Part of becoming a proficient photographer is learning when to use certain features that your camera and lens offer. I can remember back to one of the best tricks I ever learned. It was a long time ago when someone told me that I could lock an auto focus position by pointing at an object with my camera and then holding the shutter button down half way to let the auto focus do its job. Then, I would keep the button half way pushed and after that, I’d be able to walk around and point the camera and anything I wanted to. When I was ready, I could simply continue pressing the shutter button to take the photo. This is really handy in situations where you’d like a specific depth of field or when your camera’s auto focus doesn’t want to lock onto an object. I use this trick all the time.
In today’s post, I’d like to discuss a few circumstances when you’d probably want to switch your lens over from the all too popular auto focus mode to manual mode. Instead of fighting with your camera when it’s acting up, it’s important to understand when to change tactics. I know part of what I share below is very rudimentary for some, but I feel it can be quite helpful to many.
If you’re an action photographer and you take photos at dance recitals, soccer games, polo matches or anything similar to what I just mentioned, you might want to consider abandoning your auto focus and give manual focus a try. The reason for this is because auto focus likes to “hunt” for something to focus on. I can tell you from experience, focus hunting is one of the most annoying things in the world to have to deal with. If you’re tracking a moving object and you happen to move from that object for a moment while your camera is attempting to focus, you may lose the shot. The camera will try to focus on something else on an entirely different plane. If you’re using manual focus and have already focused on the subject and are tracking it, there’s no way you’ll lose that focus if you meander off course. All you’ll need to do is catch up to whomever or whatever is moving and resume taking your photographs. Also, because the range of focus will be so small at that point in time, if you do have to refocus at all, it will be just a tiny twist of your lens.
Low Light & Contrast
If you’re attempting to auto focus on something that’s got very little contrast, you’ll likely have a tough time getting the object zeroed in correctly. Cameras simply don’t like to grab onto things they can’t recognize. Objects with little contrast aren’t very recognizable. The reason for this is because cameras use contrast among edges as the primary element behind their capabilities of focusing. It’s the measurable distance between light to dark that does it. If something is smooth or bland and doesn’t have those edges, you may be out of luck.
There are actually two fixes for this situation. First, you can do what I mentioned above, if you’re set on using auto focus mode. You can swing your camera to the left or right and push the shutter button down half way on some other object. As long as that object is on the same plane, you should be able to keep your finger on the shutter button and move back to the dull looking object and continue taking the photo. If you’d like to try out manual focus mode, you can do the same thing. Move off the object, focus on something else on the same plane and then move back to the object in question to capture it.
If you’re in a low light situation, you’re likely going to be dealing with a low contrast scene as well. Edges can’t show clearly in low lighting. To deal with this, you can follow some of the spectacular tips I shared in this post or you can simply use manual focus to get the sharpest shot possible. Either way, you’re probably going to have to follow some low light photography tips, so go ahead and click through to that post.
Auto + Manual Focus
If you’re photographing stationary objects and are taking multiple photos of each object, you only need to focus once on each one. Sometimes, auto focus is better for this type of thing, especially if whatever it is you’re photographing is far away. It’s tricky to manually focus on something that’s in the distance. Problems arise though when you have drastic lighting changes during the same shoot. If the light changes enough, your camera may want to change things up a bit to refocus on what it thinks the “new” scene is. Of course, the object you’re trying to capture hasn’t moved, it just seems like it moved. To avoid this refocusing, auto focus first and then switch over to manual focus. That way, you’re removing an entire element from the setup of the shot that doesn’t even need to be dealt with anymore.
Again, I know the information I shared in this post is basic, but I do hope you can use it and possibly expand upon it in a useful way. If you have any questions regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section down below. Thanks for reading!