I am a big fan of auto focus but manual focus has its place. I’ve written this blog to help you learn a little more about manual focus and how to use it effectively. No one likes blurry photography so focus is really important but you need to know what to focus on.
Just because auto focusing has become so advanced, it doesn’t mean manual focus is being neglected. Manual focus is in fact becoming more prominent with enthusiasts and professional camera models.
We’re going to look at what manual focus is, where to focus and top tips.
What is manual focus?
Manual focus is when you manually focus your lens so you can select your point of focus. Some lenses are manual focus only and don’t have auto focus capabilities. However if the lens has a manual focus ring then any autofocus lens can also be focused manually. Manual focus can be used in cases of very low light, low contrast, or backlighting when autofocus is overwhelmed. It can be used in static contexts such as landscape photography or macro photography where you absolutely need precise focusing. Manual focus works on DSLRs through a simple rotation of a lens’s focusing ring. The advances in technology mean that manual focus is much more accurate today.
Where do you focus with manual focus?
Some images have a definitive subject like a person or product so that's what you need to emphasise with careful focusing. You need to think about the image you're taking. For example focusing a portrait which is best with a soft background (shallow depth of field) needs a different approach to focusing a landscape where you want front to back image sharpness. Manual focus is based on distance. If you look at the side of your lens, you’ll see the distance markers. You can switch your DSLR to manual focus by flipping between autofocus and manual on the side of your lens. You can adjust the focus by turning the ring around the front part of the lens. Turning the ring clockwise will focus on closer objects and turning it anti clockwise will focus on objects that are further away.
How do you know where to focus?
Think the shot through.
For front to back sharpness you'll need a lot of depth of field so you'll need a small aperture. With a short lens which is often more appropriate for this type of image, you have a lot of depth of field to play with because different focal lengths have different depth of field characteristics. With a scene, it's best to include some foreground in the composition to give the photo a sense of depth and it's important to know where to focus so your 'block' of depth of field is in the right place to get everything sharp.
Take a couple of test shots and take your time. Always check the image in your camera's LCD to make sure everything is sharp before you move on too.
Tips for manual focus
Whilst autofocus is a great tool and one I use often, manual focus is a great skill to have. Here are some top tips to make manual focus work for you:
- Use live view - Using live view gives you a much more holistic view making it easier to manually focus on your object.
- Pre-focus - Auto focus is often better for action shots but if you use manual focus and pre focus then you can capture shots quickly.
- Use the camera assist - Camera assist will help you get the most out of manual focus. When your image is in focus a circle will appear to help you identify when to take the shot.
- Use selective focus - You have much more control with manual focus. Use selective focus to help you navigate focusing for creativity.
- Magnified view - Use a magnified view to help you identify where to focus.
- Use a tripod - When you’re focusing manually even a slight movement can affect your focus so using a tripod will help you reduce the chances of camera shake.
Remember that the camera isn’t in charge, you are. Autofocus is a fantastic tool and you shouldn’t feel that you can’t use it. It’s definitely a feature I use a lot, but it’s really important that you learn how to use manual focus because sometimes a situation will call for a more controlled focus such as in low light conditions.
My Ultimate Beginners Course will help you get off auto plus boost your creativity and confidence.