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When you look at a scene, you usually take it for granted that out of the whole vast view that you can perceive you automatically choose one place to focus on. Your camera's Auto-Focus mechanism has to do the same thing. It needs to focus at one particular distance in your scene, ideally, you want that distance to be on your subject. Your camera includes a number of focus points spread around its field of view. By default, it automatically tries to identify which one of those points is sitting on the subject of your scene. But there will be times when you'll need to override that automatic mechanism because it will have chosen the wrong point, and so you'll need to manually choose the focus point yourself to force the camera to focus to a particular place.
If you don't understand all this focus point stuff, check out Foundations of Photography: Exposure. This button right here lets you select a focus point. This is meant to look like a viewfinder display with a bunch of little focus points in it. When I press it, I get my focus point display back here. This is showing the same arrangement of focus points that I'd see in the viewfinder. And right now they're all highlighted blue meaning I'm on Automatic selection. That means the camera is automatically going to try to figure out what the subject is in my image and pick the appropriate focus point or focus points.
It might pick more than one. With this, when I'm in this mode though, I can turn my dial here and start cycling through all of the other focus points. So I can pick any one that I want and eventually it cycles back around to Automatic selection, or I can go the other way and work around with the focus points that way. So if I've got say my camera on a tripod and I'm framing a shot where my subject is over here, I would want to just dial over to this focus point, half-press the shutter button, and now that focus point is set.
I'll see the same display up here in my viewfinder, so you can actually go through this whole process without ever taking your eye off the viewfinder. When you're holding the camera like this, all you have to do is reach over here to the last button, press that with your thumb, and then turn this with your forefinger and you'll see this same screen inside the viewfinder up here. Now a lot of people will set their camera to just the center focus point. That way they'll always know exactly where the camera is going to be focusing. So with center point selected, they can put that center focus point on their subject, half-press to focus, and then while still holding the button halfway down, frame their shot however they want.
That's how I leave my camera. Although there are times when I'm working on a tripod or something where I don't want to be pivoting the camera around that I will either go in and manually select a more appropriate focus point, or even just go all the way to Auto.
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