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What Is Focus Throw (and Focus Pull?)

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Related course: Photography for Beginners

Focus throwing is a technique that camera operators use for film and video projects. You can also use it in photography.

Read on to find out what is focus pull, how it can help you and how to achieve it.

a portrait of a woman cooking in the kitchen, shot using focus throw

What Is Focus Throw?

The focus throw is also known as Rack Focus. It is the distance between the minimum focusing distance (MFD) and infinity. Basically, moving your focal point from the closest distance of your lens to it’s furthest.

It is a number that is measured in degrees and gives the photographer an idea of the rotation to expect when focusing.

Manual focus lenses tend to have a larger focus throw compared to the automatic-focus siblings. This is because manual focus rings need greater accuracy, as they come from user interaction.

Lenses that are specifically for filming have a much greater focus throw, allowing for superior manual focusing.

This is also something that affects lenses with very wide apertures. What you will notice is that lenses wide open is how difficult it is to focus. This is down to the tiny focal distance.

To remember the name, think about throwing a ball. The ball starts with you and goes farther away.

a mountainous landscape shot using focus throw

What Is Focus Pull?

The focus pull is similar to the focus throw. You go from infinity to the minimum focal distance instead. It is reversed.

Imagine pulling a door. It starts further away from you and gets closer as you complete the action.

With focus pulling, you don’t have to go all the way from end to end to use this technique. Small distances can work really well.

To create a really powerful and effective focus pull, you need wide apertures. An f/stop of f/2 will give you a small depth of field, so it is more obvious when you move it around your scene.

a bunch of blue flowers, shot using focus pull

How To Achieve the Focus Throw or Focus Pull

Focus pulling is a technique that is predominantly used in film. The camera operator changes the focal point of a scene while they are filming. Some teams have a dedicated focus puller for this process.

For example, the camera is focused on a subject in the foreground, and then the focus changes to the back of the room to a different subject – all in one shot.

This is something that can happen over a long or short period of time.

In photography, you can use the same process for creative projects. You will need a long exposure, as you need time to change the focal distance in your shot.

You can get away with a one-second exposure, but longer gives you more control and fewer errors.

Basically you can start in focus and move to place your subject out of focus. Or vice versa. The first is the easiest. Trying to find a focus afterwards is more difficult.

Looking for more ideas on focusing? Check out our article on how to test your camera for autofocus issues next!

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