What is the best way to get tack sharp portraits with shallow depth of field when lacking an auto focus point where I want to focus. I don't want to crop and "focus and recompose" is not an option since the shallow depth of field will throw the person out of focus. Of course a precise measurement of the distance is possible, but also very cumbersome and to do manual focus is a bit of a guessing game. Any ideas or do I have to relax my requisites?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is live view an option for you? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PhilipKendall It's not preferable and if there is any other equally good option I'd rather avoid using it. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Hugo
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Live view makes manual focusing really easy and not guessing at all (as opposed to modern viewfinders on crop cameras - that is educated guessing). If you can't focus and recompose this seems to be the best option. Focus bracketing, if supported by your camera, would be another option. \$\endgroup\$
    – his
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have a camera which supports loupe view or focus peaking? These features make manual focus quick and accurate. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 19:04

1 Answer 1


Your best option is probably to put the camera on a tripod and use magnified Live View to do precision manual focusing.

Some cameras support focus peaking via an electronic viewfinder or the Live View screen, which allows the camera to tell you what parts of the entire frame are most in focus. This may or may not be helpful when you are trying to isolate your subject using selective focus at a narrow aperture. Focus peaking will show what areas are in sharpest contrast, but won't necessarily tell you if what is in sharpest contrast is perfectly focused.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you should also reconsider focus and recompose. Most cameras put the tripod mount directly under the sensor. So if you have the camera mounted on a tripod then you aren't really changing the subject distance when you recompose. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stainsor
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 4:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Stainsor But you are, because a line at an angle is longer than a perpendicular line. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 4:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Stainsor The critical distance is between the subject and the entrance pupil, not subject to sensor. And as Matt points out, when you rotate the camera you change the angle of the plane of focus, so that part of what was on focus is now behind the PoF, and the other side is in front of the PoF. Most lenses are fairly well corrected for spherical aberration so that field curvature is greatly reduced or eliminated. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 5:49

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