Tips for using your camera lens on manual focus

Many digital SLR camera lenses now come with the option of autofocus (AF switch on the side of your lens) or manual focus (MF switch on the side of your lens). For ninety percent of the time, photographers can set the lens on AF and let the camera focus itself.

However, there are times when your lens won’t focus easily. For example, on a windy day when you’re trying to focus on a flower, or if you were photographing a moving insect, you could find your lens will erratically move and not stabilize on the object long enough for you to take the shot.

It’s times like this where it’s more efficient to set your camera lens to manual focus (MF).

manual focus example

Hoverfly macro taken with a digital SLR camera, with the lens set on manual focus

Digital SLR Camera: Canon EOS 400D / Rebel XTi
DSLR Lens: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens
Shutter Speed: 0.005 sec (1/200)
Aperture: f/11
Focal Length: 100 mm
ISO Speed: 200
Exposure Program: manual

How this shot was taken

For this shot, the camera lens wouldn’t focus properly when set to AF autofocus, due to the fly hovering and constantly moving. Therefore, the photograph was taken with the lens set on manual focus using a method similar to the tips shown below.

Manual focus tips

First set your DSLR lens to autofocus (AF) and focus on the closest object near the one your trying to photograph. For example, in the hover fly image above, I firstly set the autofocus on the flower, then turned the lens switch to MF for manual focussing.

In other words, focus automatically on something that isn’t moving, near the object you are wanting to photograph. This helps give a good starting point from which to manually focus.

Hold your digital SLR camera body with your right hand, while you position your left hand underneath the lens. This will enable you to easily rotate the lens focal ring with your fingers, similar to the photographer in the image below.

manual focus hold

The photo above demonstrates how you should hold your digital SLR camera for manual focusing. He is holding a Nikon Micro-Nikkor 105mm lens, however most camera lenses have the focal ring in a similar position.

Above all else, shooting with manual focusing takes practice. The more you practice, the easier it will become. There are many photographers who prefer to use manual focusing instead of automatic focusing for most of their shots.