Hyperfocal Technique & Busting Focus Myths | A Morning at the Seaside | Filming Moving Subjects

Hyperfocal Technique & Busting Focus Myths | A Morning at the Seaside | Filming Moving Subjects

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Coming up on this episode of Photography Online:  we tell you all you need to  know about depth of field, we tag along on a landscape photo shoot on the english coast and we continue our Video Academy series… Welcome to another episode of Photography Online. Before we kick off another commercial free show, here's a quick photography question for you: what does ISO stand for? Is it A: it doesn't stand for anything it's actually an abbreviation of “isos" which is greek for “equal,” B: International Standards Organisation, C: Ideal Settings Optimisation or D: Internal Sensitivity Order? This is just for fun and we'll be revealing the answer later on in the show. Okay, well let's get the show underway by looking at something that we all need to control to get our photos to their potential - depth of field. This is an area where even if you think you understand the concept, you can still be easily led astray. Here's Marcus to tell us more… In previous shows I've explained all about depth of field and infinity; two topics which every photographer needs to  have a good understanding  of if they are to progress. The final piece of key information to enable us to achieve the best control over sharpness is knowing where in our scene to focus.

Now we can only really do this once we're proficient in how to control depth of field and knowing where infinity starts, so check these shows out if you haven't already seen them. In a majority of situations we are most likely to focus on our subject. This is certainly the case if we are taking a photo with a shallow depth of field such as a portrait or a wildlife shot. But if we are aiming to achieve maximum depth of field for a scene which has many different subjects, all at different distances, then as strange as it may sound it may actually be beneficial to focus away from our subject.

Now there's something called the hyperfocal technique or hyperfocal focusing, but you need to really understand what is going on here otherwise it can lead you to make some really big focusing errors. As we've discussed in previous shows, only subjects on our plane of focus will ever be truly sharp. But we can give the illusion that objects either closer or further away are also sharp, even though they are not technically in focus.

This is to do with our depth of field, officially defined as, “the area of acceptable sharpness.” There's a problem with that though which I'll come on to in a moment. But let's stay with depth of field for now. Depth of field always extends a third in front of our plane of focus and two-thirds behind our plane of focus. So if I focus on that headland over there which is, say, 15 metres away, my depth of field is 9 metres. Everything from 12 metres through to 21 metres will be acceptably sharp.

By adjusting both the plane of focus, i.e where we are choosing to focus in our scene, and the depth of field, we have an amazing amount of control over the sharpness of a photo. We can move our depth of field forwards and backwards as well as adjust how deep and narrow it is.

You might have heard about something called focus stacking. This is where the photographer takes multiple images of the same scene, each one focused at a different distance. These are then all combined in post-production to result in a photo which has more than one plane of focus. Now I'm not knocking photographers who focus stack.

If you enjoy doing that then great, keep going. However, I'm very rarely confronted with a scene where I haven't been able to get everything exactly as I want it, at least focus wise, on a single capture. Now I don't do photography so that I can sit in front of a computer screen editing my photos all day, so my aim is to try and get the shot right in camera so I literally only have to spend a couple of seconds on the edit. Now of course, this is only my workflow and if you enjoy editing more then it makes perfect sense that you might want  to do lots of long-winded  post-production. However, a vast majority of photographers I've seen doing focus stacking do it totally unnecessarily, as they could get everything sharp just by focusing in the right place and controlling the depth of field. So let's go back to the hyperfocal technique and see where it can be useful and where it can lead us astray.

If our scene consists of many different subjects, all at different distances, all we need to do is identify the nearest and furthest subject we want to appear sharp. If the furthest subject is past infinity then we can just ignore this and use the infinity threshold as our furthest subject. For example, if we're using  a 50mm lens, regardless  of what sensor size we have, then infinity will start somewhere around 50 metres from the camera. If the nearest subject we want sharp is 10 metres away, then we simply focus one third of the distance between 10 metres and 50 metres, which is 23 metres. Now all we need to do is ensure our depth of field is sufficient to comfortably cover 40 metres of our scene and theoretically we will end up with everything acceptably sharp.

This, however, will only work on certain scenes so it's not simply a case of looking at a depth of field app and focusing where it tells you. In fact, such apps are often the cause for focusing errors so my advice is, use this and not this. Where the hyperfocal technique can lead us astray is if we have a scene where we only have a foreground and a background and nothing of any substance between the two. In such a case using the hyperfocal technique will mean we end up focusing on thin air a third of the way between the two which will result in neither the foreground or the background being sharp and the whole image will suffer from a lack of definition.

Basically we need a technically sharp area between our foreground and our background to provide the illusion that the entire scene is in focus. Without this we're going to end up disappointed with our results. So you're probably asking, where should I focus in such a scenario? Quite simply you should focus on the area where you want the viewers attention to settle, which is just one of the many decisions we as photographers all need to make. So let's have a fun quiz and see how you get on by identifying where you would focus in the following scenes. I'll give you a few seconds on each one before revealing the answer.

So where would you focus on this scene to gain the maximum sharpness across the entire frame? And what about this one? Where would be the best place to focus in this scene? And finally an easy one. If you've got all of those  correct then congratulations,  you're well on your way to mastering focus and depth of field. On the subject of depth of field, there are no set parameters or values as to what this is. As I explained earlier, the official definition for depth of field is, “area of acceptable sharpness,” but this is dependent on so many variables such as image reproduction size, viewing distance and of course our own individual thresholds.

What's acceptable to one person may not be acceptable to another. This means that you can discard any depth of field apps or charts as they really are not going to help you. In fact, they could do the opposite and lead you astray. Only you can determine what your depth of field needs to be and to do this you need to know a few things. You need to know the closest point you want to render sharp, the furthest point, where the infinity threshold is for the focal length  that you're using, you need  to know the magnification ratio of the photo and what the viewing distance is likely to be, you also need to know where diffraction is going to start dominating depth of field and finally, you need to decide where to set your own bar as to what is and isn't acceptable.

Now, as you can hopefully appreciate there's a lot to consider when making such choices but with practice and experience these choices will become easier and easier, to the point where you just have an instinctive feel as to where to focus and what aperture to use for a specific scene. If you don't already have a copy then everything that we've featured on Essential Camera Skills since the launch of Photography Online is available in these two volumes, which are available as hard copies or digital downloads from our online shop. As always, there's a link in the usual place which will take you right to where you need to go. Everything that you purchase from our shop helps to support what we do here and allows us to make the show better and keep it commercial free, otherwise there would be those really annoying adverts popping up in the middle of my sentences, which would totally ruin the flow of the show.

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On the subject of making this show, most of our content is planned and scripted. This ensures that we get across all the vital information in the shortest amount of time. However sometimes it's just nice to tag along on a photo shoot with one of the team, with no agenda, just for the sake of doing what we all love to do: taking photos… Here on Photography Online we do plenty of features on gear and the technical side of photography, however, we don't do so many of the team out in the field getting photos just for fun. So this morning I've decided to rectify that and bring you along with me on the photo shoot in Scarborough.

I've shot from this viewpoint a few times before and I've got a couple of shots which I'm happy with. So I've got this the S-bend in the walkway here behind me. The objective this morning was, I'm here at high tide and as the water comes over the walkway onto the path, and as it recedes, there's holes in the side the walkway that act as drainage holes.

So then you get these little funnels of water coming out and I wanted to try and capture that in a long exposure. Now unfortunately the tide, although it is high tide, there's not enough movement in the water, there’s not a lot of movement in the water, so I'm not sure if I'm going to get the shot that I want. It's happening now and again, not in the way that I quite would want it but I'll persevere here for a little bit and I'll just see what happens. To give you a visual idea of what I'm after, I want to combine two of my previous shots together in a single image.

It's basically the warm colour of the shot on the left combined with the water pouring back into the sea from the shot on the right. However, the lack of the colour here today means that I need to park that particular idea for the time being. But I'm now seeing potential for a moody black and white shot with soft tones blending into one another, so I set my hopes on this. I've now got my composition set using the S-bend and the walkway here.

I've also got my filters in place. So to begin with I've got the polariser on. Now that will remove any glare from the pathway because as the sea comes over, breaks over onto the pathway, obviously it's leaving it wet behind so that will remove the glaze from that.

At the moment I've put the three-stop ND filter and I'm going to be experimenting with the exposure times that currently is giving me 13 seconds. I'm using an aperture of f/8 which is probably one of the sharpest apertures of this particular lens. And now I've just got to wait and hope that the tide comes in with enough force that it breaks over onto the onto the pathway and as I said, as it leaves the pathway through the drainage holes, we get these little spouts of water. It's not happening a lot but I just have to hang fire, see what happens. If it doesn't happen here I think I've got a backup plan of a little beach which is just up a couple of minutes up the path there.

This was as good as I was going to get today but it's a far cry from the reason I turned up. So let's talk about that backup plan. Rather than waste a morning and return defeated, I moved a few hundred metres down the coast to another scene which looked like it had far more potential to work in the current conditions. Notice that I've extended the lower leg sections of the tripod to ensure that the twist locks stay above the water and therefore don't get contaminated with salt or sand.

Also, following on from Marcus's features about spikes in his previous show, these work really well on sand. Don't do what I've seen some photographers do and fix old CDs to your feet as these will just create resistance with the water as it flows past the tripod and as a result, move it during the exposure. I've come a few minutes further down the walkway and I've got this little beach here where I'm looking back towards Scarborough and I've got a nice bit of clean beach. There's not been many people on the beach so far and basically I've got Scarborough town in the background. Every now and again they basically, the sea comes up the beach and it goes back down so I get this nice what we call “swoosh.”

At the moment I've got the polariser on again because I'm working with the water, so I want to remove the glare from the surface of the water. I'm sticking with a three-stop ND filter. The light levels have increased since I was shooting before so I've got a two and a half second exposure time at my chosen aperture of f/8 which, as I've said before, is the sharpest aperture of this lens. So for me it's now just a case of timing, so waiting for that right moment where I want to release the shutter. Now I am using a cable release so I can basically press the shutter at the optimal time without having to press the shutter button on the camera and potentially causing shake.

Even though the light didn't work with what I had in mind, by adapting I still managed to get something worthy of my efforts from this morning. I'm happy with the foreground of this shot but not so much the texture a little further out to sea so I lengthened the exposure time to smooth out the water more and I'm happy with the result. But let me know what you think. I was recently asked what the main appeal in photography is for me and I simply answered, just getting out there, and that's what I've done this morning. Yes, I had an objective in mind with a particular shot that didn't happen.

It doesn't matter, I can try again. I came to this small beach here, I didn't get award-winning shots but I enjoyed the process of capturing the images that I did get and that's a learning experience as well. Ultimately if we get shots, good shots, great. If we don’t, it doesn't matter as long as we've enjoyed the experience.

And that for me is what it's all about. If you'd like to go out on a photo shoot with one of the team members then you have a couple of options. The first is to do a one-to-one workshop, something that we offer in various locations in Scotland, on Dartmoor and Devon, as well as the Isle of Man. These are great if you want maximum time with your guide and only want one or two days. If you want something a little longer in duration then why not join one of our many photography holidays which we run to many amazing locations.

Spend a few days in the company of like-minded people and learn while you have fun taking photos. What could possibly be better? We've just completed our annual winter Lighthouse Retreat trips which saw Marcus looking after small groups on a remote island, where we stay by a real lighthouse, and we're just about to embark on our week-long trips to the Isles of Harris and Lewis, where we stay in our own 19th century private hunting lodge. To see all our trips and workshops head over to our website for more information. So last month we started a new feature to show you how easy it can be to shoot video. We know that many of you  are primarily photographers  but we already have the equipment to shoot video which can be used very effectively alongside your stills work to help sell your work and attract more attention.

In our second episode, Harry's here to tell us what we should be looking for in terms of Subject… Last month I gave you an introduction into shooting video, showing you just how easy and effective it can be. This time I'm going to be giving you a few tips on how to simplify the process, arming you with the information needed to take video that meets the same high standards as your stills photography. So whether you use one of these, one of these, or like us, both, there are a few good principles to learn when we look for suitable subjects to take still photos of. Many of us will generally look for static subjects as moving subjects tend to cause technical complications or at least limitations with the exposure times we can use. Dolby Vision can help greatly when filming static subjects as it offers more detail and depth. It gives the viewer a lovely immersive feel.

The detail gives an almost 3D sensation. This is something that you would not normally get. Often good content requires actual movement, either in our subject or with the camera moving or indeed both. This is key to holding the viewer's attention. Today we're going to explore movement and how to capture it in our subject.

If our subject is obviously moving, such as this wildlife example, then this will do the job of holding the viewers attention. But if we're thinking about using a more static subject, for example, a landscape, in our video then we need to look for movement within this scene and highlight and/or exaggerate this. This could be foliage blowing in the wind, clouds moving across the sky or water flowing in a river, for example. There are lots of landscape elements which have movement but sometimes it can be hard to find them. If we find the only movement is very subtle and slow: clouds moving slowly across the sky for example, then we can exaggerate this  movement by speeding up the  video in post-production. As long as nothing else in the scene is moving, it won't be obvious that the video has been sped up.

Once we do find a subject that is moving, let the subject do its job and move. Unless there is good reason to do so, don't try to follow the movement with the camera. It's often far better to keep the camera still as this will place more attention on the movement which already exists in the scene.

Most cameras have a choice of different focal lengths. If you're using a digital stills camera then chances are you'll have a zoom lens or access to a range of prime lenses. If you're using one of the recent iPhone models as we regularly do, because of the benefits of Dolby Vision, then you should have a choice of two or three different lenses depending on the iPhone model. Just like with stills photography, choosing the optimum focal length at the time of recording is an important one. However, remember that we can always zoom into the original video footage in post-production the same as we crop into a still image, but we can never zoom out. So, if in doubt, always shoot slightly wider than slightly too tight.

If you have a zoom lens, try to avoid the temptation of zooming with the lens during recording. The chances are that your zooms will look a bit lumpy and bumpy. You'll get a far smoother result by doing any zooms in post production.

But remember, this is only possible if you shoot at a higher resolution than you intend to output. For example, if I know I'm going to be outputting in 1080p, then by shooting in 4k, this will allow me to zoom in digitally by up to 100%, enabling beautifully smooth zooms just like you're seeing now. Things are about to get techno babble for just a second but do bear with me because it's vital to have a basic understanding of how video is recorded and played back. Even if you only ever shoot on an iPhone, and let the phone and Dolby Vision do all the hard work for you, there are a few basic things which are good to understand.

If you're using a stills camera, it is important to shoot video at the optimum exposure time. This is based on the frame rate you are using. If you set your camera to record at 25 frames per second, it is effectively taking 25 photos per second, therefore it is not possible to have an exposure time of longer than 1/30th of a second otherwise it wouldn't be possible to get 25 frames within a second of real time. However, you will get the best sense of movement by using an exposure time which is double your frame rate. So if you're shooting at 25 frames per second, try to use an exposure time of 1/50th of a second to get the best results.

In order for movement to look smooth and fluid, each frame actually needs to be blurred. So for this reason it's often not practical to export a single frame of video and use it as a still image, as if it has movement, which it really needs to have, then it will not look sharp when viewed as a still image. Sometimes we may find movement in a scene which is fast, maybe too fast, so we can slow this down by playing it back in slow motion.

However, we need to make this decision before we record the footage as we need to record extra frames per second to allow us to slow down the footage and still keep our output frame rate at 25 frames per second or whatever frame rate you decide you're using. The calculations are simple. If we want to slow something down to half speed then we need to record at 50 frames per second, then we can play this back at 25 frames per second, meaning a 4 second clip now lasts for 8 seconds, playing at exactly half the original speed.

If we want to slow something down to a quarter of the speed, then we need to record at 100 frames per second. If you use a phone to shoot video then you won't need to worry about exposure times as it will take care of this for you and setting the frame rate simply involves choosing from a list of options. If using the iPhone 12 or later then it will be Dolby Vision enabled, which also does all the processing work for us, ensuring our footage looks crisp and vibrant straight out of the camera. Just make sure you have ticked that Enable box. So whether we speed it up, slow it down, or just show it in real time, it's important to remember that it's movement which is essential to creating successful video.

But what if our subject is a static one? How do we make this look interesting on video? I'll be addressing that in the next edition of the Video Academy so make sure you join me for that. Okay, before I go I need to tell you the answer to the question that I asked at the beginning of the show: what does ISO stand for? A: It doesn't stand for anything, it's actually an abbreviation of “isos” which is greek for “equal”, B: International Standards Organisation, Ideal Settings Optimisation or Internal Sensitivity Order? The correct answer was A: It doesn't actually stand for anything, it's actually an abbreviation of “isos” which is greek for “equal”. For this reason it should actually be said ISO, rather than iso, but either way everybody knows what you mean and we say it wrong sometimes as well. Okay, well we are out of time again but join me in just a couple of weeks we'll be back with another action-packed show including a new Mission: Possible project and some new innovative filters which have just been released so make sure that you join me for that. Until then take good care but most of all take good photos.

…this is key to holding the viewers attention so this month we're going to explore… forgotten the last sentence… ...everything from 12 metres to 21 metres will be perfectly sh… ...no it won't be perfectly sharp, Marcus, you idiot… hang on in there if you can, because it's vital to have a basic understanding of… stop laughing! …so you're probably asking, where should I focus in such a shenario… so you're probably asking, where should I focus in such a shenario… don't laugh… Got no hair? What do I say? if we want to slow something down to half speed then we need to record in frif... frifty ...if we want to slow something down to half speed then we need to record in frifty... fifty! God’s sake… …on the subject of depth of f… depth of field, depth of field, Bruce Forsyth, nice to see you, to see you nice… ...as you can hopefully appreciate there's a lot to consider when making such deshishions  but with… deshishions… I can't get decisions right, can I?

2022-02-14 18:43

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