Proper use of autofocus when shooting events at

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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...

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Old September 2nd, 2010, 02:58 PM   #1
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Proper use of autofocus when shooting events

Perhaps many of you feel the same way I do. I avoid the use of auto focus almost entirely. The most obvious reason is the camera can sometimes focus on the background rather than the subject. But I sometimes ask myself, am I overdoing my aversion to auto focus? There are some tracking situation where auto focus might actually do a better job such as the bride coming down the aisle when shooting from the head of the aisle. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.
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Old September 2nd, 2010, 03:32 PM   #2
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I think it depends on a couple of things. First the camera. How well does AF work on the particular camera you are using and 2nd, the particular situation. Since AF works mostly on contrast (dark background light subject OK as long as you stay on subject, light background light subject could be problematic and cause hunting).
For me once everyone has gotten down the aisle and I'm in place I will go to AF if I didn't use it for the procession since 99% of the "action" takes place in pretty much the same area but again it depends. For instance there are a couple of churches I shoot at a lot and they have hugh (think 30X40 foot) stained glass windows behind the altar. It's a nightmare with the backlighting and AF hunts a lot especially if there are clouds moving over changing the lighting.
At receptions especially during the dancing I stay with AF since I'm close, run a low powered on camera light and pick a "target and pretty much stay within that zone. Of course during the reception most of the time I have a WA lens attachment on so I'm covered pretty much no matter what I do.
Anyway, I don't see anything wrong with using AF as long as you feel OK with it just watch the situation and if it's real contrasty or backlit you might want to re-think using it.
What do I know? I'm just a video-O-grafer.
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Old September 2nd, 2010, 04:15 PM   #3
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Never having had any camera other than a handicam type that actually has autofocus, I don't see it as a problem. I'd like to think my choice of focus point is better than the camera's best guess.
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Old September 2nd, 2010, 07:49 PM   #4
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Hi Guys

Maybe the Panasonic HMC series have better auto-focus than others but I have never had the camera hunt for focus, even in low light and most weddings are shot with autofocus on!! One less thing to worry about in the chaos of a wedding which suits me just fine.

In fact the ONLY time I have ever seen the cams lose focus is when I'm doing Realty Inspection Videos in an empty house with a white wall...I have simply learnt here to not just film the bare white wall, but use my free hand to point out defects which gives the cam something to focus on!!

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Old September 3rd, 2010, 01:59 AM   #5
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Jim, my opinion is that auto-focus is merely an aid. It isn't infallible (although Chris's experience is interesting) and like every other aid on our gear it only works properly when you know how it works.

For example, any time there's the likelihood of somebody or something affecting the focus or lighting of the shot eg a waiter walking through my tight long zoom shot of the groom doing his speech, then I'll already be on manual focus and manual exposure. Unless you can live with the camera re-focussing on the obstruction and the iris whamming open then closed, which, in my view are the marks of an amateur, there is no alternative.
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Old September 3rd, 2010, 12:49 PM   #6
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Hi Jim.

First a description of my style and camera technique:

It's very much hand held - I have adapted (custom made) shoulder mounts for both my Z5 and NX5, with my left hand underneath on the focus ring at the front and my right hand through the support on the zoom rocker. The question-mark-shape support wraps over my shoulder and my right side of my face hugs the upper part of the camera body, so I have what is 360 degree and skew movement - no harness or body fixing and I can immediately lower the camera to ground level within a second or so. I view using the LCD. I can stand static with that rig for about 45 minutes! And no, I don't have the upper body strength of a rower (I weigh about 112 lbs - honest).

Yes things do get put on legs at the appropriate times although when you are often put into tight spots by the minister then I want to be free and nimble. In addition I am doing events other than weddings and what I call "yoof television" (youth) style is often the style by request.

But I digress.

As a result, I am often in auto settings as I tend to shift around to my next shot, and I am prescriptive about manual focus - and yes Philip is quite right about situations he describes, but I anticipate a backlight moment and the occasional person pass and often know the edit will take care of those situations (but I think it's not correct to say it's the mark of an amateur). But perhaps Philip, you are focussed (pun intended) on another marketing statement to separate yourself from other very creative producers who might happen to use an auto setting. I think that's a very unfair statement. But yes, I think I would support the statment if anyone left such shots in the final product.

It really is knowing what your camera will do for you and how it does it. And you are right Jim, and referring especially to AF you should really be in MF in those low contrast situations.

But on occasions, and by the time you've got your shooting angle, set iris (and probably checked zebra), zoomed in to focus and out again the moment has passed. And by the way with zebra and peaking set on the LCD, aperature, focus and shutter setting data, battery life and tape left (on Z5) and probably an email alert too, it all starts getting a little crowded in there.

But I'm digressing again.

Don't get me wrong, back in 1972 when I started you were brought up on manual. But in many situations auto (and I repeat, if you know what it can and cannot do) can be the better option in a fast changing enviroment provided the contrast ratios are suitable.

The other point which I think is also relevant is the use of multiple cameras.

When you have a multiple camera setup you are essentially covering your behind (often literally). Therefore it can be said under such conditions a certain degree of safety has been established within the setup itself. I know when I'm quickly moving to another angle I will do it in the knowledge I can cover the cutaway on a static B camera.

Hand held single camera can be quite hairy, but by heck the finished product can look quite spontaneous and dynamic. Have a look at some recent TV productions: shots not framed in the accepted sense, zoom and focus (late cuts): House, 24, and even in the UK "The Bill" (last episode). Yes I know this is scripted and will be multiple take situations, but I think you get my point. The public is being exposed (another pun) to a certain style which is being quickly accepted as being "cool" (but not by some).

I recently got hired to do a very large (two day) Asian wedding (by, would you believe, a music record label) because they liked the style of work and saw some of my samples. So I guess for the perfectly shot and framed client (which I do cater for) you can supply the goods, but also don't shut the door on shooting-the-moment and not merely trying to shoot the perfect shot - framed, focussed and exposed.

I think most here can claim to have got a great shot under many different conditions - it doesn't matter what they were in - manual or auto - they got the moment.

Women don't hit harder, they just hit lower!

Last edited by Claire Buckley; September 3rd, 2010 at 01:01 PM. Reason: typo
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Old September 3rd, 2010, 04:48 PM   #7
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"But yes, I think I would support the statment (sic) if anyone left such shots in the final product."

Claire I can't imagine anyone would think I was criticising the effect I described unless it was left in the final edit. I do crash zooms to re-frame and to trim the focus and I imagine everybody who cares about the sharpness of their pictures does the same, I just don't leave them in the edit.

Finally, although slightly off topic, I think anyone who can handhold for 45 minutes even with a support and still use a 14x zoom at the long end should be admired. I need a tripod to do that.
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Old September 3rd, 2010, 04:56 PM   #8
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But as we all know it never gets anywhere near to that - bearly half-way up the little W-T scale.

Women don't hit harder, they just hit lower!
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Old September 3rd, 2010, 05:30 PM   #9
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Claire, actually our shots of the ring slipping on are invariably shot at 12x, the more modest limit of our older cameras, so my admiration of your handheld stability remains. We always use tripods.
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