Photography week|January 07, 2021
Capturing candid but sharp photos of strangers is a tough technical skill. Adam Waring explains how zone focusing can help you get better street shots
Adam Waring

1 HOUR When you’re shooting on the streets, being discreet is everything. If you want truly candid shots of people who are unaware of your presence, they will also need to be unaware of your big camera. Holding a DSLR or CSC right in front of your face alerts subjects to the fact that you’re photographing them, but how else can you snap images?

In this tutorial we’ll show you how to use zone focusing to capture sharp street shots. With zone focusing, you switch to manual focus, set your lens to a predetermined distance and shoot subjects when they fall into this range of focus. The technique is ideal if you hold the camera at hip-level and don’t look through the viewfinder. Pre-focusing enables you to take pictures with greater accuracy and speed – and without alerting those interesting street subjects to your presence.

While older lenses tend to have markings on them that aid zone focusing, you can easily work out the shooting distance yourself. To determine the focus range, and change it, you’ll need to know the focal length of your lens, the aperture, and the intended subject distance. Fortunately the method is much less complicated in practice than it sounds, and you can also use an app such as DoF Table to work out the distances.

This technique takes time to master, so don’t expect sharp shots straight away, but once you’ve bagged some keepers, boosting the colours or converting to monochrome adds the finishing flourish.

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