I’ve made it a goal to help photography enthusiasts Say NO to Auto, but some readers are confused by which auto setting I am referring to. My book title is a reference to shooting with automatic mode instead of learning how to shoot in full manual settings. However, there’s one auto setting I embrace regularly: Auto focus.
For a long time, I didn’t realize that the lens had a switch to choose between focusing automatically or manually. It’s just a little switch, after all. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might dismiss it as just another confusing button on your fancy camera. The switch options are typically somewhat mysterious, like AF or MF.
Every once in a while, I’d grab my camera to take a shot, attempt to focus and find that the focus isn’t working. When that happened a few years ago, I’d fiddle with my camera in frustration, detach — then reattach — the lens, and if I had a client, I’d be sweating when I couldn’t figure it out. Of course, these days I know that that switch on the lens often gets bumped, and your auto focus doesn’t work (whether it is a custom button by pressing the shutter release partway down) if the switch is set to manual. This minimizes frustration on my part, since it’s a quick and easy fix.
Ninety five percent of the time, I use the auto focus setting when I’m shooting. I primarily photograph people, and my auto focus setting has served me well all these years. I most often switch to manual focus when I am shooting up close. The manual focus helps because I’m shooting so close that my lens has a hard time grabbing a focal point.
If that is the case, I’ll switch to manual focus, adjust my settings and shoot away. In the image below, I was photographing some lemons hanging in a tree. I wasn’t able to grab my focus well enough on the auto focus setting, but once I switched to manual focus, I was able to capture just the right image.
In case you were one of those people feeling guilty for shooting on auto focus — don’t. Many photographers do, especially portrait photographers. It’s when you really want to get up close that it makes a difference to switch to manual focus, ensuring your close shots are focusing precisely on the part of the image that you want.
Photo credit: Kristen Duke