August 7, 2017

How to Maintain Focus on a Moving Subject When You're Shooting Solo

If hiring a focus puller is out of the question, here are some techniques you can use to keep focus on a moving subject all by yourself.

What is one of the most essential qualities of a great image? Sure, good composition, color, and lighting are high on the list, but focus and exposure have to be somewhere at the top. This is why filmmakers who can afford it hire a focus puller to ensure that every image is crisp and clear, but what about those who can't afford it? In this video, Parker Walbeck offers some great advice on how to maintain focus when shooting a moving subject alone, so you can avoid the dreaded fuzzy picture, the costly reshoot, and the hours of frustration.

The four ways of maintaining focus that Walbeck talks about in the video are certainly novice concepts, but if you're a beginner, they are definitely things you'll want to be aware of.

  • Set focus and maintain the same distance from your subject
  • Hold camera/stabilizer with one hand and manually focus with the other (good for handheld look)
  • Shoot at a higher aperture
  • Use your camera's auto focus feature

If you're a more experienced filmmaker, I think the main lesson you can learn from the video is that while there are several ways to keep your subject in focus, it may be the nature of your subject's movement that dictates which one will work best.

Each technique has its pros and cons.

  • Setting focus before you shoot is great, because you don't have to adjust your focus ring, allowing you to pay more attention to your subject. However, you have to be right on the money with your distance, because one misstep means a blurry image.
  • Manually focusing is great, because you can ensure that things stay sharp, but maybe it's not ideal when you're forced to hang onto an expensive camera rig with one hand.
  • Shooting at a higher aperture will give you more wiggle room when it comes to keeping subjects in focus, but say goodbye to shallow depth of field.
  • Auto focus is a great tool to help you find focus, but not all cameras have that feature, and even if they do, the feature may not be all that accurate.

In the end, it's good to know a variety of ways to do a task so you can figure out for yourself what works for you and the specific shot you're trying to capture.       

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3 Comments

Nice real world tutorial, suggestions and examples. Nicely done!

August 8, 2017 at 8:14AM

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And...#5: get a follow focus with marking disc. Carefully achieve focus at several points near to far, marking the disc as you go (use sidewalk cracks, tape marks on ground, fallen branches, edge of rugs, etc.). Then, enlist just about anyone to literally lend a hand. I've had 100% fantastic success with this method. No $$$ or training required.

August 14, 2017 at 1:09PM

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Or, get a real camera that has focus peaking. I can't believe people are still using cameras that were designed for stills so shoot video. Video cameras have focus peaking tools to help you with maintaining focus while operating solo.

October 18, 2017 at 6:37PM, Edited October 18, 6:37PM

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Tim Buttner
Multi-Media Expert (writer, director, producer, D.O.P., etc)
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