Spool Photography’s Focus Tutorial viva Yosemite National Park Example

While still working through a few of the last files before my next shoot (well as least till CS5 comes out) I thought I write a few brief answers to questions I repeatedly get asked. A few of the more common questions i am asked either in person or via a number of emails are :

  1. How do you sharpen your images ?
  2. How do you set your focus to achieve depth of field ?
  3. How do you convert your raw files to Black & White ?
  4. Do you bracket and if so how do you blend ?

Well over the next few weeks I thought when I get the chance I would answer each question with a summary of what my process is. While I am not professionally trained I have spent a considerable amount of time in books, articles and countless hours just looking at photographers work I admire.

I must say any advice or help I can provide I would not take it as written in stone so to speak. I do what works for me and it may not for you, it may not be technically correct or by the book and it may not follow the rules but it is what I have found works at this stage for myself be it a jpeg preview or a full blown 75 inch print. I am always looking for ways to improve and tweek my methods and if you have some advice or read I am doing something very wrong … pipe up and let me know, I’ll give it a shot on a few raw images and see the results. In the end most times I read or hear of advice and I go away and bastardize the shit out of it to fit my vision ….

I thought we would start this post with the first question … Focus and depth of field … Why, because if you have not gotten the capture right in the field, the rest is crock of shit. Plus it is a short tutorial to write and there is shit cooking in the kitchen that smells damn nice … I think its garlic bread 🙂

Focus and depth of field

While I have heard all sorts of advice on this one of the craziest was set the f/stop to 22 and infinity … well that just does not work for me, I do not want my images to look average there is a lot of average out there, there must be a better more precise way.

With focus I split my scene in to 2 sections near and medium far … I will take the closest subject matter I want in focus and focus through the live view 5x zoom on the camera, in the image below this was the water-grasses and 2 wooden logs, I will take note of the distance reading on the focus dial (oh yeah sorry I ALWAYS manual focus ALWAYS).

I will then choose a point in the scene at a medium far distance, for the image below it was the tree line below the cliffs and focus at 5x zoom in live view. Once I have both readings I move the focus ring to a point half way between to two readings. I shoot the first frame and then check through the image for focus by scanning at 5x zoom. 90% of the time all is usually good, with the odd time where I have chosen to points within the frame that are not quite and the right distance apart. I find it is very important to make sure there is considerable distance between the closest point and medium far point for this to work … Surf conditions are usually the culprit. So your asking what about the background furtherest points in the image … Well they seem to take care of themselves and really do you want the small tiny object like the far ridge of mountain in this image behind the 3 brothers in focus, you can barely see anything of them and I really do not want them to stand out, as with skies unless there is awesome cloud structure in which case why are you not just shooting the sky as as scene ?

Well I hope that helps a few folks out, it is not a difficult procedure to follow, just a few moments to size the scene up, make a couple of mental notes or a small note pad to write the numbers down and your good to go …

Next time I do a small tutorial it will be my capture and blend mode. Again a simple method that just takes time to develop your own fine tuning … Till then its garlic bread time …. Cao ….

About Neal Pritchard

TImeless landscape photography prints by Neal Pritchard
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10 Responses to Spool Photography’s Focus Tutorial viva Yosemite National Park Example

  1. Ailsa says:

    Thanks Neal and I do look forward to more

  2. Nick says:

    you lost me after the garlic bread 🙂

  3. luke Austin says:

    Well written workflow tutorial mate. Always interesting to hear exactly what works for others.
    The last 2 shots have come up great. I stitched a very similar scene to this one although with the grasses in the foreground a few days ago and it came out fairly nicely. Colour conversion, but B&W definitely lends well to the scene. Such an incredible place.
    Enjoy Karijini, it should be amazing.

  4. truenorthmark says:

    Well said Neal and nice image as well mate!

  5. MatthewSaul says:

    thanks for the info Neal..what aperture you use for this shot then? f11ish to avoid diffraction etc etc at smaller apertures??? im assuming you take so much care in where you focus so you can use the ‘sweet spot’ of your lens, while still getting the depth of field you need.

  6. Thanks Matthew … This was shot at f/13. While most of my images are shot at between f/9 and f/16 with iso from 50 through 200 depending on scene and light available. On my 50f/1.2 lens the sweet spot is like you said f/11. depending on the depth of image and what is actually in the scene I may push that to f/16 and even god for bid f/18. Other factors also come into to play, for instance if I had water as a horizon I would of shot this scene at f/9 or f/11 but because of the mountain cliffs I pushed it out a little If half done was visible in the scene and prominent I would of pushed even further at f/16 or even f/18. While there was little water and it was moving quite fast but very smoothly the f/stop and iso did not come into play for the water, all I wanted was slight motion not a complete blur …. this time around … Has that confused the stuffing out of you? if not please explain it to me, between too many slices of pizza and not smoking now for the 4th day my mind is crumbling ….

    Thanks Mark … Not long now buddy and we go hard for almost a month 🙂

    Cheers Luke- ster … It sure is and I sure will be … New batch of images will be coming 😉

    Thanks Nick …. Your a fehlberg any mention of food and you guys turn into the cookie monsters, remember I live with one and half …

    Cheers Alisa … Next one coming next week

    • MatthewSaul says:

      Thanks for the detailed reply…all makes sense to me and is something i will pay more attention to when im looking at a scene from now on. Until now i have been a bit of a aperture somewhere in the sweetspot (depening on light etc), focus a third of the way in and fire away kinda guy..ill think more about what im doing after reading your response. Cheers Matt

  7. Pete Hodgson says:

    I thought I would let others comments come for a while before commenting myself as all opinions on this subject can be helpful some times. Thanks for sharing that info Neal it makes good sense to me and I use a similar process but i think you may have given me a couple more tips I can put into practice.

    Cheers Pete.

  8. Thanks Pete …

    No problem Matthew ….

  9. katha says:

    Nice post, I look forward to the answers to the other questions.
    Thanks Neal.

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