September 3, 2014

Got 90 Seconds? These Simple Tips Will Make Your Focus Pulling Way More Efficient

Follow Focus
Follow these rules to become a follow focus master.

So you've got yourself a shiny new follow focus, and you're stoked to take your focus pulling to the next level. The only problem: pulling focus is not nearly as easy as it seems.

If you've ever had to pull focus for a scene that has complicated blocking, where characters are moving back and forth in relation to the lens, you know that the marks on the follow focus ring can get really messy, really fast. Here's the incredibly simple but effective system that Clinton Harn uses to keep all of his focus marks organized.

Beyond the slick organizational system, Harn also shows us a great little tip for building the muscle memory necessary to differentiate between most lenses and the lenses made by Nikon, which focus in the opposite direction. For Nikon lenses, if you keep your hand on top of the follow focus, you can move the focus closer to infinity by rolling your hand over the follow focus towards your subject. Of course, the inverse is that pulling your hand back towards the camera reduces the focusing distance. With Canon lenses -- and almost every other lens on the market, cine-style or photo -- the same directionality applies if you keep your hand underneath the follow focus. For focusing outwards towards infinity, push your hand away from the lens (towards the subject), and to focus closer, pull your hand back towards the camera.

Feel free to share some of your favorite follow focus tricks down in the comments!

Your Comment

13 Comments

Neat. Thanks!

September 3, 2014 at 9:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sam

The main "tip" that helps me most is just remembering a basic principal of depth of field—the further the subject is, the deeper it is. So the closer they get, the faster you have to turn the lens barrel or follow focus. It's common sense, but it's something I have to keep at the front of my mind when tracking a subject.

September 3, 2014 at 9:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Its something so simple that I still need to always think about! Its like my lefts and rights.....

September 4, 2014 at 5:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Alex

I was a union (most of the time) 1st Camera Assistant for 30 years.

I got around the Nikon problem by always getting Canon telephoto's instead of Nikon. But the mnemonic presented here is good for those who do not have a choice.

Thing is, great focus pulling and doing it all manual is a zen-like behavior. Thus turning the wheel must be the same direction, all the time because you become one with the machine in order to do the magic that is a real focus pull, something no auto focus will do.

September 3, 2014 at 11:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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"Zen-like" indeed Dennis, that's a great way of describing it. In fact being able to pull by feel and intuition is the best way imo; actors may not hit their marks etc etc. Allows much more flexibility of camera operation onset.

September 4, 2014 at 7:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Agent55

Well it had great audio.

September 3, 2014 at 11:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tharp

Great tips!!

September 4, 2014 at 4:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Good tips! The dots instead of numbers is clever. You know, I think I may be one of the only people that finds follow focuses more cumbersome than helpful (on small shoots). Still prefer to work with the lens itself at this point.

September 4, 2014 at 6:34PM

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Samuel Neff
DP / Editor
795

Thanks, this is a constant issue for me as I get use to different lenses, and then even though the whole take is perfect, we need to scrap because of a muscle memory mistake. Neat trick to remember.

September 5, 2014 at 3:34PM

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Rean Combrinck
Film Maker
185

I don't ever recommend having a mnemonic way of remembering focus. It's by feel. Turn your Bain off and follow your fingers. If Nikon is tripping you up, micro rehearse between takes so your body learns it. If you're trying to learn it with your mind---too late! You already blew the take.

September 17, 2014 at 5:02PM

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Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op
2119

Ugh...please add editing of comments?.. Damned autocorrect. "brain", not "Bain". Sorry.

September 17, 2014 at 5:03PM, Edited September 17, 5:03PM

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Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op
2119

I like to use my penis to pull focus. I place it on top and thrust forward for objects further away, then I pull out on objects which are closer. Chub up and try it!

September 22, 2014 at 9:25AM

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The focus is on his ear...

October 18, 2017 at 1:43PM, Edited October 18, 1:43PM

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Max
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