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Filmmaking Guide: How to properly focus your shots

There are many ways to avoid shooting a blurred or out-of-focus video.

Producing quality footage may simply require familiarity with the basics of videography, especially when using a consumer camera or mobile phone, or it may require thorough knowledge of filmmaking, especially when filming with a prosumer or professional camera. There are also some general tips that can apply to shooting any video regardless of the kind of camera.

Autofocus vs. Manual Focus

Focusing is a basic requirement in videography work. Video cameras typically have an autofocus feature, which makes filming more convenient as a point-and-shoot endeavor. However, there are times the autofocus function doesn’t work for your intended footage.

It is possible to record a shot that focuses on the wrong element on frame. For instance, you may want to have the background look sharp but the foreground gets focused because of the camera’s autofocus. This typically happens when using longer lenses, zooming in, or shooting footage with very distinct foreground and background elements. In such cases, it is better to use the camera’s manual focus option, which almost always comes standard in mid-range and high-end consumer cameras and prosumer and professional cameras. Depending on the camera, the manual focus requires pressing a specific button or a focus ring for manual adjustment.

Using the LCD Screen vs. Using a Larger Monitor

Although the use of the camera’s LCD screen generally works when checking how your video would look, more demanding videos that require meticulous focus may encounter some issues when only relying on this small screen. In such cases, it is better to connect the camera to a larger monitor so you can better check if the lens is focused on the right element in the frame.

For instance, if you are using a telephoto lens to shoot a closeup of an actor’s face, the fact that the face is not a flat surface would mean the lens would only be able to focus at a particular distance. You can focus on the eyes, then the other areas of the face would most likely be out of focus. The farther they are from the eyes, the more out of focus they would be.

Rack Focus

Rack focus refers to the shifting of the lens’ focus from one element on frame to another. In turn, the audience’s attention also shifts from a particular part of the screen to another. This is done by manually adjusting the camera’s focus during the recording of the footage. To make this process work, the different elements to focus on should be a significant distance from each other. The type of lens also affects the rack focusing effect in the shot.

If using a short or wide lens, it is more difficult to see the focus difference from one element onscreen to the next. Rack focusing is more effective when using a longer or telephoto lens because it provides better focus separation between the foreground and background elements. In a movie setup, a popular example of the rack focus effect is a scene where one actor is situated on the left side of the frame as a foreground element with another actor on the right side of the frame in the background. The shot can first focus on the actor in the foreground, then switch to the actor in the background.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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