August 14, 2008 by Allen George
Shooting Blanks: Part 2
My second challenge in using the CL is focusing. There are two parts to this – technical, and mental. I’ll start with the technical side of things.
I’ve always used autofocus (AF) when photographing. With my D70 it was a simple matter to center the focusing point on the subject, tap the AF-ON button and wait a split-second for the lens to snap to, then recompose and fire. Do it long enough and it simply becomes habit – as natural as breathing. With the CL . . . well, first of all there’s no AF on the CL. Moreover, I’m trying to change my photographic style; trying to photograph quickly, trying to photograph movement and forms that coalesce for a split second before disappearing – all very different from what I used to do. My focusing technique has had to change as a result; direct focus – used with the D70 – simply takes too long. So, depending on circumstances, I pick one of the following:
- Zone focusing: Used when I set a fairly high aperture – f/8 to f/16 (preferably f/11 to f/16). I try to anticipate a distance range I want in acceptable focus, and then use the DOF scales on the lens to set a focus point that satisfies this range. Sometimes this isn’t possible: you simply can’t get acceptable focus from 6ft to infinity using f/11 on a Summicron-C.
- Prefocusing: Used when I have a wide-ish aperture with a fairly thin DOF. I direct focus on an object that’s at, or about, the same distance I anticipate my primary subject occupying, and then watch for confluences at that distance. It’s really a human-driven version of trap-focus.
If there’s one drawback to both techniques it’s this: you have to anticipate the distance at which interesting events will take place, and remember how you’ve set the lens as a result. This means keeping the near and far focus planes in mind. It also means having the presence of mind and the muscle memory to quickly change focus if you see a photograph outside your predefined zone.
That I got this shot was a pleasant surprise. In the setting sun I’d set my lens to f/5.6, with a near plane of focus just beyond 10ft, and with a far one somewhere between 25ft and infinity. I noticed this truncated dog at an intersection (must have been less than 5ft between us) and was trying to direct focus on its leg when the light changed and dog and owner started moving. At that point I simply pressed the shutter button and let the chips fall where they may.
It’s a better picture than the static one I envisioned.
It’s the “keeping the near and far focus planes in mind” that’s my big problem. Too many times I’ve taken a photo, and then winced on realizing that the lens wasn’t properly set for the shot. I’m also considering doing focus drills – don’t laugh! – on learning to focus approximately by feel alone.
To be continued . . .