Auto or manual focus – that’s the question!
As a professional wedding videographer, you know that every single decision you make matters for the quality of the outcome. You also know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in terms of offering clients beautiful videography for weddings.
The auto focus makes the job a whole lot easier but it’s not always the best pick. Choosing manual or auto depends on several things – the type of camera or camcorder you’re using, the specifics of the venue, the light conditions and your experience (to name a few).
Manual focus puts you in charge and allows you to make the most of the conditions. In some instances, however, opting for the automatic option will give you a good result.
Manual vs. Auto Focus: The Basics of Videography for Weddings
Most professional wedding filmmakers swear by manual focus and they’ll never turn to the automatic function of their DSLR camera (or whatever other piece of equipment they’re using).
Automatic focus systems may be good for photos but they tend to be sluggish when you’re trying to capture video. Hence, rapid movements and changes in the light conditions could contribute to blurry moments and less than optimal footage capturing until the camera adjusts.
There are cameras out there that have attempted to address the problem. Canon EOS 70D DSLR, for example, was the first one to feature the Dual Pixel CMOS auto focus technology. The aim of this enhancement was to ensure smooth focus tracking, especially when films and clips are being created.
This technology works in a pretty simple way – object or face tracking has to be engaged on the Canon EOS 70D, contributing to the camera following the chosen subject / object as it moves. The scene is recomposed fast, which minimises the risk of blurriness.
Thus, deciding if you’ll use automatic or manual focus when doing videography for weddings is heavily dependent on the characteristics of the camera that you use. Choosing the right professional wedding videography equipment is of utmost importance. Your style of capturing footage and your experience, however, happen to be even more important.
Knowing your camera well, knowing how it will perform in certain situations and taking over with manual settings are some of the essentials to keep in mind each time you go out to shoot a wedding. If you’re not prepared for these variables and you’re not capable of making quick focus adjustments, chances are that you’ll give clients subpar footage at best.
Instances in Which Auto Focus Is a Good Pick
Some situations lend themselves to the use of the auto focus feature.
Let’s take a look at some of the instances in which you can let the camera do the focusing on its own without bringing down footage quality:
Having subjects moving directly towards the lens: Autofocus makes it possible to do a good job in such instances because maintaining manual focus as the subject gets really close to the lens is nearly impossible. For the purpose, however, you need to have a good camera. If the autofocus isn’t of superior quality, the subject will be lost, blurriness will ensue and the camera will find it nearly impossible to refocus again.
Shooting from a gimbal: Maintaining manual focus whenever you’re using a gimbal can also be incredibly challenging. Expensive, premium gimbals can hold a remote follow focus but do you really have the budget for such equipment? If your gimbal doesn’t belong to the aforementioned variety, engage automatic focus for optimal results.
Your camera has AF-A auto focus: Depending on the camera model, there will be several different auto focus modes. AF-S or single-servo auto focus locks when the shutter is pressed halfway and is good for stationary subjects and photography. AF-C or continuous-servo locks onto moving subjects. Finally, AF-A or auto-servo allows the camera to switch between the two modes, depending on which one is more appropriate under the circumstances.
You don’t have a lot of experience with manual adjustments: Newbie videographers don’t have the instincts and the reflexes of someone who has been doing videography for weddings over the course of years. As a result, such videographers will need more time to adjust the manual focus. Auto focus will allow for quicker adjustments in such scenarios and will not compromise the quality of the video.
Strategies for Improving Focus in Wedding Videography
The most important thing to understand when deciding between automatic and manual focus is that the right technique will vary from one shot to another. This is why you need to be prepared. Visit the wedding venue in advance and have a list of the shots you want to create. If you know what you have to shoot and where, chances are that you’ll be capable of ensuring optimal focus.
Here are some of the techniques and essentials you may want to master in order to give your clients a high quality outcome every single time.
Lock the Focus and Maintain the Same Distance
This is one of the essential techniques when doing videography for weddings.
This technique involves locking focus on your subject and keeping the same distance between them and the camera at all times.
If you need to move around, a gimbal will help you lock focus. Maintaining the same speed and relatively distance from your subject throughout the shoot will be the keys to having focused footage in the end.
High Aperture Shooting
Using a high aperture when shooting creates depth of field.
When you lose the shallow depth of field, you will find it a lot easier to maintain the sharpness and crispness of your subject. Obviously, the use of this technique will depend on the quality of your camera’s lens and its sensor.
Try Focus Pulling
Another technique that will help you create crisp shots is the so-called focus pulling.
Focus pulling is a quick trick that can create a really artistic effect. It involves making a switch from focusing on a subject in the foreground to a subject in the background.
The best focus pulling happens when manual settings are being utilised.
To get a good effect, open the aperture wide (at around f/2.8 or f/4). It’s also imperative to keep the camera steady while doing the work.
Use Additional Tools and Accessories to Enhance Focus
Doing professional videography for weddings implies constantly upgrading your gear.
If you want to be prepared for all possible scenarios and you want to ensure crisp, focused shots, you may want to consider the acquisition of some accessories that will work alongside your camera.
Accessories that improve the focus of any camera do exist, some of them producing much better results than others.
The loupe is one of the primary pieces of photographic gear you should consider getting if you want to produce focused footage in all circumstances.
The loupe’s purpose is to cover the rear LCD of the camera. In a sense, it acts like a large viewfinder that allows for the better framing of the scenes. Loupes also offer some degree of magnification, which gives you a better sense of the frame and helps you make the necessary focus adjustments.
An auto-focus dedicated flash or illuminator is another piece of equipment to consider getting. The aim of the flash is to assist the camera’s auto focus capabilities whenever the light conditions are less than ideal. Since these flashes are more advanced than the standard external flash, they tend to have a range of additional useful functionalities (built-in optical sensors, flash coverage distance scales, motorised zoom range, good rotation and tilt angles, etc.).
Finally, an external monitor can be employed.
Just like the loupe, the external monitor allows you to see what’s going on and make better focus adjustments.
The camera’s built-in LCD screen is pretty tiny and lots of details will be missing. A larger monitor gives the videographer better visibility and absolute control over the scene, the composition and the focus.
Enhance Your Skillset and Equipment
Maintaining focus throughout the wedding video shoot is one of the things you will have to master.
Over the course of your career, keeping shots focused regardless of the conditions will become a whole lot easier, almost like second nature.
Even if you have the most advanced camera, however, you will sometimes have to make split of the second decisions. Knowing the capabilities of your equipment is the number one thing for choosing wisely. This is why you need to experiment with shooting modes and different conditions.
Doing practice shots and even rehearsing at a venue before the wedding day arrives will help you rest assured you’ll be capable of capturing the wedding in the best way.
Finally, don’t forget that planning is imperative but creativity is also a large part of the job. Leave some room for improvisation and having fun. These will definitely impact the artistry of the final wedding video you produce for your clients.
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