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Don’t Look

I am not going to “tell all” about my techniques, however I do want to share some neat tips from time to time that might clear up a few mysteries for some of you. This is for the uninitiated who have just stepped into the wonderful and mysterious world of digital photography, for those who shelled out a whole lot of cash on a fancy lens and want to know everything about it.

One such technique which I employ from time to time is “shooting from the hip”. Simple, no? Just hold your camera by your belt and let auto-focus do the driving. How did those photos come out? Piss poor, right? Shooting from the hip takes time and patience, and some planning.

Have a look at the diagrams I made for you. Look at “B”, you may have noticed these numbers on your lens, they are not cool decorations to make the lens look more serious or “pro”, nor are they averages that approximate just anything. These will look different for every lens, but on all lenses you can accurately measure the distance between yourself and your subject by adjusting these numbers, called the hyperfocal distance scale. Thus if you are accustomed to feet, you will look at the numbers aligned with feet, if you are accustomed to meters, then view the numbers aligned with meters. All DSLR cameras have an icon like the one shown in “C”. This is where the measuring starts, so if you turn your lens focus to 2 meters, the subject in focus is exactly 2 meters from this icon on the camera.

This is how I shoot when I’m out there, discreetly shooting photos of you making a strange face smoking a cigarette. I decide before I start walking around that everything 2 meters in front of me will be in focus, and I try to make a mental image of a wall that, when any person walks through it, is in range and I take the shot. See “A”, this should make it totally clear. I twist the focal ring on my lens so that it lines up with the distance I want to shoot for, for example, 2 meters. Then I walk around until I’ve spotted a subject that catches my eye. Since I know the subject will be in focus when it is within 2 meters of me, I will try to be discreet and get my subject in that space to take the shot. Shooting less than 1 meter is troublesome unless you are in a crowd, as it is very close and you will likely get their attention with your camera(unless you are shooting with a Leica which has a much quieter shutter release than other digital cameras).

This gets very challenging when you shoot at high speed apertures like F2, F1.4 or more painful, F1.2. These are very shallow depths of field, so you will need to work on your technique to nail shots like that. Of course, this is really what you’re aiming for though, because anyone can shoot street at F8 and get everything in focus, the fun challenge is isolating a really unique subject in a busy or interesting place. Have fun, play and experiment!