Night photography is full of challenges. One of the biggest for beginners and pros alike is the difficulty of achieving accurate focus in very dark scenes. However, autofocus systems are constantly improving and many of today’s modern DSLR cameras can focus in darkness that would have short-circuited the autofocus systems of cameras made just a few years ago. Yet, the downside of most autofocus lenses is that they do not have hard stops at the infinity focus point. This hard stop was a boon to night (and daylight) photographers familiar with the pleasures of old-school manual focus lenses.
So, what are some helpful ways to focus in the dark?
Use manual focus
The quick remedy for a confused autofocus focus is to switch to manual focus. On a DSLR, if you can see the image clearly in the viewfinder in the dark, you should be all set. For critically precise focus, you might have to use some other techniques that we will get into below. One more thing to mention, manual focus lenses are usually more pleasurable to focus than autofocus lenses—they have a better feel, and the precise focus ring movement will assist you in getting accurate focus.
Depending on your subject, the scene before your camera may be well past the focus range of your lens and into the “infinity” distance. In that case, setting your lens to infinity will allow anything past a certain distance to be in focus in the shot. Of course, as I mentioned in the opening, not all lenses have hard stops at the infinity mark, so that can make finding the true infinity point problematic. Keep on reading.