Return to Cartier-Bresson’s Focusing Method

This shot was an experiment. Some of my faithful long suffering Blog followers might remember that at the end of Dec. 2011 I said I wanted to challenge my photographic pre-conceptions.

Many great Photographers of the past such as Henri Cartier-Bresson didn’t waste valuable time by focussing the camera for every shot. They used the a zone of acceptable apparent sharpness based on the Hyperfocal distance which is the calculated focussing point depending on the focal length of the lens, the aperture used and the required depth of apparent sharpness (Depth of Field).

For all of my thirty year photographic history I have been focusing or defocussing the camera before pushing the button. To challenge the status quo I decide to let the camera do the work by turning to manual focus and using the Hyperfocal distance.

Once the camera and lens have been set there is no need to look through the viewfinder or at the LCD. If I had looked through the camera the runner would have looked at me as she sped past. This method is another tool for taking pictures inconspicuously.

As an example this picture called South Bank Runner was taken last Monday in London on a Panasonic Lumix G2 with the standard 14-42mm lens set at 14mm (28mm in full frame terms) with an aperture of f8.0, the focus point was set to 8 feet (2.4m) . The apparent zone of acceptable sharpness was calculated as being in the range of 4 to 15 feet. The lens was manually set to 8 feet by measuring the distance, focusing on it and marking the lens with Tipex.

The Hyperfocal distance was calculated with a simple tool called a “Depth of field guide” bought from in the USA.  This may sound a little complex but all will become clear if you are interested enough to buy the “Depth of field guide”.

Camera settings  – 28mm lens, ISO 100, f8.0, 1/15 sec handheld.

The picture was post-processed as a Lith print in Photoshop and SEP2.


(c) Andy Beel FRPS

12 responses to Return to Cartier-Bresson’s Focusing Method

    • andybeel says:

      Hi Karen I was lucky with the one shot I took to get the figure in exactly the right place. Thanks for commenting. Andy


  1. Jack Farrell says:

    Many candid-men have pre-focused at weddings, and many still use do with modern autofocus cams due to very low lighting. I have had some excellent results doing so, I’ve never mastered this procedure and missed some shots I needed. But, never had the “Depth of Field Guide”.

    I still miss manually focusing by eye as I used to do with my old Nikon and Pentax 35 mm cams. The DSLR’s just don’t show focus like the old SLR’s did. I could get pretty fair focus in very low light – lower than I could shoot without a tripod and cable release. But, this technique might be wonderful with the higher ISO of newer digi-cams. Will have to try it! Thanks for the reminder.


    • andybeel says:

      Hi Marianne, after posting this on the blog, over the past day or so I have done a few different versions of this picture. Lith is a very adaptable process so the biggest issue is matching the style of the processing to the picture. I think I now have my prefered version waiting to be printed – maybe?.

      Thanks for commenting. Andy


  2. A.Barlow says:

    I tell ya man, sometimes your blog posts make me hit up El Goog and do some research. It’s kinda funny though, I have used this technique – sorta – to shoot some things, like people, but mostly birds. Now I know it has a name!

    As far as your shot goes, that’s really cool and I love the feeling of motion it imparts.


    • andybeel says:

      Hi Jennifer its one of those techniques that a lot of people know or read about but forgotten to try. Thanks for the kind comment. Andy


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