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Zone Focusing - A Complete Street Photography Guide

Being able to focus quickly and accurately is an important part of getting great photos on the street. When I first got interested in street photogrpahy I was confused by the photogrpahers I watched on youtube and how they were focusing so quickly!

When you are out on the street there is so much to think about, composition, being aware of what’s happening around you, the constantly changing light.

So how do you make sure on top of all of that your photos are in focus?

Autofocus Myth

I used to believe I needed very expensive autofocus lenses in order to achieve street style photos quickly.

But as I took more time learning how to shoot with older film cameras, I learnt a new technique that is quicker than relying on autofocus, because it allows you to prefocus and make a good guess at where your subject will be in the frame.

That technique is Zone Focusing.

What is the Zone Focusing Technique?

Really quickly zone focusing is when you use a higher f stop to increase the depth of focus in your image.

For example this photo is taken on a 28mm lens wide open. The in focus” is very thin.

However this is the same image taken at f8. You can see the area behind is also in focus.

So from about 1m where anna was standing to 3m where the focus starts to fall off. Is the zone that is in focus.

On some older manual lenses. The zone is marked on the lens for a few f stop values.

So you can see at f8 - the zone of 0.8m to 1.5 is in focus when we set the lens to 1m.

This knowledge allows us to pre focus the lens and when we are out shooting, we can try to guess when the subject is close enough.

Having such a large in focus zone, means I don’t have to be as accurate. I can concentrate on my framing.

In time you eventually learn to guess the distance people or objects are from you.

When to us Zone Focus

  1. How close do you want to be to your subject? / how much do you want to fill the frame?
  2. How shallow of depth of field do you want?
  3. How bright is it?

The zone focusing technique really only works well when you have a bright sunny day or are willing to use a higher ISO.

Because you are making the f stop smaller you are reducing the amount of light hitting the film.

So it might take some time to get a good balance of ISO shutter speed and depth of field.

For a rougher guide. I usually shoot all of my film at 800 ISO at an aperture of 5.6 or 8 and shutter speed of /500 or /1000 depending on how bright it is.

Hopefully this guide will help you get out and start shooting a bit more.

I found that using zone focusing made me a lot more confident because I could be quicker.

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