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Using Manual Focus for Sharper Images

In order to achieve sharp focus on your images, you can set the focusing mode on your lens to manual focus. Manual focus is not ideal for all situations, but if you have a subject that is relatively still, you can use this mode to achieve sharp focus. Below are examples of a few scenarios where manual can work to your advantage, and why it can be so effective. First, though, let’s look at how to set your lens:

Your lens is set to Auto and Manual focus on the lens itself, not in the interface of your DSLR. The above image is a Nikon lens, with “M” denoting Manual and M/A denoting Autofocus. On a Canon lens, the letters are AF/MF for Autofocus/Manual (or sometimes just A/M) respectively. Make sure your lens is set to Manual focus.

The component in the above image labeled “Focusing Ring” is just that – a ring on the outside of your lens which turns clockwise and counterclockwise to focus.

Why Use Manual focus, and When Do I Use It? 

Have you ever photographed someone at f/1.8, and while the image looked sharp on your LCD screen, once you opened the image on your computer, your subject’s eyes were slightly out of focus and their nose was perfectly sharp? We have all been there, and this is a classic case of autofocus striking again.  The reason why this happens is simple: your lens and camera are focusing on what is closest to the lens itself. Naturally, your subject’s nose, chin and forehead will be ever-so-slightly closer to the lens than their eyes – we’re talking millimeters here, but it is still enough to throw off the focus in your image. 

Manual focus is absolutely perfect for macro photography. Since macro photography tends to be still life, you will have plenty of time to compose your shot and get your focus just right. 

Landscape photography is another great opportunity to play with manual focus, and if you are using a tripod, even better. Using a tripod ensures that your focus will stay locked in place when you press the shutter. 

Manual focus may feel a bit tricky and time-consuming when you first try it, but I guarantee you that, with just a little bit of practice, you will be hooked on the razor-sharp results. When you are first starting out with manual focus, try finding subjects that move very little, and as you get more comfortable with manual focus, you will be able to photograph subjects that are on the move. 

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