An Introduction to Zone Focusing for your Leica, Rangefinder, or DSLR

When I first started shooting street photography, I was always frustrated that my autofocus would always be too slow to capture the decisive moment. After trudging around the internet, I was first introduced to the idea of “zone focusing” by Markus Hartel on his blog.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with zone focusing you essentially use a high f-stop number with a deep depth of field (f/16 or f/11) and have your camera pre-focused to a certain distance to get your photos in-focus. This is beneficial because although modern autofocusing systems are quite good, they are not 100% reliable. Using zone focusing when shooting street photography allows you to get far more keepers.

Aperture at f/16 and focused to around .9 meters. You can see everything from .7 meters to 1.5 meters will be in-focus

Regarding the settings, I typically use the following when shooting:

  • Aperture: f/16
  • ISO: 800-3200
  • Shutter speed: Above 320ths/second
  • Prefocus: 1 meter
  • AV-mode
Why do I use the above settings? Shooting at f/16 allows me to get the deepest depth-of-field with my lens. I keep my ISO high so my shutter speed will be above 320ths/second (this allows you to capture people walking and not blurry). I don’t mind having extra grain or noise in my images. I actually find it to make my images more gritty and raw. Also I keep my lens pre-focused to around 1 meter– because that is how close I generally am to my subjects when shooting.