Photography Cheat Sheet: Choosing the Right Autofocus Point

Your camera’s autofocus mode will give the best results if you know which autofocus point to use for what you’re shooting. This photography cheat sheet will show you how.

The autofocus mode is certainly a blessing for many photographers, especially those starting out. To provide the best results out of this mode, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are equipped with AF focus point options, which allow users to set the focus on their subjects. However, we can see why this can be intimidating to explore for beginners. (What, more settings to fiddle around with? I just want to shoot!) This is where today’s photography cheat sheet will be especially useful.

The photography cheat sheet below by Digital Camera World (which we spotted on this blog) explains the different focus points at your disposal when shooting in autofocus mode. It also tells you which focus point option is best to use based on what you are trying to capture. So, make sure you keep a copy of this cheat sheet for your next practice!

This cheat sheet features the AF focus point options found in Nikon DSLR cameras, but the principle still applies to other models from other brands. They may have a different number of AF points, but the concept stays the same.

Auto Area AF mode is best used for snapshots, as you’re letting the camera decide what to focus on. It will use all its focus point to capture either the object nearest to the camera, or, in newer models, any face it detects in the scene. You can use this one if you’re just starting out, but be aware that it can also focus on the wrong object.

If your scene calls for precision, the Single-point AF (51 points) is your best bet, especially if you’re not rushing shots. You set the focus point yourself, so you have the most control with this option. This is best for relatively static subjects, like shooting portraits, flat lays, or product photos. However, if you want to further simplify your interface or you’re shooting a simple scene, you can restrict the AF points to 11 so you can select your desired focus point faster.

For action shots and moving subjects, you have three options for Dynamic area AF: nine points, 21 points, and 51 points. In the first option, you still manually select the focus point, but the surrounding AF points serve as backups to ensure your subject stays in focus even if it moves slightly further from your chosen AF point. It offers the greatest accuracy if you can follow your subject. However, for erratic action, you can opt for the 21-point option instead. The third option allows you to use all the focus points of your camera’s Dynamic area AF mode, which comes in handy if you want to retain your framing while shooting a moving subject.

If you’re planning to shoot a lot of action shots, you may also find this cheat sheet for staying sharp for action shots useful.

Want more tips and tricks like this? Make sure to check out our growing collection of photography cheat sheets as well!