Six Tips To Take Great Manual Focus Pictures (Part 2)

manual focus ringIn my previous manual focus post I discussed nine reasons to use manual focus. But wait, isn’t manual focus slow and inaccurate? Not if you do it correctly.

In this post I will describe six ways to get the perfect (and fastest) manual focus. As will all things photography, practice makes perfect – You may not have your first manual focus pictures right, but as you keep practicing, you’ll get better and better, until manual focus becomes a second nature to you. [image CC by parl]

1. Measure

manual focus - measureThis is by far the easiest method of them all. If you can measure the distance from the camera to your subject, you can use the Lens’s focus ring to manually set focus to that distance.

This method works best if your camera is set on a tripod and your subject is still. It is also great for indoor photography, old lenses that have great focus ring scale printed and close subjects. It does not work well in landscape photography, unless you can run very fast and have a very long piece of string. [image CC by young Young Einstein]

2. Use The In Camera Focus Sensor Indication

If you look at the view finder, you’ll find a small little circle with two small arrows. (My good old Nikon D70 has it on the lower left side of the “view finder strip”.

Even when you focus manually, the in-focus indicator will let you know that you are in focus. Sweet, no?

If it does not work, you can try this trick. It is reported to work well.

3. Use a Focusing Screen

manual focus - split screenOne of the reasons a lot of photographers are not even trying manual focus is because it is very hard to even see if you are “really” in focus or just almost in focus.

Most modern view finders are dim (at least compared to older “non D” SLRs. To add insult to injury, most modern viewfinders are small. The solution to the viewfinder problem is a focusing screen.

A focusing screen helps you verify that you are in focus. Either by having a split image (see picture on left) that  unites only when you are in focus, or by making anything that is not in focus really, really diffused.

Sadly focusing screens are becoming more and more rare nowadays.
[image CC by rpmaxwell]

4. Pre Focus

manual focus - pre focusIf you know what you are going to photograph and you know where it is going to be, you can take advantage on this fact.

You can do one of two things: use a model to stand in and set the focus manually or focus to something very close to where you actually want to focus – for example the pavement on which the model will stand. [image CC by AHMED. (Busy)]

5. Set to Infinity

manual focus - infinityThis one is especially effective when shooting landscape, stars or fireworks.

In those cases you can just move to manual focus and set your focus to infinity. If your landscape is indeed far away, it will be in focus. This is because things that are far off can be considered as infinity for any practical reason. [image CC by Timothy K Hamilton]

6. Use Auto Focus and Fine Tune

This method is extremely useful when you have a cluttered scene. You can use the camera autofocus
system to get you in the general focusing zone and then switch to
manual focus and fine tune to a specific point on the scene.

7. Don’t Forget to Come Back

One of the common pitfalls of photographers who use manual focus is that once shooting session is over, they forget to go back to autofocus. This can have an artistic devastating effect on that session.

If you are in the habit of shooting manual focus, make it a habit to change back to autofocus at the end of each session. And also make it a habit to check your focus mode at the beginning of each session.

Manual Focus Mini Series:

  • Shawn Earle

    there are some very nice petax super takumar m42 lenses being sold on ebay for around $50 they are manually focus and of good opticl quality, to use them with a 600D or T3i you only need an $11 m42 adapter also sold on ebay. they are screw mount lenses and screw into the adapter and then mount normally to the camera body. also for few dollars more you can get an AF confirm adapter which has a chip on it and will show you by the green dot in the viewfinder when you obtain focus. i have a t3i and i use a 55mm f 2 super takumar and 150mm one and get nice photos with them!

  • Shawn Earle

    it is a nice thing to have, but it sure can kill a battery in a hurry!