When Should You Use Manual Focus and Auto Focus?

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  By Taya Ivanova
When Should You Use Manual Focus and Auto Focus? www.sleeklens.com

When I was younger, I associated manual focus on professionalism. Autofocus seemed like a feature made for beginners only. Shortly after, I realized that this wasn’t the case.

Both manual and autofocus can be used no matter how far you’ve come in your career. If you know which one to use at any given moment, you’ll feel less stressed during your photo shoots, take sharper photos, and be more confident in your photography skills.

Of course, the tips below aren’t rules set in stone. Some artists use manual focus only, while others rely on the accuracy of autofocus. This article will simply focus on the benefits of both.

When to Use Auto Focus

At important events

If you get nervous during busy events like concerts, it’s likely that you’ll miss a lot of beautiful moments. Instead of wasting time, experiment with autofocus. Some photographers even shoot blindly for the sake of spontaneity. Their results are usually very unexpected but interesting.

When taking self-portraits

Before I had a camera with autofocus features, I had to use manual focus to take photos of myself. Though this exercised my patience, it forced me to spend time on unnecessary procedures. Now that I have a better camera and a remote, I can pour all of my energy into my ideas instead.

When your subjects aren’t posing for you

If you’re surrounded by a group of people whose interactions you want to photograph quickly, for example, use autofocus. You simply won’t have enough time to manually focus on a subject that’s moving all the time. The same applies to pet, wedding, and street photography.

auto focus sample photo

When photographing still objects

Still life photography is all about inanimate objects like buildings and vases filled with flowers. Since subjects like this don’t move, your camera will easily detect them with the help of autofocus.

When to Use Manual Focus

During a model photoshoot

If you’re going to be working with one subject, use manual focus to get the sharpest results. This will not only improve your knowledge of various camera settings but also help you create the best possible compositions.

When you want to improve your photography skills

Even though autofocus is useful, it won’t teach you how to handle your camera. By using manual focus, you’ll be more aware of compositions, colors, and depth of field. Spend quality time with your camera so that when you do have to use manual focus in a stressful situation, you won’t feel lost.

manual focus

When your subject is standing behind a foreground

Modern autofocus features are smart, but they can be outwitted by foregrounds. If your subject is standing behind branches, window panes, or even tiny details like leaves, use manual focus. Pay extra attention to windows as your camera might accidentally focus on the dirt the windows instead of on your subject! (This happens to me often.)

manual focus

In the dark

Autofocus isn’t the best at capturing details in the dark. It’s likely that you’ll see more than your camera does in low light, so make sure you switch to manual focus when you don’t have a lot of light sources to work with.

When I discovered the power of both manual and auto focus, I was able to experiment with all kinds of photography genres and subjects. If you use manual and autofocus wisely, you’ll be able to embrace every photography challenge without feeling incompetent.

Of course, you might prefer to manually focus when you take self-portraits or use autofocus in a busy situation. Don’t treat this article as a rule book. Experiment with these tips and let them evolve as you discover your own unique taste.

Do you prefer manual or auto? Let us know in the comments!

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I'm an admirer of nature, a photographer, and a curious reader. Writing about photography and helping others improve is a growing passion of mine. My constant wish is to inspire others to be creatively fearless and endlessly curious. "Always dream bigger is my advice to you, because you can have whatever your heart desires" - Ashley Graham

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