When you’re a one man video shooting band, keeping your subject sharp and in focus can be a huge pain. If you don’t have a focus puller following you around, or fancy remote control focus systems, it’s a constant struggle. That’s why we often see cameras locked off on tripods and sliders with static subjects that rarely move.
But there are some techniques you can use to keep your subject sharp and in focus when filming solo. Filmmaker Parker Walbeck demonstrates some of these techniques in this recently video. None of these techniques are always perfect, though, and Parker talks about the advantages and disadvantages of each.
So, the four basic ways…
- Lock the focus, and move with your subject at the same distance
- Hold the camera/stabiliser in one hand and manually focus with the other
- Shoot at a high aperture (small hole)
- Utilise your camera’s autofocus feature
It’s clear to see from the video that both the nature of the shot as well as the equipment you’re using will dictate the type of shot you get. If we break the techniques down a little, the other pros and cons of each become quite obvious.
1. Lock focus & move with your subject
This is a great technique. Keeping the same distance from your subject for the whole shot means that your subject will stay in focus the whole time. It’s essentially the technique that vloggers use when filming themselves. They point the camera toward their face, adjust the focus, and as long as the length of your arm doesn’t change through the shot, you should always be in focus.
This is ideal for things like glidecams and gimbals. But, it is vital to maintain the same speed and relative position as your subject. It’s very easy to move slightly slower or faster than your subject and not notice they’re no longer in focus, especially in bright sunlight.
2. Handheld continuous focus pulling
This one’s great for when you want more of a handheld feel. Here, Parker holds the glidecam in one hand, with the weights helping to keep it more stable, while manually adjusting the focus with the other. But this technique can also work with the camera handheld, or using a monopod, too.
But, this technique is nowhere near as easy at it sounds, though. Even when your camera’s locked off on a tripod, using a photography lens’s focus ring to try to maintain focus on a moving subject is difficult. This one will take a lot of practise. It’s also not that easy to use with something like a motorised gimbal, as you often need both of your hands to hold them.
3. Shoot a high aperture
Shooting with a high numbered aperture (small hole) creates lots of depth of field. Exactly how much will depend on the lens you’re using and the size of the sensor in your camera. You will lose that shallow depth of field, but it’s a lot easier to keep your subject sharp and in focus when the entire scene is sharp and in focus.
4. Built in autofocus
Canon’s dual pixel autofocus has proven itself to be rather good. It’s pretty quick and accurate compared to most other camera autofocus systems. It certainly doesn’t hunt as much as my Nikons do. This seems to be becoming the standard now in new Canon bodies, although older Canon owners won’t have this in their systems. Nor do Nikon, Sony, Panasonic or other video shooters. So, how useful this actually is will depend on your gear’s capabilities.
This has the obvious advantage of not having to manually fiddle with it as you and your subject move, and great on a gimbal or handheld. Although even advanced autofocus systems can still get confused. Perhaps it “sees” a face in trees or clouds behind you and locks onto that. Or maybe an actual person walks into your shot and the camera focuses on them instead of you.
So, there’s four different ways you can keep track of your moving subjects while shooting video. They may not all be useful all the time, and a couple will definitely require some practise (and multiple takes) to get perfect. But, you can never known too many different ways to do something.