Where focus is placed is what really matters.

 –Steven Redhead, Life is a Cocktail

What do we do when we can’t find focus or when we lose focus? Sometimes nothing. Sometimes, we wait for the dust to settle and the inspiration to rise. Sometimes, we might even get on the treadmill where we listen to the wrong voices that tell us that we’re not good enough or ask what’s wrong with us. Safe to say that this happens to the best of us, meaning all of us.

Have you ever questioned the importance of focus? Lost it? Searched for it? And, finally found it, only to lose it again? Yeah, me, too. When I can’t focus or find it no matter how hard I try, it’s beyond frustrating. I call it “the Circle Dance.” And, I’ve been doing it a lot lately.

Not all Circle Dances have to be exhaustive.


I’ll give you an example. For the past three weeks I’ve been doing the dance. I ordered myself flowers, beautiful ones. This is usually one of my best forms of therapy and an opportunity to focus my attention on something lovely, colorful and inspiring. And, they were. Two dozen stems of pink and white and purple ranunculus. Each one full of curves, ruffles, textures and design. They lasted almost two weeks in some stage of goodness. One session with them left me less than inspired, and the images showed that (at least to me). Now, they’re all dried up, now waiting with aging wabi sabi petal opportunities.

At least four times I’ve walked around my neighborhood with my camera with several different lenses, including my Lensbabies. Again, not much in the way of inspiration moments or immersion. Photographing plants, especially flowers, is usually a “cure-all” for my inability to focus. So, I started to wonder . . . and asked some fellow photographers what they do when they are “stuck” and can’t find focus. There were some interesting responses. One of them stated that when he is stuck it is often the final stage before a breakthrough or change in the direction of his work. Sometimes, he continued, it helps to go back through his images from the last few months and look for different themes starting to emerge.

Blending focused subject with motion blur


So, sometimes when I feel stuck and out of tune, I go back through my hard drives and troll. I randomly process images I had not done anything with before or images that strike a chord with the mood in the moment. Other times I put every effort to find my photography muse aside and do laundry or clean the kitchen. I find something, anything, I can start and finish successfully. Other times, I go out and dig in the dirt – again, anything to avoid grabbing my camera when I can’t find a path or even a sliver of direction.

Rewarding to find one to stand out from the crowd


It matters because it gives us a way to move forward, to find a direction, an idea, a subject to latch onto. It gives us something to arrange, compose and “focus” on to create an image that clearly represents what was most interesting or important. Focus leads us through and to a goal or destination, visual or otherwise. In our images, focus tells the viewer what to pay attention to. Handled properly, it provides a window into our thoughts, intentions and provides an opportunity to offer an image with visual or emotional impact. Miss focus and the image falls flat.

With background so close, f/5.6 was the choice, making focus placement more important

While the red draws you in, the words need to be sharp


Where we place our focus determines what we (and others) see or don’t see. When we place our focus on the “wrong” area, things don’t work as well as we would like, meant or intended – in our images and in life.

It is sometimes challenging to find the best point of focus with our subjects. Other times it is easy. When we’re not sure of what will work best (and our subjects are not moving or flying away), try a variety of areas for focus placement. When you review the images on your computer, you’ll be able to better decide what is most advantageous for the success of the image (for you, first, then others). For example, if your subject has eyes, they (or at least one) should be in sharp focus. When I photograph flowers with a clear center in the frame, I view it as the “eye” of the bloom and work to get that area in sharp focus. The choice you make for where to focus can vary depending on your perspective.

Balancing act between eyes, nose and mouth


Best answer? It depends. This question relates to depth of field. This is a factor that plays an important part in how much we see. Our choices matter if we are to achieve our intended results. Choices are driven by intention. Do you want to have everything in focus, less than everything pr practically a whisper of detail? You make that choice first, then you choose your f-stop. If you are uncertain of the “best” setting, “run your apertures” from deep to shallow or vice versa. Later, view the series and make another choice for which images at what apertures work best for the intentions you had.

There are times when you want everything in focus for a particular subject. Take flowers, for example. You want to capture all the details of the blooms, but your background is too busy or too close for f/8 to f/11 to work. That’s when you might try focus-stacking (manually or via a function in your camera) at a wider aperture. My Nikon Z’s have that feature. I don’t use it very often because my style leans more in the shallow zone. That said, I figured I would make the effort so I could have an example for this post.

Note: Regardless of how you do the focus stacking, start your focus at the front of the image field (what’s closest to you). And, be aware that you can run into issues if you’re trying this on a flower on a breezy day.

This lady feels wonderful at f/3.8