Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shooting in hyperfocal mode

I'm way behind on blogging. I haven't posted anything about boat repairs and frustrations, July 4th, or the weekend trip to The Resort at Artesian Lakes. However, a friend posed a question to me last week about what kind of camera she should get to capture photos of her two sons who are constantly moving. She said her digital camera was too slow to focus and take the shot. I promised an explanation of how to set up any camera with manual controls to take an instant, in-focus shot.

If you've ever used a disposable camera, you probably noticed, you don't have to focus. The lens in these disposable cameras is set to take advantage of what is called the hyperfocal distance. It essentially means that everything from about three feet away and continuing on to infinity is within acceptable focus. Generally, you can set a camera pretty close to hyperfocal mode by switching the aperture to f8 or f11. The higher the f-stop, the larger the area that will be in focus, but above f16, image quality usually starts to suffer.

Step 1: Set the camera aperture to somewhere between f8 and f16.

Now we've theoretically got the kids in focus even if they're moving around within the photo area. However, if they're moving fast, we have to make sure they're not just blurs. I find that the slowest shutter speed I can use without massive blurring of moving people is 1/60 of a second. For speedy children, I'd probably go for something more like 1/250 of a second. You can always go faster if there's enough light, it's a slow shutter that's the problem. If the photo is too bright, try a faster shutter speed. If it's too dim, go for a slower shutter speed.

Step 2: Set the shutter speed to no slower than 1/60s.

Now we have running kids in focus and not blurred. If it's a bright, sunny day, then no worries. We should have plenty of light. However, using a high f-stop and a fast shutter speed reduces the light that gets to the film or the camera sensor. If it's getting dark outside or you're in the house, you might need to counteract that reduction in light by increasing the sensitivity of the sensor in a digital camera by turning up the ISO. Normally usable ISO levels are about ISO 1600, but some digitals boast ISO up to 6400 and beyond. The higher you set the ISO, the brighter the photo will be, but the grainier and noisier it will look.

Step 3: Set the ISO to 400 outside during the day or to 1600 indoors or at night.

Not having to do any math, the camera should now click as soon as you press the shutter button and even if the focus isn't set exactly on the moving kids or dogs or whatnot, they should still be in acceptable focus.

The catch is, not all cameras allow you to set these things. Most of the cheaper point and shoots have dumbed it down to a picture of a mountain, a face, a flower, and a moon. If that's all you've got, set it to whatever symbol is night mode or sports mode and hope for the best.
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