Geeking Out – Manual Focus Bracketing

Last week Karen and I participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count (if you’d like to read about the history of this 124-year tradition CLICK HERE).  Unfortunately it was a cool, rainy day so we didn’t see many species.  Toward the end of one stretch of trail Karen thought she saw a hawk off in the distance.  I scanned the trees  and instead of a hawk I spotted a Great Horned Owl!  It was quite a distance away and buried within a tangle of limbs and vines.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t even attempt to take a photo but the Great Horned Owl was a Lifer for our companion so I gave it a try.

Since it was surrounded by limbs and vines there was no way the camera could attain focus on the bird; it usually focused on something in front of it so I tried manual focus bracketing to capture the owl in focus.  Note: if your shutter button is configured to initiate focusing this technique probably won’t work (I use Back-button Focusing and have disabled focusing by the shutter button).  First, I manually adjusted the camera to be out of focus.  Then I held down the shutter button, taking images at a high frame rate.  I then slowly manually adjusted the focus so the owl came into focus and kept going until it was out of focus again.  It was hard to tell through the viewfinder when the owl was actually in focus so I did this several times.  I ended up taking almost 200 shots in the hope that I caught the owl in focus on one or two images, as the focal point passed through the bird.  Below are some pictures from one of the series so you can see that it starts with the limbs in front of the owl in focus, gradually gets the owl in focus, and then it goes out of focus again.  As you can see even the “in focus” picture isn’t that good (due to distance, poor lighting); I didn’t put any of them in the database so you can’t click on them.

What do you do in similar circumstances?  I’d like to hear from you if there’s a better way.

Note the limbs in front of the owl are in focus.


The limbs are less in focus as the focus point moves toward the owl.




Below is the most in-focus shot of the owl in this series (talk about an Obscured Bird!):


The focus point goes past the owl and continues for a few more shots, just to make sure I’ve captured the owl in focus.


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Your perseverance paid off! How cool. Peg and I thought the results of the count were interesting.