Photo Tip Friday - What is a Focal Point and Depth of Field? Part 1

by Mary Denman

Learning about a focal point
Have you ever wondered why some of your shots come out blurry where you don't want them and in focus on the wrong part? 

Today, I'm going to help you understand what a focal point is and learn how to control where it is. 

Next Friday, we'll go over what depth of field is in a picture and how the focal point and depth of field interact. 

Let's get started learning how the focal point can impact your shots. 

Mary Denman Photography
In this first photograph, I bent down to the level of the tulips. This provided a great perspective to show the rows and rows of flowers. But I had to decide on a focal point. So I picked the orange flower in the front to focus on. 

How can you control this? By depressing your shutter release button halfway down. You will then see the red dot(s) on your screen, or in your view finder, which show you where the camera is focusing. 

To create the above shot, I focused my camera on the orange flower in front, then held the shutter release halfway down which locked in the focal point. Then, I reframed the picture so the tulip I wanted clear was in the foreground, with the rest of the flowers blurred in the background. 

Mary Denman Photography
In the next picture, I focused the camera on the tulips much further back.

Can you see the incredible difference? For those of you who already understand depth of field, I maintained an aperture of f/5 for both shots. Next week, I'll explain aperture and f-stops and how to create depth of field. 

Notice that these two pictures were taken of the same flowers. The orange and yellow tulips that are clear in the first picture are in the same place in the second shot. They're just completely blurry. This is why focal points matter and can create such different shots if you can learn to use it. 

Here's another example. 

Mary Denman Photography

Sometimes you need to just play around with a focal point to find a good one for a particular shot. I focused on the orange group of tulips in the front. It wasn't the shot I really wanted. But I kept it to show you. 

Mary Denman Photography

Then, I moved in a little and focused on the two tulips to the right. Because they're separated from the daffodils behind them, they make a better focal point. 

What's the big tip? The focal point of your picture is the part that you want to make sure is clear. You can control your focal point by learning to depress your shutter release halfway down and locking the focal point where you want. You can then reframe your shot. 

For cell phone users: Controlling your focal point is done by tapping on the screen where you want the phone to focus. And guess what? On my iPhone 4s, I can hold the point where I want it to focus and it turns on focus lock! It takes a bit of playing around to get used to it, but try it on your phone! 

For bloggers: I have some questions for you today. I would love to know how my tips can help you more. 

Would it be helpful to try and get you to think of posts inspired by the pictures I use to teach with? Or give you ideas you could use? Or, would it be helpful to offer pictures that you could use for your own blog? 

I know a lot of writers (bloggers) are creative and are pretty good photographers. So, I'd really like to hear from you. 

Join me next week for Part 2 - Understanding Depth of Field.

Hope these tips help!

Keep on clicking!



What is a Focal Point in Photography? It makes a big difference!  (click to tweet)


  1. When you say you "reframe your shot", does that mean you move to another place?

    As for the tips, I'd love to get ideas to use the pics for.

    1. Yes Ellen, it does! In this case, I focused on the flowers I wanted, then moved the camera to put the clear tulips in the front of the picture instead of the middle. (Lots of cameras focus in the middle of the frame...try yours to see if it does.)

      Okay, I'll try to offer ideas to go with the pics. :)

  2. I'd love to get ideas and to have some pictures to inspire me and that I could use in my blog. Any way you want to spoil us is great with me :)

    1. Well Sherry, that's two votes for ideas with the pictures. I'll be happy to oblige. I'm headed to Blue Ridge (yay!!) so I'll start working on ideas.

    2. Looking forward to seeing you at Blue Ridge!

  3. Did you link this wonderful post on my weekend hop? Love the photos! God bless!

  4. Hi Mary! I'm so behind on my comments but I wanted to thank you again for linking with my NO RULES Weekend Blog Party! I wish I had the time to concentrate on learning more about photography..your tutorials seem really helpful.

  5. Loved the pictures you used as examples and thanks for the tips on focus. I didn't know I could do that!

  6. great pics...thanks for sharing them Mary...lovely photo samples and good clear instructions for the techniques..Look forward to seeing the next post..