With street photography zone focusing can be a life-saver between the decisive moment and a hit-and-miss-shot – toss the autofocus camera and get a manual lens instead…
Zone focusing is pretty straightforward, the photographer simply uses the DOF (Depth Of Field) effect to have the desired object(s) at working distance in focus. Zone focussing comes in handy, when there is no time to fiddle with the camera controls, or when the photographer wants to be extra unconspicious – without using the viewfinder to focus (aka. shooting from the hip).
Once you know what an f-stop is, and how to set it on your camera, you’re good to go. After some time you will get better at guessing distances and you’ll be a master of zone focusing in no time…
In the illustration above, the aperture (f-stop) is set to f8 and the focus is set to 2m (~7ft). The focus ring also shows f-stop markings to either side of the focus point (DOF scale).
Every f-stop shows a line directly related to a number on the distance scale. In this example everything from 1.5m to 3m (5ft to 12 ft.) will be in focus. This works at any distance and with any lens with DOF markings.
zone focusing is much more practical for street photography than the hyperfocal distance, which simply extends DOF from infinity into the foreground, which is great for landscape photography. street photography rarely needs to rely on infinity focus and smaller apertures like f8 or f5.6 are more common and a close working distance (hence zone focusing, also called scale focusing) are more practical.
Another great technique is to learn how to guess distances and using muscle memory in combination with a tabbed lens.