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DSLR Video Weekly: The Impact of Light and Motion on Focus

This is article #18 in the DSLR Video Weekly series.  If you’d like the whole thing in one shot, check out the book Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.


ISO 400 1/50 sec. f/5.6 50mm lens While shooting on an overcast day, the effect of motion on focus is easy to see. Faster moving subjects like the biker are the most out of focus, whereas stationary objects are clearer. For this image, the camera was also handheld, so the inherent image shake further softened the shot.

The greatest challenge you’ll face when shooting DSLR video is focus. Even top pros find focus tough when dealing with moving subjects or a moving camera. In fact, on a professional movie set, there’s often a focus-puller who is dedicated to helping with this complex task.

You’ll need to learn how to balance exposure and movement while trying to maintain focus. If you’re shooting subjects in motion, you’ll need to pay close attention to how much light you have for the shot. The best option is always to try to have enough light available.

The less available light, the wider an aperture you’ll need. The more you open the f-stop to let in light, the shallower the depth of field. This makes it more difficult to keep your subject in focus and can lead to subjects falling out of focus as they move (or the camera moves).

Buy At Least One Prime Lens

When you bought your DSLR, it probably came with a zoom lens that easily lets you get a wide range of coverage with just a quick twist of the wrist. So, why on earth would you go back in time and pick up a prime lens that only offers a single focal length?

It’s all about aperture.

The AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens from Nikon is an affordable prime lens for Nikon cameras. It also offers manual aperture and focus rings, which provide flexible controls while recording video.

Most prime lenses offer apertures that open as far f/1.2 to f/2. These wide openings let in a lot more light, which is truly useful when shooting in existing light or low-light environments.

Prime lenses are universally faster than zoom lenses and typically are much cheaper as well. This is due to the way the lenses are manufactured. Prime lenses have fewer moving parts and elements than zoom lenses.

Having a prime lens or two in your kit will come in handy in the following situations:

  • When you need to shoot in very low-light conditions.
  • When you want to shoot with a shallow depth of field to blur your background or give the video a more filmic look.

Join us each Saturday for the next installment of this weekly series.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.

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