Using DSLRs, I oscillate pretty evenly between Auto Focus (AF) and Manual Focus (MF) lenses. And even with my three AF lenses, I use them MF a significant part of the time too.
Because many of my photographs are close up – and often at the closest focus of the lens – I often use a different technique to AF or MF.
Let’s call it Rocking Focus, or RF.
The concept is very simple.
I set the lens to its minimum focus manually. Then physically rock the camera in and out incrementally (using my whole upper body) to find optimum focus whilst looking through the viewfinder.
This also avoids the need to recompose with AF lenses, as most of the time they’ll lock focus on what’s in the centre of the viewfinder/screen, or if you have multiple focus points on, they’ll lock on one of them you don’t want them to.
With RF, you compose exactly how you want, then gently rock in and out until the specific part of the image you want to be in focus, is in focus – whether it’s in the centre or not (with me it usually isn’t).
Of course sometimes what you want to focus on isn’t exactly the minimum focus distance of the lens away.
Say your lens focuses down to 0.45m, but the object you want to be in focus is around 0.52m away, once you’ve chosen and framed your composition.
In these cases, just use the focus ring to come out slightly until the right part of the image is approximately in focus.
Then, use the RF technique to fine tune the focus as needed.
AF is great for convenience and when you’re not close up where precise focus is more critical.
MF is more tactile and generally for me makes the photography experience more engaging.
But when you’re focusing close with MF, trying to hold the camera steady with one hand and turn the focus ring to and fro with the other, it’s not the most stable approach, especially if you’re at slower shutter speeds.
Hence, using RF, where the focus is already locked and you can use both hands fully to hold the camera as steady as possible, again for me has proved to be the most consistently effective technique.
I’ve also used a similar approach with digital compacts that only have AF.
Here I lock the (auto) focus approximately with the usual half press of the shutter button, use the RF rock to fine tune, then squeeze the shutter button all the way to shoot.
Rocking Focus is one of those “tricks” I’ve done for years so I don’t even think about it.
But then I wondered if there might be others who haven’t tried this and are struggling to nail focus, especially up close, and who might benefit from hearing what I do.
So here it is!
Do you use this Rocking Focus technique, or something similar? How do you ensure consistently accurate focus, especially up close?
Let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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