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Thread: Manual focus with long exposures

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    JK6065's Avatar
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    Manual focus with long exposures

    A problem I ran into more and more when shooting long exposure (or at least experimenting with it) is that I see about nothing through the viewfinder. This makes it very difficult to focus right and build up a nice composition. It's too dark for the autofocus to get it right and through the viewfinder I can't see enough detail to focus sharp enough.

    I wonder how you deal with this as it seems that a lot photographers haven't got this problem at all when I look at their photo's.

  2. #2
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Manual focus with long exposures

    Have you tried adjusting your exposure compensator?

    Quote Originally Posted by JK6065 View Post
    A problem I ran into more and more when shooting long exposure (or at least experimenting with it) is that I see about nothing through the viewfinder. This makes it very difficult to focus right and build up a nice composition. It's too dark for the autofocus to get it right and through the viewfinder I can't see enough detail to focus sharp enough.

    I wonder how you deal with this as it seems that a lot photographers haven't got this problem at all when I look at their photo's.

  3. #3

    Re: Manual focus with long exposures

    I try to adjust the focus area to a bright object, or one with high contrast. This can be done by using the multi-pad to select the focus points, not shifting your camera physically. Alternatively, set it to infinity if your subject is far away. For landscapes with close foreground, use hyperfocal distance. If you want a more "natural look", focus on objects with detail. Pick your poison!

    http://www.bythom.com/hyperfocal.htmhttp://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tut...l-distance.htm

    But that's not all folks. I wrote earlier that I don't really use hyperfocal distances. Why did I state that? Hyperfocal focus done right looks wrong. It's an artificial construct promulagated by us photo writers who ran out of things to write about and started inventing things that seem useful but really aren't.
    Our brains don't do "hyperfocal." Indeed, a critical depth cue our brain uses is that detail = near, lack of detail = far. See the individual whiskers on a face? The lion is too near. Can't tell if that bump on the horizon is a lion? The lion is an acceptable distance away (though he might be able to recognize you).
    So when you use hyperfocal focusing techniques you're actually trying to violate the natural methods by which our eye/brain determines distance. Yes, your big print now is razor sharp. But it looks artificial. You've taken out a depth cue. Just as the latest craze of using tilt shift lenses to restrict focus depth makes images look artificial by adding an artificial depth cue. That's not to say that there aren't times when infinity being at focus is useful. I often point to Ansel Adams' Denali and Wonder Lake shot: Denali, though it is about 28 miles away from where he set up his tripod, is critically sharp, as is the edge of Wonder Lake, which is only a 100 yards or so away. By having Denali sharp, Adams has thrown away depth cues for something else. Indeed, in his later prints, he uses more burning and contrast within Wonder Lake itself to make it seem more out of focus, further forcing our eyes to run up to the Denali massif. That's pretty much what most people do at that spot. Denali is big. You can't take your eyes off it (assuming weather isn't shrouding it, as happens a majority of the time). Still, you get no sense of how far away Denali might be because Adams has robbed us of the depth cue. Considering that Denali is that big in your eyesight but is 28 miles away, that depth cue is actually important for understanding the true nature of the landscape, in my opinion.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Manual focus with long exposures

    Quote Originally Posted by JK6065 View Post
    ... I see about nothing through the viewfinder. ... It's too dark for the autofocus to get it right and through the viewfinder I can't see enough detail to focus sharp enough.
    I think you'll find a number of people adopt the view that you need to get to your location when there's still light. Do your set up and then pull out the good book (and flashlight) that you remembered to take with you .... and wait. I'm sure he'll correct me if wrong, but I think Colin has previously advised, on here, that you get your focus sorted for the shot you want when there's enough daylight to do it, switch off autofocus and DON'T TOUCH the focus ring again (turn the hood round and put it on backwards to stop you doing so)... and then wait!
    Last edited by Donald; 7th April 2010 at 04:37 PM.

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    Re: Manual focus with long exposures

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    I think Colin has previously advised, on here, that you get your focus sorted for the shot you want when there's enough daylight to do it, switch off autofocus and DON'T TOUCH the focus ring again (turn the hood round and put it on backwards to stop you doing so)... and then wait!
    Spot on Donald

    Another approach is to use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter ... you can minimise the attenuation so you can see - then increase the attenuation for all the benefits of a long exposure.

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    Terry Tedor's Avatar
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    Re: Manual focus with long exposures

    Quote Originally Posted by JK6065 View Post
    A problem I ran into more and more when shooting long exposure (or at least experimenting with it) is that I see about nothing through the viewfinder. This makes it very difficult to focus right and build up a nice composition. It's too dark for the autofocus to get it right and through the viewfinder I can't see enough detail to focus sharp enough.

    I wonder how you deal with this as it seems that a lot photographers haven't got this problem at all when I look at their photo's.
    I'm curious, what is the subject matter you're trying to shoot?

  7. #7

    Re: Manual focus with long exposures

    I wonder if using laser pointer beams to assist with autofocus might help? It might work depending on the distance of your subject of course.

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