Manual focus and kids

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So  you just found some thrifty legacy lenses at your local pawn shop or more likely on ebay and you look around for something to shoot, and all thats there is your kids. Hmm, I bet your first thought is, "I'll never get a single shot in focus." Well, there's hope, because really, its simple and in some cases, you'll get more usable shots then your typical AF lens anyway. 

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Focus Peeking

Hopefully your camera has a sophisticated way of helping you with critical focus by providing either 'Focus Peeking',  'Focus Magnification' or both. Or you're using a film camera in which you can set focus either with a split mirror prism or range finder that can calculate distance. Whatever it is, you will need to be comfortable with using it and of course, practice makes perfect. 

When I talk about critical focus I mean, the one thing that just HAS to be in focus for the shot to work. You might be thinking, well doesn't everything have to be in focus. No, of course not, the out-of-focus areas (OOF) is what gives your photos depth. But when shooting portraits, what has to be in focus is the eyes. Its always the eyes, the gateways into our subject souls. If you miss the critical focus on the eyes, the photo won't connect with your viewers as well and just fall short of being something truly special. 

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Zone Focusing

Tricks of the trade, as they say, are closely regarded best  practices that greatly benefit the outcome with the smallest of effort. Thats why they're called tricks! The magic of snapping moving objects with manual focus requires some esp. Well no, not the scifi version of esp but a little foresight might help.

The idea behind Zone focusing is preparing a shot by pre-focusing in a specific area in your scene and waiting for your subject to occupy the very space you have just set your focus for. Wow thats a lot of repetitions of the word focus!

Lets say you are shooting a small 3 year old child in a field. She likes to run at you a lot but mostly he's running in circles. You pick a spot you might want to catch her running through, set your focus to area taking into consideration your composition of the photo you would like to 'get'. I like using Focus peeking for this and focus until the ground is lit up by the peeking in the genera area I want in focus.Now wait for her to enter the area.... snap the photo just as she enters the area. Bam! Photography magic. 

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Do yourself a favor...

Give yourself a little breathing room and stop down the f stop some. Legacy lenses tend to be soft wide open anyway so trying to capture a moving object is just going to frustrate you. A good place to start at about f 3.5 for kids. If there is enough light, 5.6 will yield  better results while still creating enough separation from your background. As you get better you can start opening it up to 2.8 or greater. I would never go beyond f2 on a full frame as your Depth of Field will be too thin and then it won't matter how good you are, you will just have to be lucky. 

Keep in mind I am speaking in Full Frame terms. So if you are using a cropped sensor you can relax on how stopped down you need to be. For instance on a micro-four-thirds sensor you can cut those f stops down at least another stop so f 2-2.8 is an ok place to start, presumably if your lens is that fast. 

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