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Get Sharper Footage with These 7 Focus Tricks

Keep your subjects in focus and improve your project with these tips and tricks.

Top image via Shutterstock.

Keeping shots in focus is one of the most crucial elements of capturing an image. A subject in focus tells the viewer what to look at. With techniques like racking or pulling focus, the shift in clarity alerts us how to direct our attention as the action unfolds onscreen.

One of the many hurdles of working in video production is insufficient crew, equipment, money, and time. While all of these can be significant challenges, they also create opportunities to broaden your understanding of the craft and your equipment. Cinecom demonstrates a few ways you can accomplish your filmmaking goals, whether that means racking focus or following a subject. Let’s take a look at a few solutions for the solitary shooter.

Testing Your Depth of Field

One of the simplest ways to consistently capture in-focus shots is to know your lens. For the average shreditor, knowing your gear inside and out is essential for securing consistent work. You can practice with your lens by walking toward a stationary object, while trying to keep it in focus, and memorizing how much you’ll have to turn the lens. While simple, this technique is a timesaver you can try out at home.

Working with Your Environment

As you follow a subject throughout a scene, maintaining a consistent distance and awareness of the camera’s position is key. This might sound difficult, especially if you’re the shooter, director, and focus puller, but there are ways to ensure a consistent approach like tying a string to your subject, excessive rehearsal, or blocking out the scene for focus pulls (arrange the mise en scène to indicate focus points).

Start with the Closer Subject

Get Sharper Footage with These 7 Focus Tricks — Closer Subject

One of the rules of depth of field is that the further your subject is, the greater the depth of field you have to work with. With that in mind, if you’re struggling to pull focus accurately, start the shot on the subject closest to the camera. This allows you to establish focus, and then you can pull further away to focus on the more distant subject.

Marking Your Points

A seemingly amateur yet effective approach is to mark your lens (or follow focus) with some type of sticker, marker, or tape, signifying where your points of focus will be when racking or pulling. This is much easier when you have a designated focus puller, but if you’re like me, shooting solo, you can still rack and pull effectively.

Buy a Focus Ring

A cost-effective way to focus quickly is to use a focus ring. Ryan Connelly over at Film Riot covered this, demonstrating how to use a jar opener as a follow focus. Since lenses have such small focus rings, purchasing one of these cheap tools makes it less likely that you’ll miss the mark. You can even indicate your points of focus on the tool itself.

Set the AutoFocus Before Recording

One of the many benefits of working with Sony A-series cameras is that you can adjust the auto focus and set up the shot before recording. As you can see in this video, the process is as easy as opening the menu, changing the AF Drive Speed from Normal to Slow, and setting your focus point accordingly. No more missing your subject by a few millimeters while trying to rack. This adjustment will let you toggle at the exact length you needJason Vong has also uploaded a tutorial on improving focus with the Magnify Focus option.

For more on auto-focusing with a DSLR, check out PremiumBeat’s 3-step breakdown for nailing the shot.

Also, if you missed your mark and accidentally left your subject out of focus, here’s a post-production quick tip for correcting an out-of-focus shot.

Know of any other focus pulling tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments.