Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Human Focusing Rail

Lady in Yellow
While I mainly shoot using DSLRs, I occasionally want to travel light and then I carry around a Lumix DMC LZ-10, a perfectly serviceable point and shoot. Unlike many point and shoots, the Lumix allows you to specify the point of focus or let the camera choose one or more such points. Mostly, it does a decent job but, when it comes to close-up work, the lens hunts a lot. The fact that I cannot turn off autofocus and simply manually adjust the focus myself annoys the heck out of me.

Until recently, my solution was to keep refocusing over and over until I persuaded the camera to make the right decision. Sometimes, it would never get it right, and I'd give up. Then I had an idea. It is so obvious, it's amazing I didn't think of it or read about it earlier: All point and shoot cameras have a secret manual focus mode. It's called the human focus rail. With close-up shot, I found that, once the camera made a bad decision, I could maintain the focus lock and sway my body nearer and farther from the subject of the shot until I got the thing in focus. I would then fire away with the camera using burst to try to get a few in focus before body sway threw me out of focus. This strategy probably works even better if you have a tripod.

The shot above was taken using the human focus rail technique. The same strategy will work for farther away shots so long as the camera did not pick the focus point too stupidly.

Key lesson: We've become so dependent on technology to assist us in shooting pictures that it's easy to forget simple techniques that were part of every photographer's toolkit back in the everything manual days.

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