How to Troubleshoot DSLR Autofocus Problems

A DSLR camera with autofocus problems can get frustrating very quickly. You try everything you can, but you just can’t seem to achieve crystal clear shots.

Even worse, your lens spends its time "hunting", focusing in and out without being able to lock onto anything. In this case, you might not be able to take the image at all!

There are several reasons why many photographers encounter this scenario. So in this blog post, we’ll go through a few of the most important explanations for why your autofocus is failing – and how you can fix it yourself!

Your Settings Are Switched to Manual Focus

It sounds obvious, but in fact, this is one of the most common reasons your autofocus isn’t working – it isn’t switched on! Perhaps you switched to manual focus (MF) in your last shoot and then forget to switch the settings back.

Thankfully, there’s a simple solution to this! Just switch it back again. Most of the time, the switch between MF and AF is on the side of your lens, making it perhaps the easiest solution to your AF problems.

You’re Standing Too Close to Your Subject

close range blurry photo of girl

This is one of the most common reasons your camera begins to hunt, and yet it’s one of the simplest solutions to fix.

Unless you’re using a macro lens, your camera lens may not be designed to focus at close range to subjects.

You’ll just have to try taking a few steps back until your lens is able to focus on the subject.

Your Subject Includes Reflections

Sometimes, your DSLR may struggle to read your subject if there are strong reflections or direct light in your shot.

There are a few ways to troubleshoot this issue:

  • Wait for the reflection to disappear.
  • Change positions.
  • Put your lens up against the glass to block out reflections (if you're trying to shoot through glass).
  • Use an umbrella or diffuser to reduce the brightness.

There’s Not Enough Light

If your DSLR is struggling to make out the subject, it’s no wonder you’re experiencing some AF issues. Depending on how you want the shot, this can be a tricky one to fix.

If you’re not fussed about using ambient lighting, consider introducing some artificial light into the shot, whether that’s through a flashgun or even studio lighting.

Alternatively, if you want to maintain natural lighting, you can always try pressing the shutter halfway so the DSLR can prefocus on the subject before you take the shot.

Some DSLRs do come with an AF assist lamp, which is a small light above or next to your lens that briefly flashes so your camera can lock focus.

There’s a Lack of Contrast in Your Photos

Many cameras struggle to capture shots that lack a distinct contrast in them – such as a shot of blue sky or white-on-white. Usually, you need to have some contrasting subject for your DSLR to focus on.

There are two ways you can correct this problem. The first is to switch to MF mode so you can get that clear image you were aiming for. You'll have to be somewhat familiar with achieving focus on your own by turning the focus ring on the lens.

The alternative is to readjust your photo so that there is some point of interest your camera can easily focus on.

You're Trying to Capture Fast, Close Action

Most DSLR cameras come with pretty good focus-tracking that enables them to follow a fast, active subject. But if that subject is moving towards or away from you (rather than side to side), the system isn't going to cut it.

The changes in distance are too obvious for your autofocus to be able to keep up. So your best bet is to switch to MF mode and anticipate where the action will take place - then you can wait for the action to arrive in your predetermined spot.

Today's autofocus mode in DSLRs can make photography much easier. But it's always worthwhile familiarising yourself with the MF mode so you don't rely too heavily on the AF mode.

If you're still getting blurry photos and your autofocus appears to be working fine, you might want to troubleshoot some other reasons why blurry shots are occurring. Check out our other resources on the Camera House blog to make the most of your DSLR today!