- Enable Live View using your camera's menu. Check your camera's owner's manual if you aren't sure how to do this.
- Frame up the shot, composing it how you wish.
- Switch your lens from AF to MF.
- Use the arrow keys on the back of your camera body to move the zoom box to the location where you want to check focus.
- Once the zoom box is in place, use the + button to zoom in.
- Once zoomed in, rotate the focus ring to obtain sharp focus on the point you desire.
- Once focus is set, exit Live View and press the shutter button to take the photo.
Looking at modern cameras, it's hard not to be impressed by the array of highly intelligent features they now come with.
Of course, this is coming from a guy that learned on an old 35mm Canon SLR...
But still, even for younger photographers that have known nothing but the digital age of photography, there's a lot to appreciate about what cameras can do on their own.
This includes incredibly sophisticated autofocus systems that can get you sharply focused images no matter if your subject is perfectly still or on the move.
However, even these advanced autofocus systems aren't perfect in every situation, and because of that, it's important for you to learn other ways to focus your camera, including manual focus.
Problems With Autofocusing
When discussing why you need to learn how to manually focus, it's necessary to understand why.
There are a variety of issues that can arise when you try to use autofocus in certain situations.
First, autofocus relies on contrast to help it define the subject matter. Without contrast (i.e. in a foggy landscape) the autofocus system will have difficulty determining where the subject is. If it can't identify the subject, it can't focus on it. The same goes for shooting in low-light situations, like the one seen above.
By using manual focusing, you're in control of what's in focus, and contrast and availability of light won't impact your ability to get the subject sharp.
Second, when photographing moving subjects, the autofocus system might struggle to maintain focus, particularly if the subject is moving very quickly. Another issue is that the autofocus system might take too long to acquire the focus, meaning you miss the shot altogether.
In both situations, you can use manual focus and a technique called pre-focusing, in which you train your lens on a certain spot, dial in the focus for that spot, and wait for the subject to move into that area to take the picture.
Think of photographing a motorcycle race and focusing on a particular area of the racetrack and waiting for the motorcycle to come through that specific spot to take the photo. That way you don't have to track the subject and worry about missing the focus - instead, you get a sharply focused image like the one above.
Lastly, sometimes the camera's autofocus system simply focuses on the wrong subject. This is especially problematic when you shoot through something - a foreground element like a window or a tree branch or the grass in the image above - because the camera might try to focus on the foreground object instead of the primary subject behind it.
A similar issue occurs when photographing wildlife, particularly birds.
Even if your camera has acquired focus on the desired subject, say, a bird perched on a tree, if another bird were to enter the frame in the foreground, the autofocus system might reacquire focus on the new bird because it's closer to the camera.
In other words, the autofocus system in your camera is "trained" to focus on the closest object in the scene. Naturally, that's not always what you want in focus, so learning how to manually focus becomes beneficial in that situation.
How to Manually Focus
Even though it might sound scary to use manual focus, it's really much simpler than most beginner photographers think.
First, you need to switch your lens from autofocus to manual focus. You do that my moving the switch on the side of your lens from AF to MF (or A to M, depending on the lens).
Next, bring the camera to your eye and frame the shot. Half-press the shutter button to acquire focus.
Then rotate the lens's focusing ring to bring the subject into sharp focus.
But beware! The focus ring is not the same as the zoom ring.
The zoom ring is located closer to the camera body while the focus ring is toward the end of the lens. In looking at the image above, you can see the photographer's thumb and fingers are on the focus ring.
Once the subject is in focus, press the shutter button all the way to take the shot.
Check out the process of using manual focus in the video below by CNET:
As noted in the video above, there are a couple of tricks that will help you make the most of manual focus.
First, when manually focusing, you can use your camera's Live View feature to zoom in on the subject to check the focus. If the focus is off, you simply adjust the focus ring until the subject is tack-sharp.
Second, you can lock focus that's been acquired in autofocus mode by focusing on the desired subject, and then switching into manual focus mode.
This prevents the camera from switching focus to an object that enters the scene, like the problem we discussed above when photographing birds.
Let's explore Live View in more detail.
Using Live View Manual Focus
As mentioned above, Live View is advantageous for manual focusing because it allows you to zoom in on your subject to check focus.
Granted, you can check focus by using your camera's optical viewfinder, but the problem is that the viewfinder doesn't display the scene at the same aperture as it's being photographed.
That means that your view of the scene will be slightly off. You can adjust that view by using the Depth of Field Preview Button, but the problem is that what you see in the viewfinder darkens and it's difficult to see focus anyway.
Using Live View is a simple process:
Though it might seem like a pretty involved process with many steps, once you get the hang of Live View focusing, it will become a process that you can do quickly and easily.
To make it even easier, mount your camera to a tripod when using Live View focusing.
Applications for Manual Focusing
Earlier, I outlined a few instances in which manual focusing is advantageous. But there are even more scenarios in which manual focus will get you the best results.
When shooting macro scenes like the one above, you can use manual focus to get pinpoint sharpness that autofocus systems will struggle to obtain.
Autofocus systems don't do well in close-up situations, and as noted earlier, when a subject moves, the autofocus system will try to reacquire focus, sometimes on the wrong subject and sometimes too late to get the shot.
Manual focusing is also helpful for landscape photography.
Landscapes often benefit from having sharp focus from foreground to background.
Though autofocus systems do a decent job of this, manually focusing can get you sharper results.
The key is to use depth of field to your advantage.
Depth of field refers to the area of a photo that's in sharp focus. It extends about one-third in front of the focal point and about two-thirds behind the focal point.
All you have to do is simply focus one-third of the way up from the bottom of the frame, and you'll be able to maximize the depth of field in the image, resulting in a landscape that's in sharp focus from front to back.
Another application that benefits from manual focusing is panoramic photography.
When creating a panorama, autofocus might switch the focal point from one frame to the next. When those frames are stitched together, the different focus points can result in a photo that looks strange.
By taking control of focusing yourself, you can ensure that the focal point is the same for each image in the series, with a tack-sharp panorama the result.
No matter what you're photographing, manual focus can prove advantageous. It's a more advanced technique that requires a lot of practice to master. However, once you master it, you'll find that your photos are the better for it!