Am I in focus?

mbfitzmahan. 2017. In focus?

I used to chant to my high school students, who were easily distracted,  “Focus, focus, focus.” One of my Polish students protested, “Ms. Fitz, I AM fuckist!” Many years later, I still say to my self, “fuckis, fuckis, fuckis.”

Just as my photos may sometimes be out of focus, so may be my hours in the day.  

mbfitzmahan. 2015. Shauna.

I like the Japanese kanji for mindfulness – 念 (nen).It is made of  今 – now,  and 心 – heart or spirit.  Now-spirit.

I will nudge my SPIRIT to focus on the NOW.

Sometimes I look at my latest piece of photography and say, “Ach!  This photo is horrible. It’s out of focus, the lighting is terrible, the composition is all wrong.”

We photographers are an insecure bunch.

This may be why photographers like to buy new cameras, new lenses, new how-to books, watch how-to Youtube videos, buy new photo accessories.  Of course, if I buy a new and better camera,  I’ll be a new and better photographer.   Right?

mbfitzmahan. 2006. Romania.

The truth is that with my really fancy Fujjfilm X-T1, I should be able to make a great picture all of the time.  Shouldn’t I?

For that matter, I should be able to make a great photo with my iPhone. (Isn’t that what Steve Jobs would say?)

It is the human curse.  Never quite happy.  Never at peace.


For a photographer, learning how to focus an image on the camera is not as easy as it sounds. Or, as easy as you’d like it to be.

Take time to take the photo.  S T O P   Take time to take that photo.  You are serious.  You are trying to produce a piece of art.

Do you know how to use your camera?  Seems obvious, but, in fact,  there are many factors that can lead to a fuzzy photo.  Let’s look at some of the easiest factors to fix.


I do not scoff at the iPhone.  I’ve taken some great photos with my iPhone.  Many of my train photos in Japan were taken on an iPhone.  Inconspicuous, a small pretend-to-be-a-phone camera can be a great tool.

mbfitzmahan. 2013. Nagoya, Japan. Commuting. iPhone 4.

If you have a recent iPhone, you have a decent lens.  However, getting the focus right on such a small camera can be challenging.

  1. Clean the lens.  You know, that tiny round lens on the back of the phone. Have you ever cleaned it?  Clean it now with a soft cloth.
  2. Stand very still.  Especially in low light.
  3. Know how to use the focus.
    1. Set the focus.  To set the focus on the iPhone camera, tap the screen where your subject is in the frame. A small yellow square will appear to confirm the focus point.
    2. No zoom.  Don’t use the zoom.  On an iPhone, you can zoom by pinching or expanding two fingers on the screen. This is not real! The picture is merely being cropped as you zoom in. This means that your photo will become more and more out of focus, the more you zoom in.
    3. Not too close.  You can get within 2 inches, no closer.  If you are too close, the photo will be out of focus.
mbfitzmahan. 2008. Pisa, Italy.  Admiring the art.


  1. Clean lens.
  2. Stand still.
  3. Know how to use the focus on your camera.
    1. Manual focus.  If you have manual focus, you will have more control over your focus.  Admittedly, if you are taking photos of rapidly moving subjects, like my 2 year old grandsons, using the automatic focus may be a better choice.
    2. Diopter. Do you have a diopter on your viewfinder?  I know!  What?  You may need to get out your manual.  On the side of your eyepiece is a small wheel to adjust the focus of your eyepiece in accordance to your vision.  Adjust that little wheel for your eyes.
    3. Viewfinder.  Are you using the viewfinder?  (Canon and Nikon)  In my experience, it is better to use the viewfinder for larger DSLR cameras.
    4. LCD window. Are you using the LCD window to focus?  You know,  that little window in the back where you review your photos after you take them?  Well, you can focus using that window, like you do for an iPhone camera.  Honestly, until recently this was not the best way to get a sharp focus.  But, my Fujifilm X-T1 camera takes very sharp photos when focusing using this LCD tool.
    5. Practice.  Be very critical of your photos.  Are they in sharp focus?  If not, why not.

If you have trouble, send me your questions.  Let’s see if I can help you get in focus.

Focus, focus, focus.


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