Way back when, manual focus was your only option. So was the use of film. Nowadays we have it easy with autofocus and the ability to see our images instantaneously. So what’s the problem? Sometimes, we get a bit complacent with all the automated goodness, when we could buckle down and do some manual work to create even better images.

Here are a few reasons why:

Low Light

You might notice, when there’s not much light, that your camera has a hard time focusing. Or you don’t. But later, when reviewing your images, you find that the focus just isn’t as sharp as it should be. If increasing light isn’t an option, then try switching to manual focus mode (by flicking the switch on your lens). This will let you focus confidently for better shots.

Great for: Sleeping babies, sunset or nighttime portraits

Children’s Portraits

Now, this may not always work for kids, since they don’t exactly hold still, but when focus really, really counts you can count on manual focus to back you up. For example, baby feet – using a large aperture (such as f/1.8) you have very little room for error if you want those little toes in perfect focus. If in doubt, try a few in autofocus and then switch to manual.

Great for: Macro photography, portraits

Kid’s Action Photos

When your kids are playing softball it’s not difficult to focus using continuous autofocus (or the equivalent) to get a clear shot, even if they move. But the faster the focus, the more difficult it is for your camera to find the focus point, focus, and then adjust as your subject moves. Using manual focus, you can choose a focus point that you know your subject will travel through and then take the shot as they pass through. Don’t forget to use continuous shooting mode (where you hold the button down and your camera continues shooting until your camera’s memory buffer is full) to ensure that you capture your subject at the perfect moment.

Great for: Mountain biking, hockey, skiing, sledding.

Keep in mind that manual focusing needs some practice – particularly when working with children’s portraits. Testing it out on non-animated subjects can help; so set up a vase of flowers and try manual focus out on your chosen focal point. Check out your images on your computer screen [not your LCD camera screen, it’s too small to see if you achieved perfect focus] and zoom in to check on the focus before you head out to try again.

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