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tips for learning to judge distance

Rene Braun , Apr 13, 2005; 05:42 p.m.

I'm lousy at judging distance, thus lousy at prefocusing. I'm looking at some tips that would help me improve this technique (aside from the obvious one)


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Dennis Couvillion , Apr 13, 2005; 05:47 p.m.

I use footsteps... each footstep being about one yard. Guesstimate how many steps there are to your subject.

Also you can pick out something that is about the same distance away from you as your intended subject and focus on it.

Hope this helps... I know these are kinda obvious.


Alex S. , Apr 13, 2005; 06:08 p.m.


Can you tell us in what specific circumstances you would want to estimate distance and what sort of lenses you might want to use?

With lens of about 35mm and wider, prefocusing is fairly easy if you stop down to about f16. At that f-stop and 35mm lens will give you adequate focus from infinity to 1.2 meters /4 feet.

When I am doing street photography the 35mm lens (usually a 'cron 35/2 Asph) is ideal with 800 ISO color film. I usually set it between 30 meters and just past 1.4 meters.

On trains in Japan, when sitting opposite people, I'll set the lens (usually 35mm or 50mm) to about 8 feet since this length is uniform.

If you are in the habit of shooting in familiar circumstances, you might use your camera + lens to guage distances between various places and then record the distances and memorize them.

Mark Wahlster , Apr 13, 2005; 06:16 p.m.

Rene, Hunter use vertical marks in their scopes to just the size of a know object. If a deer is 3.5' tall at the shoulder in the scope it looks 1/2 that size then they have a referance to judge distance. You might be able to use the size of your frame lines in the viewfinder to do this once you do a few trial and error test to see what distance appears how in your viewfinder.

You might be able to do the same thing by some trial and error. Pick out a subject that is 10' away 20' away and 30' away look at them either side by side (from your perspective) to see how the same size object appear to get samller. Some thing as simple as three yard or meter sticks or even a long fence you could just make off where the various distances are along the fence. Then when it comes time to judge the distance to a subject with your camera you would have some referance and experiance.

for subjects closer you might want to do a method we used in Boy scouts for some game. Stand straight up and then imagine where your face would hit the ground if you were to fall forward. This then based on your hieght would give you a distance referance. Since most of use have a very good idea of reach when it comes to our own bodies. this is pretty easy to do. Once you have this distance continue looking at the ground multipling the place you think your face would hit.

This is harder to explain then to show I made a couple of simple drawings to help If you need farther explanation let me know I stop back by the thread.

Distance estimation ideas

Terry Rory , Apr 13, 2005; 06:18 p.m.

S. Linke , Apr 13, 2005; 06:29 p.m.

<Stand straight up and then imagine where your face would hit the ground if you were to fall forward. >

This sounds a lot like what folks do in pubs/bars after a long night of imbibing. Didn't know it has an application to photography too!

Martin Mikolajek , Apr 13, 2005; 06:51 p.m.

I think some little measuring and memorising might help. Find a willing model, and take two or three of your most used primes. Look through the viewfinder, step back and focus a headshot, a full figure and a shot from waist up, holding the camera both horizontal and vertical. Write down the distance for each pose, camera position and focal length, e.g. 50 mm - full figure at 3 meters with camera at portrait orientation. It's just six numbers for each focal length. You can also do the same for couples as well, which is useful at weddings.

I am quite certain that an excellent photographer like you can previsualise the field of view of her most used primes, which means that all you need to do is to memorise those numbers and you are done. After a couple of weeks, you will be prefocusing the distance automatically for your most used prime, without even thinking about it.

Hope this helps,


Braden Barclay , Apr 13, 2005; 07:00 p.m.

Trevor, the Leica rangefinder has a minimum distance of 50', since most critical camera focussing is done at ranges less than that it's hardly a valuable accessory.

Terry Rory , Apr 13, 2005; 07:06 p.m.

Sorry. I was being light hearted in recommending the Leica distance finding gadget. I will do my research more thoroughly next time :)

Rob F. , Apr 13, 2005; 07:18 p.m.

The length of a bed is right at 2 meters, a little over 6 feet. Just imagine 1, 2, or 3 bed-lengths. You can even imagine one and a half, etc.

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