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Unlocking the Power of Manual Focus in photography.

Learn to UNLOCK the Power of Manual Focus: A Must-Read for Photography Enthusiasts...Read on.

Unlocking the Power of Manual Focus in photography
Unlocking the Power of Manual Focus in photography


Yep, there’s the word the strikes fear into any would be photographer…”manual”! 

OK, so it's not that bad because in this article we’re only talking about when and how to manually focus your camera, and trust me using manual focus is a great skill to have in your photography tool bag. I know today's post sounds dramatic "Unlocking the Power of Manual Focus in photography" but in some situations knowing how to shoot in Manual focus mode can be the difference between a failed shot and an OMG wow shot. Let's get started.


Let's be honest, focus is one of the least thought about aspects of most peoples photography. Not because focus isn’t crucial, but because most cameras “Auto-Focus” feature has become so very good, that we (the shooters) no longer have to worry about turning a dial to manually focus in on our subject.

For the most part, proper use of your cameras auto focus feature will provide great results. However, there are occasions when you will want or need to take full control of your camera's focusing process.  

Auto Focus Vs Manual Focus

With Auto Focus selected, when you depress your camera's shutter actuation button to the halfway point, you’re engaging the auto focus system. Your camera then ploughs through thousands of algorithm’s and computations and then guesses at what you want to be in focus and conversely, what you want out of focus. That’s great but, like I said, your camera’s guessing. Sure, it's a technologically sophisticated and highly calculated guess, but it's a guess nonetheless. As cool and expensive as your camera is, sometimes that guess can be plain wrong!

I first found this out the hard way in Africa, when Lisa was struggling to push her bike through a section of thorny brush and scrub. Thinking this would make a great shot, I pulled out my camera and I started to photograph her. Later, when I checked the photos, I saw that the branches and leaves that had engulfed Lisa were perfectly in focus but Lisa and most of her bike was blurry. 

The camera was not able to distinguish or understand that I wanted Lisa and her bike to be the main focus of the shot. However, because she was in such close proximity to the branches, it had focused in and locked onto those.

Manual focus is simple to understand. You turn a dial on the lens or the camera body, this moves glass inside the lens and you adjust until the subject of your photo is clear and sharply in focus.

Using Manual Focus

Let’s get stuck in. 

Imagine you’re out and ready to take your next cracking shot. You line up your shot and then look at your camera’s settings. If your lens is wide-open (F5.6 or below )then your depth of field will be shallow. This is a great time to choose manual focus, especially if there is no clear separation between your key subject, a beautiful bird say, and other items ( buildings, rocks, trees, branches, etc). Check out the image below. I struggled for a few minutes with my camera in 'autofocus' mode as my camera guessed and failed to get the bird in focus. I had a lot of pin-sharp images of branches and leaves, but not the brightly painted and beautiful bird that I was actually trying to capture, whilst in Cuba. A quick re-evaluation of the scenario, the problem and a solution, quickly had me clicking into 'manual focus' mode and voila, a perfectly sharp and in focus subject. Check out the file at 100% actual size for the detail.

A perfectly in focus shot using manual focus
Manual Focus allowed me to capture this perfectly in focus shot of this beautiful bird

Unlocking the Power of Manual Focus in photography
100% zoom of the image reveals stunning detail

Find your cameras focus settings; now depending on your camera model this might be found in a “focus menu” on your LCD screen or it might be a physical button or switch, like on my FUJIFILM X-T3. Select “manual focus” and turn it on.

Unlocking the Power of Manual Focus in photography
Turning "ON" the focus peaking settings on your camera will remove any focus guesswork.

Now, most modern cameras, especially mirrorless cameras, offer an additional focus-feature called “peaking”.  By default this feature is often turned off. So, locate that in your menu and turn it on.  Here’s the good bit, with peaking turned on, your camera will (via the LCD screen or through the viewfinder) actually highlight in white or red the edges of the elements in your frame that are truly in focus.  

Unlocking the Power of Manual Focus in photography
Find the focus peaking or focus assist settings in your camera's menus.

With your main subjects edges highlighted, you know it’s tack sharp and you can press the shutter release button and grab your next 'focus perfect’ image.  The peaking feature isn’t essential to use, but its nice to have your camera confirm your manual point of focus is correct. 

Over View

So, let's recap. 

Decide if manual focus is useful.

Select and turn on “focus highlight” or “Peaking” if your camera offers it.

Select and turn on Manual Focus.

Frame your shot and take the picture.

Using these cool features will also make you feel better about all that cash you spent on your new camera as well. Just saying! 


Manual focus, isn't daunting or confusing, it's just a tool available to you. For the majority of the time 'auto-focus' is going to be your main focus method but in certain shooting conditions it's not the right tool for the job. Understanding how to use manual focus will ensure that you get the shot. So, head out with your camera, select 'manual-focus' and play. You'll be amazed just how quickly you get 'perfect focus' dialled in with a little practise.


*If you would like to learn more about Post-Processing and Editing in order to create a fantastic and professional looking image then why not join us for a Post-Processing workshop either in person or online.



Good luck and have fun.

Please leave a comment if you've found this article helpful.


Megapixels Explained: Simon Thomas

Professional photographer and motorcycle adventurer based in Wales, United Kingdom, and founder of LIVING LENS PHOTOGRAPHY and 2 Ride The World. Simon, with his wife spent 17-years travelling the world by motorcycle, exploring some of the most remote and beautiful location on earth across 6 continents. His editorial and photographic work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as, BMW Motorrad, Adobe and SENA.



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