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08-06-2009, 09:20 PM   #1
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Focusing at night.

Today me and my friends went to the park at like 10pm. It was really dark at night and I couldn't autofocus, I had a lot of trouble trying to manual focus because I couldn't see anything as it were too dark. I could autofocus but it takes awhile because everything seems the same in the dark, I didn't know if it was actually focused or not when using manual. Does anybody have some tips for me?

Here is a little story today before I came home.

There was this SUV who came and parked after seeing us messing around at the park with my camera, we were taking pictures and messing around. I guess someone thought we were dealing drugs or something. The SUV parked and just sat there for 10 minutes, we thought what the heck because the park was empty and nobody was there except for us. Then it started flashing it's tail lights when we went out to our car. I was carrying my Kata 467 backpack with all of my camera gear when I walked out to the car, I guess the person thought I was doing something.

My friends and I decided just for the hell of it, we drove up to that person side by side and I rolled down the window to quickly snap a picture. The problem was I tried manual focusing and because I couldn't do it quick and accurate enough, it came out blurry. Stupid of us, we didn't have their license plate number, we were just messing around for fun, I guess we can just call it a night. the image was just out of focus entirely, it was super blurry, I had a hard time sharpening the original up. I used a Metz 48 flash and I got their face really well because they were staring directly at my camera when I rolled down the window, I guess it was too dark for them to see my camera so they didn't look away. Right when the flash went off, we drove off quickly and laughed. The SUV waited awhile and drove off real fast so we tried to ditch it.

When I came home, I sharpened up the images and found out it was a girl, or what appeared to be a girl, although the image isn't sharp enough to really see.

It was an awkward moment really, the SUV, the one person in the car, and the girl afterwards. Thought I would like to share with you guys, kind of odd.

08-07-2009, 09:05 AM   #2
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No comment on the harassing of or harassing by strangers at night. I suspect it might have been one of those "you had to be there" deals...

As for the focusing, you could use the spotbeam on your Metz if the subject was close enough. You could also use a flashlight (again, depending on subject/situation). If you're shooting from a tripod & have some notion of the distance you can stop down some and use manual zone focusing (a depth-of-field calculator or cheat sheet might be handy).

Zone focusing would have helped you get that snap-shot with the flash more in-focus. For example, set lens to 35mm, camera to f/8, and manually focus lens using markings on focus ring to ~10ft. Depth-of-field would give you everything from 7-16 feet in decent focus.
08-07-2009, 02:25 PM   #3
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Estimate your distance via eyeball then set it on lens markings as Andrew said and set DOF to a wide one (not narrow as you would miss focus)..this is if you aren't in a hurry.
If in a hurry (like taking snaps of the person inside the vehicle), set DOF to about middle or near wide but not widest, use a wide lens too as this would prevent motion blur from your movements and use flash as you did.
With a wide lens a picture coming out more sharp is a bit more guaranteed than zoomed-in and with a wide and fast lens too say (28mm f2.8 @5.6) you will have a wide DOF and you can just zoom-in and crop digitally and not optically on PP.
08-07-2009, 02:28 PM   #4
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Nice adventure by the way. Gets the heart kinda pumping in those kinds of situation.
Glad you got out of it laughing.

08-07-2009, 03:16 PM   #5
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Pull that stunt in my 'hood and you could get yourself shot (and not with a dslr either.) but as to the question, I sometimes use a flashlight for focusing purposes and then shut it off.

Last edited by dadipentak; 08-07-2009 at 03:57 PM.
08-07-2009, 09:49 PM   #6
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Oof, yeah, that doesn't sound too wise at all, the whole situation. I doubt any good could have come out of taking that shot. (though blinding pursuit with a good-sized flash is something I've resorted to once or twice over the years. Heck with focus, keep a finger on the test button. )

You really didn't know who that was in that SUV. Sounds like they were looking to buy something. If they were selling, or cops... your night might have ended differently.
08-08-2009, 04:55 PM   #7
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I recently heard on photog podcast that this guys carries a LED Lenser P7 or similar (high powered focusable flashlight - 700ft throw) and limmuninates the object he wished to focus on then shoots. Thinking about getting one and giving it a go. This flashlight is about $US70, so not cheap.
08-09-2009, 01:04 AM   #8
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I think your antics with the SUV could have led to real trouble, you got lucky and I would recommend you don't make that a habit of that on a night out.

As for focus, if its that dark what are you trying to photograph?. A flashlight next to the subject shining back towards the camera will allow the autofocus to function, provided you can get to the subject.

08-10-2009, 02:29 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by David Glazebrook Quote
I recently heard on photog podcast that this guys carries a LED Lenser P7 or similar (high powered focusable flashlight - 700ft throw) and limmuninates the object he wished to focus on then shoots. Thinking about getting one and giving it a go. This flashlight is about $US70, so not cheap.
If you're a paparazzi, I think your target would get pissed..
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