Regular Focus in Photography: The Ultimate Guide

Manual Focus inside Photography: The Ultimate Guide

manual focus in photography

What is manual focus, how does it function, and why should you use it inside your photography? That’s what I try to answer in this article.

You see, manual focus is certainly (somewhat) advanced, yet it’s rather a game-changing technique – once you know when and how to use it just for outstanding results.

Below, I tell you all you need to know to get started with guide focus. I give you a step by step lesson in how to manually focus, plus I share lots of scenarios where these focusing techniques make sense (and Also i explain when you should avoid  manual focus, because it’s not normally a good thing! ).

Let’s dive right in, starting with the basics:

What is manual focus?

Every image demands focusing, where the lens shifts its elements until you get sharpness in a particular place. By default, most lenses try this automatically, which is known as autofocus . But you, as the professional photographer, can override  your own lens’s autofocus mechanism plus adjust focusing via a band on the lens barrel.  

That is manual focusing: where you take control, twist the lens’s focus ring, and change the point of focus.

seagrass with manual focus

With manual focus, instead of letting your camera and lens decide exactly where focusing will occur, you will it all yourself. But exactly why is manual focus useful? Could it be right for you?

Why is manual focusing important?

Modern autofocus technologies is great…

…but there are certain situations exactly where it struggles. It may lock focus on the wrong  parts of a scene, and it may neglect to lock focus completely.

Here are just a few situations where autofocus technology regularly gets things wrong:

  • When concentrating in the dark
  • When focusing up close
  • When choosing between two superior subjects
  • When focusing through foreground elements

Right now, the efficacy of your digital camera and lens’s AF technologies can vary. Certain cameras present autofocus algorithms that detect eyes and faces with outstanding accuracy, and specific lenses are lightning fast, even in high-magnification scenarios.

Yet on the whole, most cameras and lenses will get it wrong on occasion, which is why manual focusing is so vital. If you know how to manual concentrate, you can switch away from autofocus when required, and you can still obtain the shot . So it is a valuable skill to have, and one that I recommend pretty much every professional photographer learn, no matter how useless they will think manual focus may be.

That’s where this next section comes in convenient:

How to by hand focus: step by step

First, locate the focusing mode switch on your digital camera or lens. It will likely be tagged with “AF/MF, ” exactly where “AF” activates autofocus and “MF” activates manual focus. Like this:

The AF-MF switch on the lens

Then switch your setup to “MF. ”

(Note that particular lenses cannot focus personally; in such cases, you won’t find any switch. Check your zoom lens manual if you’re unsure whether this is the case. )

Second, find the concentrate ring, which is often near the middle of the lens barrel (if you’re using a prime lens) or near the end from the lens barrel (if you are using a zoom lens).

Look through your digital camera viewfinder, then twist primary ring to one side.

You should immediately view the focus shift, as place to place of the scene go in and out of focus.

Now, when you’re within a scenario where manual concentrating is necessary (more on that in the next sections! ), you will need to  merely turn the focus ring till your main subject comes into concentrate .

Noises easy, right? It can be, though it’s sometimes difficult to perceive focus through the camera viewfinder, so I do have a few tips for you:

  1. Switch over to your camera’s Live See function , where you examine a live feed of the camera’s sensor on the FLAT SCREEN. Magnify the image, then adapt focus until you see – while zoomed in! – perfect sharpness.
  2. Consider narrowing the aperture to give yourself a larger margin of error. If you capture at f/2. 8, you  must  obtain the focus right. If you shoot at f/8, however , you can stray slightly behind or even in front of your subject hassle-free.
  3. After taking a manually focused image, examine the result on the LCD. Just like the live preview mentioned above, zoom right on in so you can be absolutely sure you got the point of sharpness you needed.

First got it?

When in case you use manual focus?

Autofocus technology is great, so I certainly don’t recommend switching to manual focus all the time. Instead, you should use it in the select scenarios We discuss below:

Macro and close-up digital photography

When you are shooting at high magnifications, lenses tend to hunt for concentrate – and when they do finally lock onto the subject, it is often in the wrong place.

That’s exactly why manual focus is supremely helpful; you can use it to achieve focus more quickly and to fixed focus precisely  where you want it.

In fact , I recommend photographers  always  make use of manual focus when performing macro picture taking with still subjects. It makes the process a lot easier. (Manually focusing on moving macro subjects, such as bugs, is iffier – it truly depends on your equipment and your preferred methods of working, therefore feel free to try both manual focus and autofocus and see which works best. )

close-up of roses

Low-light situations

Autofocus struggles in low-light scenarios , especially if you’re shooting without any form of illumination (e. g., within the desert at night, down the dark alley, etc . ).

Your zoom lens will hunt and never  locking mechanism on anything, so guide focusing is a must.

Unfortunately, the darkness makes manual focusing hard as well, so I recommend you use the Live View technique talked about above. Preview the shot via the LCD, zoom in, and make certain you’ve nailed focus before proceeding.

Note that different cameras vary in terms of their low-light focusing prowess. Try autofocus first, but if it doesn’t work, switch over to guide focus for the rest of the night.

street light against the sunset

Creative focus

There are times when you may desire to focus on an unusual area with regard to creative reasons. For instance, you might shoot a model through blooms, you might deliberately focus associated with a flower, or you may deliberately defocus the entire photo for a nice bokeh impact.

In such situations, autofocus is often useless. After all, how do you tell your camera to pay attention to nothing at all?

Manual focus will solve all of your problems.

selective focus of a black-eyed susan flower

Wide-angle photography

When shooting using a wide-angle lens, your subjects are often large objects shown on a small scale, like trees, buildings, and other inanimate objects.

In such situations, because these objects occupy a small area of the frame, it can be hard to control your lens’s autofocus; it might lock concentrate on an unwanted area of the image.

I often switch over to manual focus, though on certain digital cameras, you do have the option of magnifier the preview on the FLAT SCREEN and using the touchscreen to carefully select the right focus stage.

wide-angle image of a sunset with manual focus

Panorama photography

When shooting panoramas – which are created by stitching some photos together in post-production – consistency throughout the shots is essential .

And that includes focusing uniformity , where you focus on the exact same distance for each image. Or else, you’ll get a disjointed outcome, and you’ll fail to persuade the viewer that they’re looking at once continuous picture.

That’s where manual focus comes in ready. You can use it to pick your point of focus plus leave the lens concentrating in the same spot, regardless of how the scene changes while you rotate your camera.

panorama of a city at night

Low-contrast situations

Autofocus relies on comparison between the dark and lighting tones in an image. Contrast is what allows the autofocus to say, “Hey, here’s a topic I should focus on. ” Minus contrast, your AF program will hunt nonstop (which is seriously annoying! ).

So if you are faced with a low-contrast circumstance, such as a dark tree against a dark background or perhaps a white car against snow, don’t be afraid to switch on over to manual focus.

selective focus image of a dew-covered piece of grass

Manual focus vs autofocus: when is manual focus poor?

Manual concentrate is helpful, but there are plenty of situations where I recommend you stay with autofocus.

For instance, if you’re shooting moving content, focusing manually is difficult; you can try turning your concentrate ring, but you won’t be able to check focus on the FLAT SCREEN, nor will you have time to preview and retake shots.

That’s why you ought to use autofocus for the subsequent genres:

  • Sports photography
  • Wildlife photography
  • Bird photography
  • Event photography

Of course , there are exceptions. If you’re shooting an animal at night and your AF won’t freeze focus, you can always try switching over to manual focus. However in general, you’ll want to make use of AF, because manual concentrate will be far too slow.

Manual focus in photography: final words

Manual focus may have seemed daunting, but now that will you’ve finished this article, you know it’s easy – and that it can be super useful in the correct scenario.

Therefore practice focusing manually. Even though you struggle at first, you’ll get better. And you’ll be so glad  you took the time to learn.

Now over to you:

Do you plan to use manual concentrate? When do you think you might use it? Share your thoughts in the responses below!

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Tim Gilbreath

Tim Gilbreath

is a natural light photographer, writer, designer plus musician with a love designed for nature and the outdoors. He is also a retro/pop culture enthusiast, and although he came to be and raised in Houston, Texas, he has called the Oregon west coast his residential for the last 13 years.

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