Focus Tips for Shooting Film


The number one complaint I hear about shooting film are the focusing issues. Here are a few easy tips to overcome your focusing fears!

1.Use a higher aperture

While I love film at 2.0, if you want more than one person in focus then you have to shoot at a higher aperture. Because of the compression on these older lenses, if you’re always at 2.0 then you can have someone’s nose on focus but miss the eye. Your focal plane is that shallow. 

The colors and tones of film are dreamy whether it’s at 2.0 or 4.0 so don’t be afraid to go up to even 5.6 or higher! 

At the end of the day your clients want to look good, and the easiest way to nail focus is to give yourself margin and shoot at a higher aperture. 

2. Get closer

If your comfort zone is shooting far away portraits and you’re missing focus, try getting closer. There are fewer focus points than with newer cameras so the more the subject fills the frame, the higher a chance you have of them being in focus. 

Try these compositions instead: 

  • 3/4 body shot
  • Headshot
  • Up close detail shot

3. Switch focusing modes

Some cameras are easier than others to focus manually. I love the Contax 645 because I can easily switch between auto and manual focus should one be giving me problems.

Use manual focus for varied compositions and crops to ensure the autofocus doesn’t try to place the focus outside of where you want it. Use auto focus for ease and speed when focusing in the middle of the frame.

Bonus Tip:

Have your subject move sideways instead of front to back when photographing motion. 

Whether it’s walking, spinning, jumping or tossing a babe in the air, keep your clients feets in the same focal plane by having them move side to side instead of walking forwards or backwards which would make it harder to nail focus. 

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