November 4, 2013

Here's a Simple Trick to Make Focus Pulling a Little Easier

If you've ever worked the first assistant camera position, or you pull your own focus, one of the most difficult parts of the job is making sure you're pulling in sync with the movement of the actors. Often there is quite a bit of timing involved, especially with dolly moves. To do the job properly, you almost have to split your mind in two and watch the talent as you're watching the marks on the follow focus, but a very simple trick can make that a little easier to accomplish.

Thanks to Finner Knows Best for the video, and to Evan Luzi at The Black and Blue for the find:

If you already do this or feel like it should be obvious, you can move along, but to be honest it never occurred to me to try this over the many projects that I've been a 1st. While it is much easier to do with a follow focus, I'm sure if you're pulling right from the lens there are ways to give you something tactile to hit with your finger, like maybe a few thick pieces of tape. With more complicated moves that have three, four, and five sets of marks, it might be a little more difficult to use the finger trick, but I think whatever can help make your job easier is a welcome addition to anyone's toolkit.

What do some of you do to accomplish the same thing? Do you have any other tricks that might be useful for pulling focus and keeping an eye on the talent?

Links:

[via The Black and Blue]

Your Comment

28 Comments

Had my first time 1st-ing last month, first few scenes I was rubbish and I was stuck with a really wonky follow focus, but then I remembered this technique. Used it on the following take and instantly got a compliment on a good pull. From there onward it was much easier maintaining the distances without looking at the follow focus constantly.

In short, definitely a recommended move for beginners.

November 4, 2013 at 9:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Ryan Thomas McC...

I have a follow focus that has adjustable hard stops. But certainly an interesting alternative method.

November 4, 2013 at 10:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
D.L. Watson

Hard stops scare me a little because if an actor misses a mark and focus should actually be past the hard stop the take is blown rather than you being able to adjust. I like to use them to turn a newer non-hard stop lens into one with actual stops for infinity and minimum focusing.

November 4, 2013 at 10:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
avatar
Joe Marine
Camera Department

Why couldn't hard stop follow focuses be adjustable to be a "soft stop" (not not quite *no stop*) follow focusses? Seems like a perfect compromise!

November 5, 2013 at 3:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

12
Reply

WITH THIS ONE SIMPLE TRICK YOU CAN MAKE THOUSANDS

FOCUS PULLERS HATE HIM FOR THIS!!!!11!

Seriously, this is one of those stupid, easy things that I never would have thought of. Thanks!

November 4, 2013 at 10:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

2
Reply
Tyler

This is instantly what I was thinking after reading the title.

November 5, 2013 at 12:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply

Haha! Me too!

November 5, 2013 at 5:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

12
Reply

EasyFocus is using a laser beam to get good results in either automatic or manual mode .
.
[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oESZY3X6IgU ]

November 4, 2013 at 11:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

6
Reply
DLD

...for just 59.000 Euros...

November 5, 2013 at 7:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
mariano

so, costs as a much as a high end lens set ... and should be as easily rentable.

November 6, 2013 at 6:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply
DLD

Like DUH!

Seriously, that's a TIP? That's just common sense.

Also, I agree about having hard stops. Actors and POIs don't always hit their marks, and being able to adapt will be the different between having to do another take, and wrapping.

November 5, 2013 at 9:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply
Digital Skunk

It wouldn't have occurred to me. So really I'm glad that this article showed it.

I suppose if I had been doing it awhile, but No Film School is trying to help out new people more than experienced ones.

September 5, 2015 at 9:13PM

0
Reply
Sean M Pennington
Indie Filmmaker
74

Hey great tip... also using GH2

November 5, 2013 at 9:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

13
Reply

Is there something about owning a GH2 that makes owners need to state the fact unrelatedly in every post?

Good tip. this is the kind of thing this site should be full of, living up to the site title.

November 5, 2013 at 3:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

5
Reply
Fresno Bob

No, it's mostly people trolling.

November 5, 2013 at 4:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

1
Reply

Having an actual 1st AC with a real follow focus and not still lenses also helps a ton!

November 5, 2013 at 11:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Lee

Hitting a mark is not a problem. Not for me, at least. Pulling focus is most difficult when using a 50mm lens opened wide and the actor is moving to or away from the camera or the simultaneous movement of the actor and dolly etc. That is the challenge.

November 5, 2013 at 1:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Everette

Try it with a 135mm Master Prime wide open ;-)

November 5, 2013 at 2:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

4
Reply
Lee

Try it on a three room long running steady-cam shot on a 50mm set on f1.2... oh, and you don't have a focus puller or even any remote follow focus. Oh, and the shot also involves a vfx gag that renders a second full take impossible.

Oh, the follies of low budget movie-making. :P

The solution, in that particular case? Rehearsals and simply keeping the actor at constant distance from the camera.

November 6, 2013 at 4:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply

I put one finger on one mark (index) and tumb on other mark with the "stop stub" in between them and can rack focus like that ;)

November 7, 2013 at 2:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

8
Reply
palisady

It's much harder with still lenses...but motor memory is the best thing...on the only feature I've shot, on 16mm, I rarely had an AC...but if you just figure out the near and far marks and micro-rehearse (for your muscle memory to kick in), just moving through how far you have to move, even without a follow focus or any written marks, it it remarkably easy to get it right...adjusting the move to coincide with the actor's timing. This is super hard to do with short throw still lenses though...

Another technique with wireless follow focus, if you have one (that can also be applied in several cases with a regular follow focus) is to align yourself so that the subject is directly in your line of vision, basically holding up the hand controller so the subject is right behind you. Anyone with experience with firearms will understand what I'm saying...you focus on the sights (or the focus disc), not the subject, with the subject behind it out of focus. Ha ha. That's not what I meant---if you're doing it right, they will be in focus though the lens...but in your peripheral vision, they won't be because you're eyes are focused on the marks on the disc.

November 17, 2013 at 3:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

0
Reply
Daniel Mimura

what if you have so many marks . How would you deal with that . I realy need an answer . thanx .

June 27, 2014 at 2:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

You should try to stay away from having too many marks; it just gets confusing. When I have a complicated shot with multiple critical marks I find it a lot easier to just remember the distance, that is after all why the lens has distances and you make sure the lens pulls to tape. I often mark my focus rings with the distance markings as opposed to technical marks. I find this to be easier to read at a glance than the barrel if the lens. Just make sure your follow focus is well maintained and doesn't have a lot of slack.

June 28, 2014 at 3:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

8
Reply
JLDean

Thanx JLDean for the answer , I realy appreciate that .

June 28, 2014 at 9:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply

I would also agree with muscle memory as probably the most useful tool along with effective gauging of distance and timing. If you have your own follow focus and use the correct gears for the necessary lenses you'll find that, after working with the lenses enough, you can hit your marks with just a glance at the lens for reassurance.

June 28, 2014 at 3:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

0
Reply
JLDean

I thought every follow-focus has two stops or locks. Mine has and it was the cheapest I could find on eBay.
Just set the distant lock to where you come in and the close-up lock to where you reach. Pulling speed is a matter of practice and not so difficult after this.
These 2 handy blockers also reduce the amount of markers in-between as someone said here, too many marks are just getting confusing,

June 28, 2014 at 3:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

7
Reply
Jurgen

I use vintage manual primes, which often have focus distances marked on the ring, I make the movement some 2-3 times to test and create muscle memory before, then I focus using the focus peaking feature on Magic Lantern.

June 26, 2015 at 4:32PM

0
Reply
Fernando Henrique de Sousa
CEO, Evil Genius, Steadycam, editor & jack of all trades
192

Nice hard stop trick, I'm interested in his DIY camera cart, looks like a modded rubbermaid, nice!

September 5, 2015 at 10:30PM

6
Reply