Saturday, September 16, 2006

09/16/06: "Old School" Manual Focus

"Old School" Manual Focus

Years ago when I was just a wet-behind-the-ears college student...I worked for a local photo studio in the town where I went to school and I shot "party pics" at college fraternity & sorority parties as well as high school proms and the like. Back then we shot everything on 35MM film using manual focus lenses. College students tend to like to party in the dark, or near dark, so we had to learn tricks to focus in the dark.

Tonight I shot a wedding where I was reminiscing with my 25 year old assistant about how we used to have to manual focus in the dark (kinda like walking to school up hill -- both ways -- in the snow, eh?). So I decided to shoot some images at the reception while in manual focus mode. I shot with my EOS 20D using a 70-200mm lens and an on camera flash. The bride and groom hired a band for the reception and the lights were dimmed to about as low as they would go. It was a challenge to focus in the very dark room but it didn't take long for me to remember how we use to do it "back in the day."

The easiest way to "guess focus" in the dark is to use a zoom lens. Zoom all the way in until you can find something of high contrast to try to focus on. I tend to look for women's hair or men's ties. One of the tricks is to position yourself where your subject is between you and a close-behind-them light source such as the band's or DJ's lights. Find the top of the hair in relation to the light and you should be able to find your manual focus. Keep playing around with this technique and eventually you'll train your fingers to find that focus (within and acceptable margin of erro) in near total darkness.

Happy manual focusing! :)

~DJW

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