait to keep practicing! I just like how I can focus and re-position my camera so quickly and not worry about pushing down the shutter to loose focus!

  37. Phyllis Jan 07 2013 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing the great tip! I was a little skeptical but I gave it a shot while my toddler and husband were outside. Needless to say it worked! Love this blog and love the helpful insights for mamarazzis 🙂

  38. Sara Jan 07 2013 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    @Deanie: try this website – – they have a video tutorial for your camera. I believe you have to set the autofocus priority selection to “release,” telling your camera to release the shutter even if it thinks you are not in focus.

  39. Laura Froese Jan 09 2013 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    This article is gradually helping me further grasp BBF. Thank you! One thing that I don’t get is, when I use it on a stationary object or person for practice, the red square flashes on my screen until the AF finally locks on the subject, at which point the square turns green and the camera (Canon T3i) beeps. This process takes my camera a long time. Not ages or anything, but if I was shooting someone moving fast, it would never be able to sufficiently lock on. I would have to have them stand still, hold down the back button with my thumb, wait until the AF found them(i.e. the square turns green), and THEN tell them to move. After which point, it would be fine and work as described above. Am I doing something wrong?

    • Mandi Oct 16 2016 at 11:45 am - Reply

      Did you ever get an answer to this? I’m dealing with the same thing now.

    • Amber Oct 21 2018 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      @laura – are you in ONE SHOT or AI SERVO mode? I believe if you’re hearing a beep when it focuses, you are in one shot mode. For moving subjects, AI SERVO is better. It constantly tracks the moving subject. Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but that is my understanding of these two modes.

  40. Liz Godfrey Jan 09 2013 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    Fantastic article, I really enjoyed reading it & can’t wait to try BBF. I do have one technical question though – I’m sure the answer is staring me in the face but for some reason I need some hand holding for this one. 🙂 I also have a Canon 5d Mark ii – just getting to know it — when I choose Custom FN IV and press Set, it then gives me a list (0: Normal; 1: Image Quality; 2: Picture Style……etc) What do I do from this point? Sorry, am a bit lost. Many thanks again & can’t wait to try this out once I get my camera set up.

  41. victoria Jan 11 2013 at 2:13 am - Reply

    I’m sure it’s beautiful!!

  42. Liz Godfrey Jan 11 2013 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Hi Again! I finally figured out what I was doing wrong in setting up my camera functions. So please disregard my earlier comment. I can’t wait to experiment with BBF now. Many thanks again & fantastic advice!

  43. susan ramos Jan 11 2013 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    Lisa this is a fabulous tutorial. The most simple but perfect one I’ve seen – thank you for taking the time to do it. Your images are always so beautiful!

  44. valerie Jan 12 2013 at 9:44 am - Reply

    great article Lisa!!! I love BBF, from the moment I tried it!!

  45. Yessica Schessler Jan 16 2013 at 11:53 am - Reply

    If you have a D7000 here is how to do it: Back Button Focus on a Nikon D7000

    1) You need to assign the AE-L, AF-L button (yes, that button that you’ve never used before and always wondered what it does) on the back of the camera to be AF-On. To do this, go to your camera menu and look in the custom setting menu (the pencil). In the custom setting menu, go to Controls, and then choose F5 “Assign AE-L/AF-L button.” Within this menu, choose “AF-On.”
    2) Now you need to set up the camera so it will take a picture even when focus has not been achieved. This is preferable in most situations because you may have focused and recomposed the shot. To do this, go to your Custom Setting Menu and choose Autofocus. Within this menu, select A1 “AF-C priority selection” and set it to “release.” Then set AF-S priority selection to “release” as well.

    • Erin Jan 24 2013 at 10:34 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for posting this! I have a D5000, but it was almost exactly the same. Thanks again!

  46. Deanie Swynnerton Jan 19 2013 at 6:59 am - Reply

    Sara, thanks for pointing me to that video. In it, the gentleman said you could take your finger off the AE-L/AF-L button and provided you stayed the same distance away from your model, you could recompose quite happily. However, on my Nikon D5100 I still wasn’t able to do this. So….

    I decided to try an experiment. I used BBF to obtain focus. Then, whilst still keeping the button depressed, I switched to Manual focus on the lens, (rather fiddly – have to get used to it), and then took my thumb off the AE-L/AF-L button and pushed the shutter button on its own – BINGO! I was able to click click click to my hearts content, and recompose, provided I didn’t change my distance from my subject (as mentioned in the video). I think this would work particularly well for portraits/still subjects. I think this could just be my Aha moment??!! Thank you.

  47. Maureen Petru Feb 01 2013 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Lisa – I just had to find this post and jump back on here to thank you! I tried and tried BBF. I read 5 to 6 articles on it from good sources that I usually turn to for tutorials. But it was not until I read your tutorial that I finally got it! I always pushed the button once and let go. Since I am mostly shooting children, I was lucky to MAYBE get one shot in focus. None of the articles I previously read explained that you need to HOLD the button down if your subject is moving. With a month’s practice, I am now comfortable using BBF and just wanted to hop back and let you know!

  48. Mireia Feb 02 2013 at 3:23 am - Reply

    Hello, anyone with a canon 5d mark III???? I’m trying and I’m not sure I’ve found the right way..settings are very different from Mark II!!!

    • Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Feb 03 2013 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      @Mireia and all of the MarkIII users:
      Here is my step by step to setting BBF on the AF-ON button:
      1. Go to your custom controls menu, and assign your shutter to the second option “metering start” (only) instead of the default setting which is “metering and AF start” (because if you keep it on the default setting, each time you will press your shutter half way it will launch the AF).
      2. The second button in your cutom controls menu is the AF-ON, I have mine set on the first option (metering and AF start).
      Hope that helps 🙂

  49. Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Feb 03 2013 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Thank you SO much everyone for the amazing comments <3 And a huge thank you to you all who shared their settings and advice, it's highly appreciated!!

  50. Emily Schebesta Feb 17 2013 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    I am excited to try this technique! Also to experiment with Ai-Servo as I’ve not really used it much.

    I’ve been using a back button (the star*) to lock exposure when I’m shooting in Av mode (5DmkII) but I’m working on switching to using Manual a lot more often. Any thoughts about having one button for each? Is this too much for one thumb to keep track of?? : )

  51. Krista Frohlich Feb 19 2013 at 12:05 am - Reply

    This is such a great explanation. I’ve been using this on a 5d Mark II for about 6 months and love the BFF. It took a week to get used to it but I swear by it now. Thanks for the great article!

  52. Jennifer Feb 19 2013 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    I’ve been meaning to try this…I’ve read a bunch of explanations BBF and yours was by far the best. I better attend one of you Breakouts! Thank you! 🙂

  53. Jorge Morales Feb 23 2013 at 10:33 am - Reply

    I don’t catch it.

    What’s the advantade of BBF in the first example (children running towards camera) if you set the AI servo option?? AI Servo runs while you press half way the shutter button; and when you get the moment, you just have to press it a second time. This way you have not to manage TWO buttons…

    • Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Feb 23 2013 at 11:48 am - Reply

      Hi Jorge. The advantage of BBF here is that you focus and press the shutter simultaneously, therefore ensuring the most perfect focus possible. If you do it the way you suggest, there is a very small delay between the moment you focus and the moment you press the shutter. If your focal plane is shallow (if you use a large aperture, for example), this small moment can be long enough for your subject to step out of the focal plane.
      Hope that helps!

      • Richard Apr 15 2013 at 2:38 pm - Reply

        Assuming you have focusing set to the shutter button I think AI Servo focuses all the time even if you press the shutter button all the way down. At least in continuos shooting mode so why not in single shot mode as well. So BBF doesn’t offer any real advantage in this situation.

  54. Albert Feb 24 2013 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    The thing that I don’t understand about BBF is that using it for portraits. Let say if you are using a fast prime indoor with aperture wide opened at F/1.4 or F/1.8. The DOF will probably be probably be anywhere from 1/2 inch or at most an inch. In your last example, self-portrait with your two sons, will not any movement, like snuggling with your sons and having fun with them, move the subjects out of focus? Or if you hand held the camera and use BBF, will not recomposing in between shots also move the subjects out of focus? How is it possible to use wide open prime and BBF without changing the distance between the object and the camera while recomposing? Thank you!

    • Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Feb 26 2013 at 6:01 am - Reply

      When handholding your camera, you can keep your BBF pressed the whole time, thus re-focusing every time you move your frame. That way, your focus will always be acurate. If you shoot wide open, I would suggest toggling your focal points, in order to be sure that the active focal point will be placed on the eye of your subject when you press your BBF and shutter.
      Regarding the self-portrait issue, you are absolutely right, the slightest movement can result in an OOF image. Which is why I would not recommend using a very wide aperture for self-portraits, unless you are sure that your subject(s) will stay still. I always use the smallest aperture possible (given the lighting situation I am in) and crank my ISO if necessary to get the widest depth of field possible.
      Hope that helps.

  55. Albert Feb 26 2013 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Thank you so much, Lisa! That answered my question. When you said, “When handholding your camera, you can keep your BBF pressed the whole time, thus re-focusing every time you move your frame,” do you mean that you select AI Servo? Else why would the camera re-focus every time you move your frame? If you select one-shot, the focus should be lock when you press BBF.

  56. Amy Dienes Feb 26 2013 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Thanks so much for this article. I use BBF and love it, but I never used the AIServo setting. Looking forward to using it with active toddlers.

  57. LeeAnne Mar 03 2013 at 2:21 am - Reply

    Hi! Your tutorials are great! Do you have some advice for lenses and settings to use with birth photography. I have a Nikon D90 and several lenses but am quite a beginner with manual settings. I took a beginner workshop and learned to take off AUTO and work in Program mode, but when I arrived at the birth i could not get the shutter speed right with the lighting and ended up shooting in Auto most of the time to get the shots I wanted ( there a no second chances!) , but had to use a flash which I don’t want to do. Also the type of focus was off a few times even though i thought i had that set right not to focus on the closest object.
    Ugh. Its easy to take great images of birth, i have been doing it for years with a point and shoot, but I need to learn to get this camera off of AUTO now!
    Suggestions for a beginner??

    • Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Mar 04 2013 at 2:22 am - Reply

      Hi LeeAnne!
      Birth photography often means to deal with low light situation, so I would definitely recommend a prime lens (50mm or 35mm) in order to be able to use wide apertures if the light is missing.
      To learn how to really take control of your camera, I would highly recommend Lynne Rigby’s 101 class. It’s simply amazing! You will learn everything you need to know to shoot in manual mode, and will get out of this workshop feeling empowered! Here is the link if you want to check it out:

  58. ASK Mar 03 2013 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    Hi, LeeAnne, what lenses do you already have? For indoor, low light setting, it helps to have fast prime lenses like F/1.2, F/1.4, F/1.8, or F/2. You may also want to bump up your ISO to allow you to use slower shutter speed. You have to be careful to make sure the DOF is wide enough since if you set it too narrow, it is easy to get blurry shots with all the actions and commotions.

  59. Jorge Morales Mar 04 2013 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    Ok, now I get it! Very very interesting trick!
    Thank U, Lisa!!

  60. Alison Mutton Mar 06 2013 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Brilliant! Will try it tonight. Great post!

  61. Jenn C Mar 08 2013 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    I have four boys. Think it’ll be useful? 😉
    I finally get this – thank you!

  62. Vicki Mar 20 2013 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    I am having the hardest time with the bff.. I am a nikon user and for the life of me I cant figure this out. Am I supposed to keep my finger on the bff the whole time? Because when I take it off it is not working like it did.. I am at a loss. I really want to learn BBF but this is causing me to go back to shooting the other way since I can not get a handle on it.

  63. Erika Mar 23 2013 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    I’ve read this article once before, but read it again just now and decided to give it a try. I’m really excited to see how well I’m able to adjust to using this method with actual people (my daughter is napping right now, which is why I have time to learn!), but I really do think it’s going to change the way I shoot. I shoot a lot of moving babies with my business, so hope BBF will help me keep them in focus better (I used to be a focus and recompose shooter – which obviously doesn’t work well with anything but a still subject).
    I have a D600 and this article helped me get it set up:
    There’s a video listed in that article that helps explain the how and why of BBF too (useful for visual learners like myself!):
    Thanks for a great article!! – Erika

    • Kylie Oct 22 2014 at 12:54 pm - Reply

      This Flickr article is really helpful! I just upgraded to a D600 and this gave me a boost of confidence.

  64. Melissa Mar 29 2013 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    OK, I’m using a Rebel T4i and I have my AI Servo set, I found the custom functions in my menu and have it set on 1:AE Lock/AF. When I depress the shutter half way it no longer focuses so I think my settings are okay – but when I press the AF button or the Star button, I can toggle my points, but the lens doesn’t focus. WHat am I doing wrong? I feel like I’m just missing one step to start figuring this out, but am at a loss?

    • Clickin Moms Apr 03 2013 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      Hi Melissa! Have you double checked your camera manual to see if you have it set up correctly? If so, I would do a google search to see if someone else has had the same trouble or perhaps call Canon to see if they can help you.

    • Clickin Moms Apr 07 2013 at 11:54 am - Reply

      We did some digging, Melissa, and this is what we found…

      “how to turn back button focusing on your Canon T4i (650D)

      Press Menu
      Navigate to last yellow page (Wrench 4)
      Select Custom Functions (C.Fn)
      Navigate to C.Fn IV Operations/Other – Shutter/AE Lock button [6]
      Select Option 3: AE/AF, no AE lock

      This turns the * button into the focus button and the shutter button just meters and take the photo.”

  65. Jamie May 03 2013 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Thanks for this great tutorial. If I use bbf do I still use the shutter to spot meter or is this tied to bbf? I have not been able to figure this out. I have a Nikon d7000. Thanks!

    • Jenn Nov 07 2014 at 9:02 pm - Reply

      I was wondering the same thing. I love the idea of continuous focus but still want my spot meter focus point.

  66. dee May 23 2013 at 8:27 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing. Great tip. I use AI Servo all the time but never thought to use it in conjunction with the BBF. I am sure it will become my BFF! 🙂

  67. Rich Ramirez Jun 10 2013 at 2:39 am - Reply

    I have my Nikon D800 set up to use the AE button with AF-C This way I get the best of both worlds. Focus and release for a stationary shot or hold AE when tracking a moving subject. You mentioned that you took a self portrait this way. How did you do it? also what happens when I use a cable release or a pocket wizard for a remote shot? thanks in advance!

  68. David Jun 24 2013 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    This is by far the best (clearest) explanation I have read – thank you! I’m hoping to use this for concert photography where the artist moves around the stage, so it will be with Servo and my thumb on the AF-On button…

  69. Jeannie Jul 15 2013 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the wonderful explination of BBF!!! I can’t wait to start using it. One of my biggest issues seems to be blur when people are moving. I can’t wait to try this with reception photos. 🙂
    Thanks a million.

  70. Deborah Mathison Jul 20 2013 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Finally! I’ve been taking photos of fast-moving grandchildren using BBF but couldn’t understand why so often their eyes were out of focus even though I was shooting in AF-C (Continuous/Nikon) and my shutter speed was fast. Thank you for pointing out what I was doing wrong: I was pressing the BBF button, focussing on their little faces and then releasing the BBF immediately instead of holding it down until I’d pressed the shutter release. So, I just ran outside and took photos of my golden retrievers (who will always move when they see a ball!). I focused on Coco’s eyes and held down on that BBF until I took the shot. It worked! Here’s a hint: I’ve gone to Playback Menu and checked “Focus Point” so I can toggle up through to a playback screen displaying the red-dot indicator with exact point of focus. Again, thank you!

  71. Cheryl Aug 02 2013 at 10:03 am - Reply

    It just goes to show how you must always open your brain to listen to something new. I have been a photographer for a very long time and rarely venture out of my comfort zone of shooting with what has worked for me for years ~ “if ain’t broke done fix it” my motto. However after reading your blog I became interested to try this BFF feature. Because your explanation was so clear and easily understood, it’s a new day for me! I love this feature and will be using it straight away! Thank you!

  72. Estela Aug 13 2013 at 9:23 am - Reply

    Lisa. I am finding that BBF and toggling your points are contradictory. Examples:

    Still Subject: the benefit of BBF is to lock focus and be able to recompose as many times
    (as long as your distance is the same). But if you are going to be recomposing, then there seems to be no need for toggling points. Just use the middle point to BBF and recompose. Right?

    Moving Subjects: Ai Servo: In this case, you would keep your BBF pressed all the way while panning with your subject and shoot away. Again, you are basically moving your camera with your subject so it seems easy simply to use the middle point to BBF, keep it pressed and do what you explained.

    So my question is: Why would anybody want to toggle points when you focus and recompose. Again, it seems the main benefit of BBF is to be able to more comfortably Focus and recompose so why bother with one more thing: toggling points.

    Can you please explain Lisa.
    Thanks, great article

    • Lisa (Tout Petit Pixel) Aug 15 2013 at 9:25 am - Reply

      Hi Estela,
      I’m not sure I fully understand your question. Focus/recompose and toggling are 2 opposite ways of achieving focus.
      I personally never focus/recompose, because toggling is much more reliable in my opinion. Unless you use a small aperture (and thus have a wide focal plane), when you focus/recompose you have a high risk that your subject will end up out of your focal plane because of the modified distance between your lens and your subject. Let’s say that when you focused with your middle point, and the distance between your subject and your lens was 5 feet. Then you recompose to get a pleasing composition, and to do this, your lens ends up being 5 feet 1 inch away from your subject. 1 inch of difference is enough to get an OOF image if you were using a wide aperture.

      So I always chose a focal point (the one allowing me to place my subject where I want it to be in the frame), place it on my subject, and focus/press the shutter at the same time. That way, I am sure that my focus will be spot on every single time.

      Regarding your specific examples (still subject or moving subject), the other reason why I would not use focus/recompose is that I try to achieve the best composition possible on camera, and placing my subject at the center of my frame is rarely my favorite choice.

      Hope that helps!

  73. Brandy Nov 30 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Hi! This helps me a whole lot! I recently had a session with two toddler girls, so there was a lot of moving and such. So I use a Nikon 50mm 1.8 which firstly is slow when it comes to focusing and every time I focused and recomposed or focused and the child moved, this pictures were completely out of focus! I was so upset with the results of the images.

    Anyways, I have a question! Will I set my camera to AF-A or AF-S to get the results that you described? Also, do I ever have to refocus my camera or do I just get the bbf button pressed the whole time? Thank you!

    I have a Nikon D3000 with a 35mm 1.8 prime (equivalent to a 50mm on my cropped sensor)

  74. Praverb Jan 05 2014 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Awesome tutorial on how to use bbf and why one would use it. I am still figuring out how to select a different focal point without messing up bbf.

  75. Kendra Jul 09 2014 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    I LOVE BBF!!! I learned this about a year ago and it completely changed my images. I borrowed a friend’s camera for a few images and she had it set to not use BBF and i felt completely lost 🙂

  76. Samantha Jul 17 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    I still find I have several soft images despite using BBF :(. Maybe it’s because I’ve used it since almost the beginning and I don’t know how many more soft images I’d have shooting the regular way?

  77. Kelly Jul 21 2014 at 8:33 am - Reply

    I’m going to have to try this. Love learning new things about my camera that I didn’t know before.

  78. Davina Jul 23 2014 at 3:59 am - Reply

    I don’t know what I would do without bbf. It has truly changed my life. Great tutorial!

  79. Kimi Jul 24 2014 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    This is a WONDERFUL tutorial on BBF! Wish I had come across this one first, very easy explanation. I have been using BBF for about a month now and I will NEVER go back.

    I currently shoot w/ a Nikon D90. To make the switch to BBF:

    1. Access your Menu Settings (from back of camera)
    2. Access/select your pencil/edit icon
    3. Access/select “f controls”
    4. Select f4 “Assign AE-L/EF-L Button”
    5. Highlight and select AF-ON

    Happy BBF!! You’re on your way. And if you don’t like it, just switch it back via your menu settings.

  80. krista taylor Jul 24 2014 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    super helpful explanation! thanks 🙂 i’m in the mastering manual class and LOVING it!

  81. Ella Aug 10 2014 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    Hi Lisa, I know this article was written a long time ago but I hope you can still answer. After reading your article, I have been practicing the BBF in AF-C with a Nikon D610. It seems to work when I recompose but I still don’t understand how to ‘toggle’ my focal point to have the subject not in the center. I think you mentioned you toggle your focal point before pressing the BBF and shutter. Could you explain the steps you take in doing it? thank you.

  82. Rene Nov 07 2014 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    If you set your camera up for back button focusing and then you hand your camera to someone that doesn’t know how to use backbutton focusing and your camera is in auto (green button). Does the camera go back to auto focus with he shutter button or do they have to use he back button?

    • April Nienhuis Nov 07 2014 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      Rene, if you put your camera in auto mode, it will change the focus button to the shutter button.

  83. Silvina Jan 27 2015 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Thank you for this great article! I don’t have a reflex but my Canon Powershot G10 have it so I’ll give it a try… I have my manual in my hand 🙂

  84. Sue Jan 29 2015 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Thanks so much for clearing this up! I am gonna try it and see if this improves my action shot focus!

  85. Iris Feb 05 2015 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Marvelous – I will give it a try this weekend!

  86. Laura Feb 20 2015 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    How do I set this on my nikond7000? I’m somewhat new to this and my pictures are not always perfectly in focus. I went to autofocus in my custom setting menu. My a5 says focus point wrap-around no AF activation. I’m so confused….

  87. Kassandra Gris May 10 2015 at 8:01 am - Reply

    Thank you for your tutorial, very good explanation. I am using BBF but I think I make the mistake that the shutter is still working half way to autofocusing. I am trying to change this with your tutorial but in my Canon 5D III firmware 1.3.3 that is the last one, there is no Fv IV 3 option anymore. Instead of this I havein C.Fn2 a Settion called Custom Settings, and there I can personalizy each of the settings. In the Shot Button they give me 3 choices, AF start and AF, AF start and AE lock. In the AF ON button they give me this choices
    – AF start and AF (with the AF symbol)
    – AF lock (with the star symbol)
    – AF OFF
    – FEL (FE lock) I dont know what that it means
    – AE lock mantein (with the star and a H symbol)
    – OFF

    I would think I should choose from the AF ON the AF start and AF lock at the same time, but it seems to me that I dont have this option.
    Does it have sense? Would love your help in this. Thanks!

  88. Charlotte May 10 2015 at 8:57 am - Reply

    Great article!
    I have been using shutter-button focus for, well, as long as I can remember. I recently purchased a Nikon d750 and thought I’d give back button focus a try. I haven’t looked back, I will never look back. I predominantly photograph children so BBF gives me so much more control.
    I am shocked at how quickly I naturally moved to BBF, and take this as a sign that it was the right move 🙂

  89. Danie Jun 16 2015 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    It’s the only way to go!

  90. Jen Reimer Sep 02 2015 at 3:19 am - Reply

    Great arcticle — thank you so much! You mentioned in one of the comments that you toggle through focus points when using BBF… just to be clear, you can’t do these 2 things simultaneously, correct? You would have to stop focus by lifting your finger from the AF-ON button, re-select your focus point, and then initiate focus once again by depressing the BBF. Is that right? Just trying to wrap my head around this whole thing…. Thanks so much!!

  91. Umesh Bhatikar Oct 20 2015 at 12:33 pm - Reply


    Thanks for explaining BBF so well; however, I have the following questions:

    1. If AF-C is selected and after using BBF for a still subject, the camera is moved for recomposing(after releasing the AE(L)/AE(F) button, if I have understood the technique correctly), will the relative motion between the camera and the still subject make the focus unlock? This obviously won’t happen if AF-S is selected.

    2. What is the significance of the shutter release priority selection(Release or Focus) when AF-C is selected and BBF is being used to track a moving subject by keeping the button pressed?


  92. Rebecca Henasey Nov 10 2015 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    I started using AF-c / 3d tracking mode on my D800 with the back button focus… I can’t believe I didn’t discover 3D mode sooner!

  93. Nikki Jo Jan 26 2016 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been using BBF for a while now, but just started to spot meter as I learn how to better achieve correct exposure in camera. How am I able to use BBF and spot metering? I shoot with a Nikon D7000 and use my AF-L button for BBF.
    Thank you!!!

  94. Mallory Oct 19 2017 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the great article. Which setting do you use for your focal point? My canon gives me several different choices (manual, zone, expanded zone, etc). Just wondering if a more narrow, precise focal point works better with BBF than a wider zone selection. If that makes sense.

  95. Barbara Metcalf Jun 20 2018 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been using BBF for a while, but I don’t use AI servo mode. I wondered if the BBF would continue to focus or just lock focus when I pressed it. Now I know to continue holding it!

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