How Do I Focus A Camera Lens In The Dark

How Do I Focus A Camera Lens In The Dark?

How do I focus a camera lens in the dark? This is the most common question beginner photographers ask while learning the tricks of the trade.

Focusing in the dark is the most challenging part of night photography. It is difficult to get your subject in focus when you cannot see anything. But – every problem has a solution and you can do many different things, depending on the conditions and other factors, to take a perfectly focused image at night.

How to Focus Camera in the Dark?

The following are the best technique to get sharp and crisp night images.

Use a Prime Lens with Manual Focus

The easiest way to focus at night is to have a prime lens with manual focus for your camera. It is a particularly simple and quick method for infinity focus. All you need to do is to turn the focus ring to infinity and you are good to go. The prime-manual focus lens is an important accessory because most of the night shots in natural spaces use infinity focus. Manual focus also delivers more accurate focus thanks to the precise focus ring movement. It is also more enjoyable than autofocus.  

Infinity Focus

Sometimes, subjects are beyond the focal range of your lens, known as “infinity distance.”  In this case, set your lens to infinity and you can focus anything past a certain distance in your images. However, if you are finding it difficult to locate the true infinity mark, your lens may not have hard stops for the infinity point.

Read the article “Focus to Infinity – The Key to Nighttime Star Photography” by Kevin Lisota to learn how to focus to infinity at night.

Pre Auto-focus in the Day

Focusing is problematic during the night but it is a piece of cake during the day courtesy of all the modern cameras and lenses at our disposal. For a perfect night shot, autofocus your lens on your subject or to infinity in the daylight. Subsequently, switch to manual focus and prevent the focus ring from moving by using a gaffer tap. Now wait for the dark and start shooting without worrying about focus.

Auto-focus on the Moon

Your lens can easily focus on the moon because it is the brightest object in the night sky. That is why images taken during moonlit lights are far better than those taken on darker nights. Use your lens’s autofocus system to focus on the moon. Now, mount the camera on the tripod and start taking pictures.

how do I focus a camera lens in the dark

Auto-focus on a Distant Light

The moon offers you plenty of light to focus on at night. But – you don’t always get moonlit nights. In this case, you have to find any source of light to focus on. It is even better if the dark surrounds the light because it will provide you with greater contrast. You can always find such a light unless you are living under a rock.

The light doesn’t need to be at infinity if you want to focus on infinity. For example, it is sufficient to have a street lamp 50 feet away. A lens can resolve infinity quite sharply from such a distance. You can use any light you want such as a car on the road, a city skyline, a signboard, or anything that allows you to focus on the distance.

how do I focus a camera lens in the dark

Use Live View

All modern DSLRs come with a Live View function, displaying everything on the LCD just like mirrorless cameras. It is a boon for night photography because it allows you to use the LCD to zoom in on the subjects. At the same time, you can manually focus accurately. If your camera doesn’t have a live view, then you should resort to your point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera and use its zoom function and LCD to achieve the perfect focus.

Focus Peaking

Focus peaking can also help you gain accurate focus at night. What it does is highlight the areas with the highest contrast in the scene with bright lights. You can get the most out of focus peaking if you use a manual focus lens. Focus peaking enables you to find depth and plane of focus in a jiffy. You don’t have to rely on your eyes to ensure the subject is in focus.

Use a Flashlight to Illuminate the Subject

All the above methods deal with focusing on infinity. But – you also have to focus on closer subjects. It can be anything such as a tree, a windmill, a dog, a rock, etc. The best thing to do is to illuminate the subject using a bright flashlight. On most occasions, it offers enough light to lock onto the subject.

Place a Flashlight on the Scene

Sometimes, you don’t get the necessary light and contrast for autofocus if you illuminate the subject from a distance. However, you can always place a flashlight on or near your subject. It will act like just another light source that we discussed above. But – it is not a good technique for wild animals.

Focus the Edges

Areas near relatively brighter objects offer regions of high contrast. You can easily autofocus that area using single autofocus instead of continuous autofocus. You can further improve the shot by pressing the shutter only halfway down. Now recompose using the autofocus lock button and boom, you have the photo you want.

Hyperfocal Focusing

You can focus your subjects in the dark using the above methods. But – if nothing works, hyperfocal focusing can come to your rescue. Using hyperfocal distance will always get you sharp images in the dark. It is a difficult art to master but can pay rich dividends. You don’t need to use autofocus, a flashlight, or anything else to focus on your subject between the ground and the horizon.

For more details on Hyperfocal Focusing, read “Use Hyperfocal Distance to Maximize Depth of Field at Night” by Lance Keimig.

Final Thoughts

You don’t want to have soft photos after putting in so much effort while shooting. It can often be the case while taking photos at night. Try our tips to focus on anything and get extremely sharp photos at night every time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.