7 Reasons to Prefer Manual Focus over Auto Focus

7 Reasons to Prefer Manual Focus over Auto Focus

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Focus is certainly the main aspect of photography, if the images are out of focus they are ruined definitively. There may be several reasons that lead to an out of focus image, some of which may be the difficulty of automatically focusing on a subject but anyway the best way to get out images perfectly focused is by using manual focus. So here are 7 reasons to prefer manual focus over auto focus

1. Sharpen Images

The main reason for preferring manual focus to auto focus is certainly to get sharper images, the best way to deal with manual focus is to achieve it by using live view, following these simple steps:

  1. Set your lens to Manual Focus
  2. Set Live view on your Camera
  3. Use zoom button to zoom into the are you want to focus
  4. Turn the focus ring until what you see is in focus

In this way you should be able to focus manually with ease. There’s also another step to do just to be sure your images are 100% in focus and extra sharp: compare the images captured with manual focus system and live view with an image captured from live view using auto focus. If you’ve done things right the image taken with manual focus should be with better focus and sharper

2. Photograph with every Light

Focusing with auto focus in low light conditions this one may not work properly or be inaccurate. Imagine shooting during the night, especially for night photography, images like milky way or light painting or startrails, manual focus becomes crucial to focus into a total darker scene

3. Capture low Contrasts

The auto focus to work properly needs some points that are “recognized” to the camera. If you’re shooting something that has similar colors, tones, and textures, or a smooth wall your lens can struggle in autofocus mode. In all these cases manual focus is of great help to be able to focus on subjects with low contrasts

4. Capture out of Focus images

One of the strongest photography composition guidelines is framing. Composing a framing with an out of focus element can be a successful compositional element of a photo and can lead the viewer’s eye through the main subject. Manual focus helps in this sense to be able to take our images with such compositional techniques and play between in focus and out of focus elements

5. Photograph with Fog

Fog is that element that helps make the image more striking and create a beautiful atmosphere in the image. But fog will reduce contrasts and scatter light in the scene, and focusing with fog can be difficult with auto focus if there’s not strong contrasted element in the scene. In all the cases of fog and misty landscapes using manual focus will avoid the problem of having out-of-focus images in fog

6. Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is one of the most used technique to ensure all of images elements are in focus. With focus stacking you take many images of the same scene with different focus in order to achieve a completely focused images with all the elements of the scene perfectly in focus. I created a detailed guide on how focus stack your images using bracketed shots. For a precise use of focus stacking it is very imporant to use manual focus, because it allows you to have great control of the elements of the frame in at different focal angles

7. Moving Objects

This point can be connected with the previous one but also because mobile elements are present in landscape photography. Imagine having to focus stack on flowers in the foreground that are moving on a windy day, or simply wanting to give movement to an element of the photo while keeping the focus fixed in one point. All of this with auto focus would be slower and even more difficult to achieve

Conclusions

Even if manual is better for all the reasons we talked about automatic focus can be very usefull in other situations, the auto focus should be used for:

  • Photographing animals, sport or other scenes where the subject is moving
  • Photographing events and concerts where the subject doesn’t stand still
  • Photographing handheld

Even if auto focus are certainly valid in different cases, for professional results rely to manual focus is the best solution. In any case relying on own’s eyes and judgment is always the best choice


Tutorial: Bracketed Landscape with Focus Stacking

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The technique of the Focus Stacking consists in taking a series of pictures gradually changing the focus between the one and the other; being processed will join the shots, taking advantage of each image only those parts that appear to be in focus. In landscape photography the main rule is to focus all the elements of the foreground and take some exposure for the sky or highlights.

When i was at the lake in Campo Imperatore I shot a large number of exposures to focus on all the rocks it was, sky and mountain. When I go home indeed I realized that I really need only one of the exposures for the foreground, and only one of exposures for the mountain, focus stack all the rocks one by one in this case was not so necessary, cause the focus was pratically the same for each rock. I did not think about it 🙂

So in this tutorial I will show you how to apply focus stacking in a foregrounded landscape using Bracketing mode and how I use other exposures for my final image.

 

Shooting and preparing the images

I took a series of exposures bracketed images ( -1 , 0, +1 ) for the rocks in the foreground and an additional bracketed series of shots focusing the mountain set on ∞  ( -1 , 0 + 1 ).

Added to this, there is another shot that I took in the late evening to replace the mountain covered by clouds. For a total of 7 exposures.

ESEMPIO

ESEMPIO1

I take all the shots using tripod, ISO 100 and f/11

Below all the steps I do that show you  how to focus stack and how to make a blend with additional exposure

 

Stacking and Auto Blending

1. Launch Lightroom and select all the stack images.

2. Right Click on the images selected. Develop settings>Sync Settings

3. Adjust for all the stacked images,  distortion,  white balance, contrast ecc…

4. Right Click again and select Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop

5. Select all the layers and Go to Edit>Auto-Align Layers, with settings as follow:

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6.  Regroup layers by exposure.

For a 2 series of bracketing (-1; 0 +1) x 2 I had 2 overexposed, 2 correct and 2 underexposed images.

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7. Highlight images by group and blend them, Edit>Auto-Blend Layer like below:

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Photoshop will blend the highlighted images creating a layer mask for each image, to show in white the sharp and in black the hidden areas. Select this layers and merge them.

 

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Theese three images are now a “Bracketed Focus Stacked Series”, you can now edit them with Photoshop as you do with a normal bracketing series.  I usually edit theese shots using Luminance Masks to select all the brights and shadows I need without affecting the entire picture in order to create a final quality image.

 

Exposure Blend

Remember the seventh exposure that I said at the beginning? I’ve taken it just before leaving the location, cause I had seen that the mountain began to discover from the clouds. In that picture I had masked only this part of the mountain without affecting the sky.

1. Put the new layer at the top, and auto align again with Edit>Auto-Align Layers

2. Create layer mask and click (Ctrl+I; PC) or (Cmd+I MAC) to invert it

3. Select now a white brush and paint in the areas of the sky that you want to blend in

4. Press( Ctrl+E; PC) or (Cmd+E; MAC) to merge layers

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Conclusions

The final question is “How many images do I need, and where should they be focused?”

The answer depends on what your scene looks like and what effect you’re trying to achieve.

At a minimum, you need to have each scene element you need be sharp, at least one (or a series of bracketing shots)

Sometimes you can do that by focusing specifically on each element you care about. For example in presence of many close-up elements in the foreground, ( leafs, flowers and other things that wind can move). In this case take many exposure as for the element you need.

 

 


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Hi, my name is Giuseppe Sapori, a professional photographer and author of this website, created by yours truly to show my work and share with you the techniques I use. My expertise is in the field of Landscape Photography... (Read More)

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