Manual focus series V : Hail Mary focusing

Skill : for gamblers only
Hit rate : 20%
Picture style : Out of focus mainly …

I always liked the term Hail Mary pass commonly used in American Football. It refers to a long forward pass as an attempt to win the game as time expires. Success rate is less than 5%, but at least the losing team gives it a try. Same happens in street photography when a great potential scene suddenly unfolds quickly in front of you. Unluckily, your focus ring will often be in the wrong position. Therefore, in a desperate attempt to get the shot, rotate the focus ring blindly and … pray for the best. With time and practice, you’ll get a feel of which direction to turn the focus ring to and get some success now and then. To help in that matter, I do recommend lenses with a lever since it will give you a feel of where you focus is and where you are repositioning it to.

The shot below was taken on Place Clichy in front of a movie theater. I was looking at the « Be Bad » movie poster and had focused on it in search of a shot. Suddenly two girls appeared on my right. I had no time to pre-set my focus so went for my Hail Mary focus technique. I just pulled blindly on the lever with the intend to bring the focus distance to 1 meter. And obviously in this instance, I failed. Indeed the girls were not in focus as the ring actually ended up on 1.2 meters. I still like the shot, but it does illustrate the very low hit rate of such a technique.  (click on picture to enlarge)

This concludes this series on manual focus of wide open lenses. In the coming weeks, I will follow up with a new series on exposure. Thanks for reading.


Leica M8 with 35mm Summicron IV at F2, 1/1000, ISO160

12 Responses to “Manual focus series V : Hail Mary focusing”

  1. Daniel dit :

    Great posts about how to use a telemetric camera! Merci!

  2. Dan dit :

    Excellent series Yanick. looking forward for the next one.

  3. simon dit :

    i often use this technique when i’m drunk and too imaptient to concentrate on the focus patch, 20% hitrate sounds good to me ;)

  4. cam dit :

    one of my favourite techniques!

    remember when i shot the bicycles coming towards us as we were walking along the Seine? i nailed his V sign with the Nocti wide open — a total blast when you get it ;)

  5. Axel Cordes dit :

    Thank you also for that series!
    Being already on manual focus a long time it is still refreshing to read all that, AND it takes me to ‘I should do some active practice again’. Like the piano player needs to train his fingers we need to train our technique, always.
    I was too lazy on some of it but will do a series now, inspired by you series.

    I’m usually out with a 35mm lens, pre-focused on 3m at F8, depending on the light with Av (F8) or Tv (1/80) – M set to what I read for the ‘common’ situation.
    So a quick turn of Av to Tv or M opens up several quick possibilities.
    That combination should give a quick response time – but I the real world I often see me open with a mouth looking at the situation and only then, ups I missed it – that needs a change.

    Best regards Axel

  6. admin dit :


    If I am correct, there is an expression that says « F8 and be there », so it fits perfectly your technique, which is zone focusing. After that, it depends on the style you want for your picture. I like very thin depth of field which forces me to use F1.4 and adapt my technique for it. But sincerely, were I facing the shot of my life content wise, I would quickly turn to F8 ;) No gamble there.
    As for 1/80, I feel it is a bit too slow to freeze movement. IMO, anything below 1/250 starts to lose sharpness when in movement and close to you. Obviously, it’s not all about sharpness!

  7. Bo dit :


    Really am enjoying your « topics » series, and am looking forward to the exposure series.

    Had to laugh at the « Hail marry » method, I have tired this way to many times, and think you are wrong, success is maybe only 4%.


  8. Axel Cordes dit :


    Summicron IV gives you the scala including 10 5 3 2 meters, this is much better than my Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 ZE. I do only have 1,5 3 and infinite.
    For me this much wider angel of the Summicron seams to be a real benefit. I should rent that combination at least for a weekend…

    Yes F8 « and be there » is pretty right.
    About the 1/80: This is the ‘switch’ to low light when need quickly, eg walk into a market. People are calm there anyway (most of the time) . This is why I have that three settings F8, be there, 1/80 be sure on the low light and M to have a solution on a quick extreme light reflection or dark area etc.

    And, yes I fully agree on « it’s not all about sharpness! »

  9. Thanks for the post Yanidel, your blog is turning out to be quite an inspiration for me. The discussion with Alex about settings it quite interesting, I never looked at it this way and thought it was next to impossible to shoot street photo without being faster than one’s own shadow on the settings. I start to see that there is some hope. Even though I am on Canon and not on Leica. Maybe that will come one day.
    My last street photo was inspired by a series you did some month ago.

  10. admin dit :

    Thanks Martin, great to know my photography served as inspiration ;)
    It took me a while to figure out your picture, it is a very clever one, congratulations.
    Street photography is a lot about practice. It won’t work by just taking a camera in the street, some technique is also involved. There are obviously different techniques as Axel showed, but the important one is to find one you feel confortable and can have consistant result. And yes, try a Leica one day !

  11. Yanidel, you might want to consider putting this series (Manual focus) into a category on your blog’s archive list. So for, I could not find a dedicated link for it.
    Thx for putting this up, Carsten