Manual Focus or Autofocus?

When I first got into photography properly, I bought a Low budget DLSR and shot in auto for about a two weeks before I decided I wanted to shoot in manual. The main reason for this was because I didn’t feel I was getting the connection to the shot, I wasn’t working my upmost to get it. In my mind it wasn’t enough to just manually adjust Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, I wanted to focus manually as well. So I went straight from two weeks of complete auto mode and dove right into the deep end of the exposure triangle and manual focusing.

There is something I find really satisfying about manually focusing a lens. It’s as if I’ve been given a small challenge making me have to work for the final goal. I think this is why 35mm film photography really spoke to me.

Now I must state that I am not snobby about people using any autofocusing or auto modes, I think you should always shoot the way that makes you produce the best photographs for you. I would however suggest people try manually focusing for a while, as at the very least allows you to peak back in time and see how it was done ‘back in the day’, and you may even find you enjoy it.

Using the technology to get the shot sometimes makes me feel like I cheating a little bit. If I intend to sell a print or a book I feel that all of the work should be 100% effort on my part. Now this is a personal pressure and ideal I put upon myself, nobody has told me to do this, and I wouldn’t expect it of other people.

This is also to say I do not use manual focus 100% of the time. Although I do manual aperture, shutter speed, and ISO all the time, sometimes for street portraits I use autofocus. And here is why…

1.     I spent so much time shooting in manual, that I would miss the odd portrait shot if I hadn’t spend time trying to figure out if I was in focus correctly. Moving subjects is what autofocus is handy for.

2.     Sometimes zone focusing is not helpful on DSLR type cameras, why miss the shot when autofocus is more likely to nail the moving subject mentioned above

3.     I take portraits at extremely close-quarters with people, and pausing in front of their face to focus isn’t practical for a candid image

Thinking about it is quite funny; I was never that into portraiture work, especially on the streets until I forced myself to try it. Venturing into the world of street portraits has ‘broadened’ my street shooting horizons. I still manually focus 95% of the time, but I am open to allowing the autofocus to capture my subject in sharper focus, allowing me to concentrate on composition. Then bam! back to manual for my more impressionist and abstract street work.

I will leave you with this; why don’t you experiment using both? If you are a manual focus lover try mixing it up a bit. If you are an auto user try manually focusing for a while. It is important to give your self-limitations, but it is just as important to try new things.