Focus on Infinity

“Infinity: unlimited extent of time, space, or quantity : boundlessness”, according to Merriam Webster. A difficult concept under any circumstances, infinity in photography can be an even more elusive state. In photography, the definition of infinity includes “A distance between a subject and the camera so great that rays of light reflected from the subject may be regarded as parallel.”, and “A distance setting of the camera lens beyond which everything is in focus.”.

Fresh Snow on the Sangre de Cristo

Recent travails in shooting distant landscapes has me studying the issue in more depth, and today was the day for some cursory field testing. The plan was to conduct a scientific experiment to determine if the auto focus mechanism on my Canon 70D with my 70-200 lens was handling infinity properly. Today was supposed to start with a beautiful clear morning, following days of snow and fog and I was glad to finally be able to get out and do some shooting with Big Dog.

As usual though, my experiment didn’t turn out to be all that scientific or even informative, but I had fun and got some good usable shots 🙂 What I did find out though was gratifying in that I believe that my lens is performing exactly as it should. My method was to take two shots of every scene, one with the auto focus and the second identical shot with the lens set to manual and the focus set to or near the “infinity” mark focused on the distant Sangre de Cristo mountain range as sharply as possible. Then, in front of Photoshop a 100% view of the two images side by side was going to tell me which method is better. I had recently watched another photographer on Youtube who claimed that manual mode focused on infinity was the way to go.

Now the really confusing part of the experiment is that many professional lenses have the capability to focus “beyond infinity”… where nothing is actually in focus. Apparently the equipment can compensate for micro expansion and contraction of the metal due to temperature changes and may require that space slightly beyond the infinity line for that purpose.

Fox with Prey

It was indeed a beautiful morning and we were awarded a couple of bonus shots for our effort 🙂 Along the way I spotted both a fox hunting and then later a coyote hunting in the beautiful fresh snow. The fox was already heading for home with a tasty morsel in his mouth and the coyote was still hunting but paused to cast a wary glance in our direction.

Coyote in Fresh Snow

Coyote in Fresh Snow

The mountains were magnificent as usual and the clear day was perfect for my little test. My scene is perfect with some nearby pine forest covered foothills backed up by the distant peaks of the Sangre. As I conducted my tests I noticed some curious behavior exhibited by the equipment. When focusing on the nearby mountains the camera on auto focus chose to focus exactly on the infinity mark, while the distant mountains resulted in a focus slightly beyond the infinity mark. I thought I was onto something there, a possible malfunction in the auto focus mechanism perhaps. But the follow up shots using manual focus proved the auto focus to be exactly correct based on what I was focusing on.

These findings were very good news for confidence my equipment, but also raised a new question that I have no definitive answer for. Why are the close mountains which are at infinity focused differently than the distant mountains which are also beyond infinity. I guess the simple answer to that is that the close mountains are at a sufficiently varied distance and angle to result in a slightly different infinity value from the vastly distant Sangre de Cristo range more than 60 miles away. In any case, the idea of just setting the camera to the infinity mark is out of the question, at least for a 200mm lens. This practice would probably work fine for a wide angle lens where the infinity point is only a few feet from the camera. Each scene is going to require evaluation to determine what exactly is the most important feature to render the most sharp in the image. If the entire image needs to be sharp, focus stacking in Photoshop might be required.

All in all, the day was a success, important knowledge acquired, some nice images to work with collected, and now in the last couple of hours some more great shots of the little fox family that I found the other day 🙂 Please be sure to visit my image website to see all the new pictures that have been made for sale as wall art, cool household items and royalty free stock!

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Deer Herd Adventure

This morning the Almighty was smiling on my photography endeavors 🙂 Thankfully I got a good night’s sleep and awoke before first light and before the doggies had any interest in departing from their comfortable slumber. So… there was time for a healthy breakfast of coffee and some discounted do-nut balls from Walmart that I snagged yesterday for $1.50 🙂 Fortunately the internet was  back up after a full day of downtime due to an “incident” which has yet to be divulged by my provider, and it wasn’t long and I was caught up on all the news, weather and latest Facebook rumors.

Two does in the wildernessAs it started to get light I loaded up my equipment and the dogs and aimed the old Dodge at the trailhead. As I neared the closest trailhead I detected some excess canine excitement… A quick visual assessment revealed a pretty good sized herd of deer grazing right where the trail begins. Obviously a problem for a hike with 100 pound Son Boy, who would like nothing more than to join the deer in a good frolic and cannot understand why they don’t have the same enthusiasm for him. So, off to the second trailhead… Saw a few deer here too, but at more of a distance and slightly over a hill, hopefully out of range of the doggy’s senses.

On our way up the mountain I noticed yet another small herd of the deer grazing in a clearing. Fortunately Son Boy was looking the other way and failed to notice them. I made a mental note of their location so I could come back and hopefully get a few shots in the beautiful morning light.

Two or three miles later my first loop through the woods was done and the doggies were resting in the camper topper while I prepared my equipment. Hoping the deer were still grazing, I made a second climb on to the mountainside. Unfortunately the herd I was looking for had already moved out and gone behind the mountain. So I turned back down, intending to try a new trail back to the trailhead. Much to my surprise, it was only a minute and yet another herd was making it’s way down the trail towards me.

Doe mule deer in the wildernessSo I switched on the camera and quick got off a shot, something I like to do in case everything goes south, at least I have one shot to prove I was there! Then I resisted the urge to move towards the deer for a closer shot. I thought since they were coming my way, maybe if I just stood still they would  keep on coming. My little gamble paid off as the deer seemed to remember that me and my photographic antics were not a threat to them. Soon a trio of the beautiful fur babies were coming directly to me.

Here I appreciated my efforts to switch my camera to “back button” focus mode. It worked splendidly and exactly as I hoped. A quick hit of the back button will focus on stationary deer and allow me to shoot at will until there is movement. Then when the animals began moving towards me at a faster pace, holding the button down basically switches the camera to AI Servo mode, re-focusing for each shot as the animals close in.

Now as I’m reviewing the images, it appears as though all the shots are tack sharp. The best will be uploaded to my premium print and stock photo site on Pixels.com while I ponder whether it is even worth it to upload to micro stock anymore. ROI from there has become so minuscule I am questioning whether it is cost effective to continue doing so. So for my stock image customers, at least the two images shown in this blog will only be available as stock on licensing.pixels.com

Steve Krull is a prolific sports and nature photographer selling prints and stock images online as S.W. Krull Imaging at various sites and agencies. Click this link to view all the products and services offered by Steve Krull and S. W. Krull Imaging. Additional services include, wedding photography, portraiture and model portfolios, and event photography. Additional products include fine art stock imagery, prints and gift items