Many street photographers out there divide camera focus system in two ways: Manual focus and Autofocus. What I mean autofocus is single (time) focus. One particular square that shows where camera will focus.

Fujifiilm X100F. Square area means focus area.

Both system have their own advantage and disadvantage. Autofocus definitely easier to use, but using manual focus with zone focus technique can have more responsive action than AF (autofocus).

Zone focus technique: Set manual focus in camera. Set aperture (example f8). Set focus manually at certain distance (example: 1 metre). Result: Any objects at 1 metre distance is always in focus and no need to wait for camera’s focus hunting.

Tracking autofocus at aperture f2. Jakarta, 2018

However, this time I will write more about tracking focus in modern camera system. I believe this type of focus is not famous yet among most street photographers out there.

Tracking autofocus works well with fishing technique (read here), especially if we want to capture silhouette scene. Silhouette is a “solid black” object on bright background, which means it is a strong contrast condition. (Read here for more about silhouette)

Tracking autofocus at f2. Jakarta, 2018.

How tracking autofocus works:

– Detect objects in strong contrast area

– Detect objects that have closer distance to our camera (when there are more than one objects that have strong contrast area).

Main benefit: We can shoot moving silhouette at big aperture without worry that our camera will focus on background. Crisp silhouette with smooth (and shallow) depth of field is what we after here. 

Tracking autofocus at f2.8. Jakarta, 2018.

If we use regular single focus with big aperture to shoot silhouette, then we need to do panning (we move our camera as silhouette subject moving). The risk of doing panning: There is a chance we will mess up with our composition. Or, we need to make sure our camera’s lens is fast and accurate enough to freeze sudden subject that appear in our focus box area, which is actually kind of hit and miss.

Tracking autofocus at f1.4 with 24mm (FF equivalent) lens. Jakarta, 2018.

Like in photo above, I use big aperture, wide lens, and close subject, which is quite challenging to still got sharp focus on silhouette if I use single autofocus mode. By use tracking autofocus, my camera automatically lock on subject because it was in strong contrast area and has closer distance to camera’s lens compare to any other objects.

Tracking autofocus at f4. Jakarta, 2018.

Nowadays, I think many modern cameras already have tracking autofocus feature, at least that is what I know from some recent Fujifilm cameras (X-T, X-E, X-Pro and X100 series). I found that all of them have reliable tracking focus for my need.

Tracking autofocus at f1.4 with 24mm (FF equivalent) lens in low light condition.

Note: I am a person who always use autofocus, because I keep change my aperture number when shooting. It really depends on what kind of scene that I want to capture. Therefore, use zone focus technique is too hassle for my style.

Tracking autofocus at f1.4 with 24mm (FF equivalent) lens. Jakarta, 2018.

That is all about my thought of use tracking autofocus in street photography. To be frank, I just found this method recently (less than a month), but found it is quite handy to capture silhouette scene. Feel free to experiment with this feature, if you do not like it, you can always go back to your own method anyway 🙂

Keep shooting and stay inspired,

Nico Harold