Focus and Recompose, or The Two Step Shutter: How it can Improve your Photos :: Digital Photo Secrets

Focus and Recompose, or The Two Step Shutter: How it can Improve your Photos

by David Peterson 3 comments

Have you ever pressed your camera’s shutter button, only to find that it stops somewhere in the middle? The shutter button might seem uncomplicated, but there’s a lot more going on under the hood than you might think. Most newer digital cameras have a two step shutter button that’s designed to help you with focusing and framing your image. It also helps you get rid of shutter lag. It’s time to unravel the mystery behind your shutter button. Let’s take a more detailed look at what it does.

How does a two step shutter button work?

'Two step shutter' is also called 'prefocus' by some camera manufacturers.

The extra step in the two step shutter was designed to give people a little bit of preparation before ultimately snapping the photo. If taking a picture is like playing football, then pressing halfway down on the shutter button is like getting together for a huddle. Your camera figures out where you want to focus and primes itself for the shot. That way, when you finally do press the shutter button all the way down, your subject will already be in focus.

The two step shutter also eliminates a common problem most photographers have. It’s called shutter delay, and it’s what happens when you press the shutter button down but the camera doesn’t take a picture. By preparing your camera to take the photo, the two step shutter decreases the time between the final button press and the shutter release. It means you take the shot exactly when you want to take the shot and not a few seconds later.

It’s hard to capture expressions like this child’s face when you don’t have a quick and responsive shutter.

In many ways, the two step shutter came about because of autofocusing lenses. If your lens doesn’t autofocus, you don’t really have a need for a two step shutter because you’ve already set the focus by adjusting the focus ring. When autofocus lenses were invented, camera makers wanted there to be a quick and natural way for photographers to focus on their subjects using the camera’s autofocus. Hence the two step shutter was born.

What can you do with a two step shutter?

The key to using a two-step shutter is learning how to pre-focus on your subject. When you have a camera with a two step shutter, you can press the shutter button halfway down to focus on your subject, hold the shutter button halfway down until you get your opportunity, and then press the shutter button all the way down when it’s time to take your photo.

However, the best way to use the two step shutter is to focus on part of a scene, reframe the shot so you can get a nice looking composition using the rule of thirds, and then press the shutter button all the way down to take the photo when you’re ready. The rule of thirds is a powerful yet simple guide for taking great photos. As long as you remember to place your main subject in one of the four thirds (bottom right, bottom left, top right, top left), you’re far more likely to create a visually appealing image.

You can press the shutter button halfway down to pre-focus on the boy, then reframe the shot (in this case, move the camera to the left) to give the boy space to look into. The camera will keep it's focus in the same place, so the boy will still be in focus.

Do point-and-shoot cameras feature a two step shutter?

Of course they do! Pretty much every camera has one these days. Even your smart phone camera has one (although it's operation is slightly different. You touch the part of the screen that you want to focus on).

Got any questions about two step shutters? Have you tried to use yours but somehow can’t it to work? Let me know with your comments or emails, and I’m happy to help you out.

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  1. AAI says:

    Is this how AE Lock works? I just recently learned about photography. Thanks.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.