The Step-back Wide Angle Technique. And Why I Rarely Use Back Button Focus Anymore … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

The Step-back Wide Angle Technique. And Why I Rarely Use Back Button Focus Anymore ...

What’s Up

I got a ton of work done on Wednesday on the BAA Current Digital Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II); the end is in sight. I have a bit more on Photoshop to add and then just the simplified NeatImage stuff. And I took my first swim since my cold. And I had probably my best night’s sleep since the green light laser prostate surgery last March. I got in bed at 11pm (late for me) slept till 2:30, got back to sleep quickly, and slept till 6:30. Seven and one-half hours with just the one pit stop …

I was glad to learn that the sales of Brooke Miller’s 5D Mark III and her old 100-400, Phillip Laing’s 1.4X III TC, and Larry Peavler’s old EF 24-105mm are pending after being listed only for a day or two. Lastly, I was thrilled to learn that the sale of Philip Laing’s Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens in excellent plus condition for $7299 was finalized yesterday. It is all in the pricing 🙂

2017 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT. Monday July 3 through Wednesday July 12, 2017: $5999 + $1499: Limit 10 photographers — Openings: 4). The (really cheap) two-day Gannet/Bass Rock Add-on is now part of the trip.

Please call 863-692-0906 for info on the substantial Late Registration Discount.

Here is some great info on the July 2017 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT: I have finalized the cottage and vehicle rental arrangements. We have room for several additional folks, at least for a couple and single. And I am in position, as noted above, to offer a rather substantial late registration discount. Please call us at 863-692-0906 or get in touch via e-mail. Scroll down for additional details and our travel plans.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

Please Don’t Forget …

As always–and folks have been doing a really great job for a long time now–please remember to use our B&H links for your major and minor gear purchases. For best results, use one of our many product-specific links; after clicking on one of those you can continue shopping with all subsequent purchases invisibly tracked to BAA. Your doing so is always greatly appreciated. Please remember: web orders only. And please remember also that if you are shopping for items that we carry in the BAA Online Store (as noted in red at the close of this post below) we would of course appreciate your business.

BIRDS AS ART June 3-4 Gatorland In-the Field Instructional Meet-Up Sessions

Last of the Season!

Join me in Kissimmee, FL for all or part of the weekend of June 3-4, 2017. We should get to photograph several species of nesting herons and egrets as well as Wood Stork, American Alligator (captive), and more. We should get to make lots of head portraits of all the bird species and to photograph both small chicks and fledged young. Learn to see, find, and make the shot in cluttered settings. Learn exposure and how to handle WHITEs. All of the birds are free and wild. These inexpensive sessions are designed to give folks a taste of the level and the quality of instruction that is provided on BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-tours. I hope to see you there.

June 3-4, 2017 Schedule

  • Saturday June 3 Meet-up Morning (early entry): 7:30 till 10:30am: $99.
  • Lunch and Image Review: $99.
  • Saturday afternoon till closing (late stay): $99.
  • Sunday June 4 Meet-up Morning, (early entry): 7:30 till 10am: $90.

Cheap Canon lens rentals available: 600 II, 500 II, 400 DO II, or 200-400.

To pay for one or more sessions in full via credit card, call Jim or Jen in the office weekdays at 863-692-0906. You will be responsible for the cost of your Gatorland Photographer’s pass or passes. Please shoot me an e-mail with questions.

This image was created on a UK Puffins and Gannets IPT with the hand held Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and the EOS 1D X now replaced by the rugged, blazingly fast Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/3200 sec. at f/5 in Manual mode. AWB.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: 0.

Center AF point/AI Servo/Expand/Rear Focus AF on the closest bird lower left and re-compose. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial.

Atlantic Puffins on rocks

The Step-back Wide Angle Technique…

When you are working with a straight focal length telephoto lens and a teleconverter and you do not have a shorter focal length lens with you, you can often remove the TC and move back ten or twenty or thirty yards so that you can create an image of a nice grouping of birds. The trick when creating these group shots is to have one bird in either front corner of the frame serve as the compositional anchor. In today’s featured image, the puffin in the front left fills that role perfectly. What you need to do is to achieve and maintain sharp focus on the what we will call the anchor bird; this can be hard to do as ideally the anchor bird will be tucked into a corner of the frame (as here) and thus there is no AF point that will cover the bird as framed. To achieve and maintain sharp focus you have three choices:

  • 1-Switch from AI Servo to One-Shot AF (C — Continuous, or S — Single Servo, with Nikon.) This has long been my least favorite approach here.
  • 2-Use rear button focus (and re-compose).
  • 3-Use shutter button AF with some form of focus lock (and re-compose).

To Further Explain

To further explain, here is an e-mail exchange from yesterday with Tim Clifton.

Back Button Versus Shutter Button Focus

TC: Good morning/afternoon Art, and Happy Memorial Day.

AM: Thanks and ditto. I always think of my Dad on Memorial Day.

TC: Thanks for your continuing blogs and for helping us to become better photographers. I have purchased of number of your guides and lots of and used gear through your site so I try to support your work as much as budget allows.

AM: Many thanks and always appreciated.

TC: I have followed your blog for a few years and have seen your posts indicating the use of back button and shutter button focus. For a period of time you used back button quite a bit, and now it appears you are using shutter button more.

AM: That is exactly correct.

TC: Would you tell me your reasons for picking one over the other or why you seem to be using shutter button more now than a couple of years ago? I have used both, and wondered if you have found shutter button better for some reason. Any insight/reply would be greatly appreciated.

AM: Right now I stick with shutter button AF nearly full time. Why?

  • 1-For flight and action photography and in all situation where you can get an AF point exactly where you want it on the subject (almost always that means on the same plane as the subject’s eye …) I find it a lot easier to do one thing (press the shutter button) than it is to do two things (press whichever rear button that you use to focus and then have to press the shutter button to make the image).
  • 2- Some folks using rear focus develop thumb or wrist problems from having to “reach around the corner” to get to the AF-On button. That is why I used (and still use on occasion) the Star button for rear focus.
  • 3- All AF points and all AF Area Selection modes are now available at f/8 with both camera bodies that I use, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. In most situations that makes it a lot easier to get an AF point exactly where you want it on the subject.
  • 4- On all three of my camera bodies, I have assigned AF lock to the AF-On button. So if I am using shutter button AI Servo AF — as I now do 98% of the time — and need to focus on a subject in the corner of the frame, I acquire focus with the shutter button and then reach around the corner and press and hold the AF-On button. This locks the focus and essentially gives me the advantages of using rear focus (without ever having to change any of my settings). Do understand that this technique works best with your rig on a tripod or at least when your gear is well-supported by a railing or as a result of your using the knee-pod technique. If you are straight out hand holding there is a risk that even your tiniest movement will throw off the focus. The same of course is true whenever you are using either One-Shot AF or rear button focus …

So yes, I now believe that shutter button AF is better than rear button AF at least 99% of the time 🙂

with love, artie


Images and card design copyright: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART. Click on the card to enjoy a spectacular larger version.

2017 UK Puffins and Gannets IPT. Monday July 3 through Wednesday July 12, 2017: $5999 + $1499: Limit 10 photographers — Openings: 4).
All who register will be required to join the (really cheap) two-day Gannet/Bass Rock Add-on. See below for details.

Please call 863-692-0906 for info on the substantial Late Registration Discount.

Here are the plans: take a red eye from the east coast of the US on July 2 and arrive in Edinburgh, Scotland on the morning of Monday July 3 no later than 10am (or simply meet us then at the Edinburgh Airport–EDI, or later in the day at our cottages if you are driving your own vehicle either from the UK or from somewhere in Europe). Stay 7 nights in one of two gorgeous modern country cottages.

There are five days of planned puffin/seabird trips and one morning of gannet photography, all weather permitting of course. In three years we have yet to miss an entire day because of weather… In addition, we will enjoy several sessions of photographing nesting Black-legged Kittiwakes at eye level.


Images and card design copyright: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART. Click on the card to enjoy a spectacular larger version.

The Details

We will get to photograph Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, Razorbill, Shag, and Northern Gannet; Arctic, Sandwich, and Common Terns, the former with chicks of all sizes; Black-headed, Lesser-Black-backed, and Herring Gulls, many chasing puffins with fish; Black-legged Kittiwake with chicks. We will be staying in upscale country-side lodging that are beyond lovely with large living areas and lots of open space for the informal image sharing and Photoshop sessions. The shared rooms are decent-sized, each with a private bathroom. See the limited single supplement info below.

All breakfasts, lunches and dinners are included. All 5 puffins boat lunches will need to be prepared by you in advance, taken with, and consumed at your leisure. I usually eat mine on the short boat trip from one island to the other. Also included is a restaurant lunch on the gannet boat day.

If you wish to fly home on the morning of Monday July 10 we will get you to the airport. Please, however, consider the following tentative plans: enjoy a second Gannet boat trip on the afternoon of Monday July 10 and book your hotel room in Dunbar. If all goes as planned, those who stay on for the two extra days will make a morning landing at Bass Rock, one of the world’s largest gannetries. We will get everyone to the airport on the morning of Wednesday July 12.

Great News on the UK Puffins and Gannets/Bass Rock Extension

On the morning of Jul 10, 2017, we will sleep late and head up to Dunbar Harbor for lunch and an afternoon Gannet boat chumming trip: flight photography until you cannot lift your camera. One gannet boat trip is included in the IPT but everyone always wants more.

Then, as a possible mega bonus — we are scheduled to make a Bass Rock landing on the morning of Tuesday July 12, 2017. I am hoping to go two for two! If not, we do another chumming trip for flying gannets.

Included will be two nights lodging at the wonderful Dunsmuir hotel, two fine dining meals there, any additional meals, all boat, guide, and landing fees, and all transportation including the early morning transfer to the Edinburg Airport on the morning of WED July 12.

So far all five sign-ups are maximizing their travel dollars by signing up for the extension in part because I priced it so cheaply at $1499 despite my greatly increased costs.


Images and card design copyright: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART. Click on the card to enjoy a spectacular larger version. Scroll down to join us in the UK in 2016.

Deposit Info

If you are good to go sharing a room–couples of course are more than welcome–please send your non-refundable $2,000/person deposit check now to save a spot. Please be sure to check your schedule carefully before committing to the trip and see the travel insurance info below. Your balance will be due on March 29, 2017. Please make your check out to “Arthur Morris” and send it to Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART, PO Box 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL, 33855. If we do not receive your check for the balance on or before the due date we will try to fill your spot from the waiting list. If your spot is filled, you will lose your deposit. If not, you can secure your spot by paying your balance.

Please shoot me an e-mail if you are good to go or if you have any questions.

Single Supplement Deposit Info

Single supplement rooms are available on a limited basis. To ensure yours, please register early. The single supplement fee is $1575. If you would like your own room, please request it when making your deposit and include payment in full for the single supplement; your single supplement deposit check should be for $3,575. As we will need to commit to renting the extra space, single supplement deposits are non-refundable so please be sure that check your schedule carefully before committing to the trip and see the travel insurance info below.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance for big international trips is highly recommended as we never know what life has in store for us. I strongly recommend that you purchase quality insurance. Travel Insurance Services offers a variety of plans and options. Included with the Elite Option or available as an upgrade to the Basic & Plus Options you can also purchase Cancel for Any Reason Coverage that expands the list of reasons for your canceling to include things such as sudden work or family obligation and even a simple change of mind. My family and I use and depend on the great policies offered by TIS whenever we travel. You can learn more here: Travel Insurance Services. Do note that many plans require that you purchase your travel insurance within 14 days of our cashing your deposit check of running your credit card. Whenever purchasing travel insurance be sure to read the fine print careful even when dealing with reputable firms like TSI.

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To show your appreciation for my continuing efforts here, we ask, as always, that you get in the habit of using my B&H affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your photo and electronics purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the New BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod head, Wimberley lens plates, Delkin flash cards and accessories, and LensCoat stuff.

As always, we sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And please remember that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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16 comments to The Step-back Wide Angle Technique. And Why I Rarely Use Back Button Focus Anymore …

  • Hi Artie I went back-button for a few years (probably after reading something from you), but came back to shutter button focus around one month ago, because I found that in a cramped hide, with weird angles and awkward body positions, I simply couldn’t always get my thump to reach the button. Now I switch between One-shot and AI Servo on the shutter button all the time, and my images have actually gotten way sharper (I used to use AI Servo back-button ALWAYS), but got very many bin-shots. Nice to get my new insight “confirmed” 🙂

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I hear you. Some of those blinds in Finland were a real pain … If I am understanding you well, you might want to try AF-On as focus lock as it is quite close to One Shot and you do not have to change any settings … Or not 🙂 With love, artie

  • avatar Steve Mitchell

    This confuses me, isn’t saying two opposite things?

    “focus lock on the AF-On button is 100% better for me.

    Putting AF on both the shutter button and the start button (of the AF-On button)”

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Terry, I am a bit confused by your comment … I clarified both statements as below. LMK if you are still confused.

      For me, at this point in my like, it is clear that Shutter Button AF with focus lock on the AF-On button is 100% better for me (than rear focus).

      Putting AF on both the shutter button and the start button (of the AF-On button) makes no sense at all as you will lose the advantage of using rear button focus, the ability to focus and re-compose.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Sebastian Santos

    Hi, in my old Canon 5d mark III I used to configure the shutter button with one type of AF (generally single point focus), the rear button with other type (generally all points focus) using the home point option and I also configure the dof button with other type of focusing area. You can also do this for the horizontal and vertical position of the camera. I think now that configuring the rear button with af-on is a very smart decision, and you can left the dof button with other type of focus area if you need it.

  • Very interesting, Artie. As I’m handholding 95% of the time (other 5% is knee-pod, ground-supported or railing) I’ve found that the rear button focus works best for me, as many times I’d like my IS to remain on if I’ve framed a subject and waiting for the right moment. So shutter button activates IS so I can wait without the frame jumping up all over – and no AF to fall off the subject suddenly.
    Of course, sometimes things happen and I press the shutter hurriedly and only press rear button AF after the fact.
    Re: featured image – have you ever tried working with a square (1:1) format? The trimmed puffin at the right hand side bugs me, I would’ve tried a square crop that ends somewhere in the space between the two groups of birds. I think it’d be a bit stronger that way?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Faraaz, If it ain’t broke … I see what you are saying on the square crop. I have no aversion to square crops or to crops to any proportions that I like artistically. That said, I would likely have to go a bit narrower than a perfect square …

      with love, artie

      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Yup. I did need to go narrower than a square but I like it a lot. Thanks for your help.


        • Glad you like it Artie. It’s just what jumped out to me as soon as I saw the image. I’m sure it’s as amazing as I imagined (probably more ;-))

  • Artie: I am confused as to how you can be SO enthusiastic about rear-button focus (you convinced me and I have been using rear-button focus happily for years thanks to you) and now ignore the advantages you gave for preferring rear-button in the first place? Your reason #4 argues equally for both it seems, but I will agree (as an old fart like you) my thumb does get sore when I am really working. Would there be any point (advantage or disadvantage) to having both rear and shutter button activating focus? I presume the shutter would simply override the rear button? Thanks as always for the work you put into your blog. Best wishes, Richard Simonsen

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Most important is that you are using a system that enables to to create sharp images. I say it here all the time, if what you are doing is working keep on doing it and disregard anything that I say or do.

      As far as your confusion, I wrote something to this effect as far back as the original ABP, “If you see me in the field doing something different from what I wrote in this book please understand that I probably have gotten smarter.”

      I am sorry that I confused you. Do know that I am always doing my best, always seeking to get better, and always trying to help folks out.

      Taken on its own #4 does address the benefits of being able to lock focus using either method. For me, at this point in my like, it is clear that Shutter Button AF with focus lock on the AF-On button is 100% better for me (than rear focus) .

      Putting AF on both the shutter button and the start button (of the AF-On button) makes no sense at all as you will lose the advantage of using rear button focus, the ability to focus and re-compose.

      YAW. With love, artie

  • avatar Belinda

    With regard to back vs shutter button AF, I came to the same conclusion, though for a different reason, a short time ago. I found that sometimes in the heat of the moment, I had let go of the back button – resulting in misfocussed shots. Very frustrating!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I hear you. There are of course times when you want to let go of your chosen rear button, and times when you need to keep it pressed. No matter the system there will be lots of times when we screw up and lots of times when the system does not perform as well as we expected it to.

      Heck, one of the funnest things on an IPT occurs when I edit a folder and folks get to see that probably 75% of the images that I mark for deletion suffer from either unsharpness or from being completely mis-focused.

      With love, artie

  • avatar Gary

    I have always done shutter/focus on the shutter button and AF Off on the rear AF ON Button. It has always seemed to be the logical way to work and have never really been convinced by the rear button focus argument, so I am pleased to hear your views on it Arthur.. Gary