Do you focus and recompose for portraits?

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by lance70, Jan 12, 2018.

  1. TCampbell

    TCampbell Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    You've got to be careful regarding the combination of depth of field with "focus & recompose" techniques... and how much you move the frame.

    Suppose you've got a fairly decent depth of field... enough to get a group of people all in focus. Well then focus & re-compose at will... your depth of field will take care of it.

    But suppose you've got a really shallow depth of field... your subject's "eyes" are in optimal focus... but possibly you notice that even their nose or ears are not quite as tack sharp. NOW you've got to be careful. A small adjustment will alter your focus plane and the subject's eyes are no longer in that plane of tack-sharp focus.

    Modern lenses have loads of extra elements in them to correct for all sorts of optical issues and one of their jobs is to attempt to "flatten" the plane of focus (it would otherwise be moderately spherical). They usually do a pretty decent job... but not a perfect job.

    Here's a graphic that I drew up to illustrate the risk of focus & recompose.

    Focus & Recompose.png

    In this drawing, the camera is in the exact center of the blue circle. I was careful to draw a perfectly round circle (it's not an ellipse). The perimeter of the blue circle represents the focus distance. Everything on that circle is the identical distance from the camera.

    Notice the subject (and I drew a small thin line to denote the approximate position of our subject's eyes) is at the distance for perfect focus.

    I've done a gradient color on the rectangles (and made them slightly transparent) so you can see the depth of field... from good/acceptable (green) to poor/unacceptable (red).

    There are TWO of these colored rectangles.

    #1 The one located over our subject is the rectangle that we used to establish "focus".
    #2 The one located at the top of our graphic is the one we use for "composition" (the one we plan to use when we take the shot).

    After we focus on the eyes... we re-point the camera so that our subject will be at the right side of the frame (e.g. "rule of thirds" composition).

    Although the eyes were at the perfect focus distance in depth-of-field rectangle #1... that subject's eyes will clearly NOT be in acceptable focus in rectangle #2.

    This is because we used a shallow depth of field. If you took this shot at f/8... or f/11... this probably wouldn't matter. But if you're shooting this at f/2... or f/1.4... you may not be happy with the result.


     
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  2. SquarePeg

    SquarePeg Nevertheless... Staff Member Supporting Member

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    I don't focus/recompose. It just doesn't work as well for me as getting the focus point right on the eye to begin with. If I have to shoot a little wide then crop later, I'm ok with that. It results in better focus for me. I think focusing technique is very subjective and if you find something that consistently works for you then go with it. I gave up on focus/recompose after a lot more misses than hits. I think because I end up shifting my weight a lot (ants in the pants).
     
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  3. Vtec44

    Vtec44 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I shoot at f1.4-f1.6 98.78% of the time so I can't really focus and recompose. If the subject is outside of my focus points in the view finder, I just use live view. For moving subjects, I almost always use the center focus point. On film cameras, I typically manual focus so there's really no need for focus and recompose.
     
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  4. Destin

    Destin Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I started formulating my response but it pretty much exactly matched what @Overread already said. I never use manual focus for portraits, however. I always move my focus point as close to where I want it as I can’t get it.

    The only time I focus and recompose is in low light when the peripheral focus points struggle to grab focus but the center point still does well.
     
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  5. JamesD

    JamesD Between darkrooms

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    I focus and recompose, mainly for convenience, so I don't have to fool with AF point selection while I'm in the viewfinder. At the distance I take portraits (usually using a 100mm f/2), I find that a few of degrees of movement to recompose doesn't shift the plane of focus noticeably, especially if I'm shooting stopped down at all. If I have any trouble, it's usually the subject and/or photographer not standing/sitting still. People tend to sway a surprising amount, especially when standing, and especially when squinting into a viewfinder.

    Exception being if I'm shooting from a tripod. Then, I do whatever's most convenient for the situation, and it varies more with a tripod.
     
  6. mrca

    mrca No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I try to keep camera movement in the recompose to a minimum by moving the single focus point I use. I shoot in manual and also have the same single point for exposure. I can't afford to hope I have it right so I spot focus just below the eye I want in focus, if caucasian, increase exposure about 2/3 stop from dead center as I recompose and shoot. At 1.4 and 2.0 I can't let the camera guess where I want focus. I know 2/3 stop will have me really close if not dead on with exposure.
     
  7. Christie Photo

    Christie Photo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I virtually always work from a tripod and focus manually. But I'm old.

    -Pete
     
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  8. JBPhotog

    JBPhotog TPF Noob!

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    BBF focus point and recompose if desired.
     

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