Manual Focus

I love a good close-up photograph, especially in the garden. There are just so many tiny details and textures that I would miss if I didn’t shoot some macro. Sometimes I don’t even see–or at least realize how beautiful the details are until I see the images on my computer. Like this moth–I was so busy trying to get the shot before it flew away, I didn’t notice the feather-like antennae and furry tarantula-looking legs until I downloaded the photos.

But I did notice these black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) before I started shooting. They were just about to wake from their perennial slumber, and the delicately twisted petals were irresistible.

And this one was definitely intentional, too. I wanted to capture his perfect little eyes and those beautiful eyelashes for eternity.

But it can be difficult to get the camera to focus on the right part of the subject, especially when it’s so close to the camera. When you’re shooting live subjects, that extra second or two of adjustment can mean missing the shot. And it’s just annoying when the camera doesn’t focus how you want it to. Even with the sophisticated focusing system in my Nikon, it can’t always predict what I’m trying to focus on.

My first solution to this problem is that I always manually select the focus point when I’m shooting. It takes some practice to be able to do it quickly, but since that’s how I always shoot, I’m used to it. On a Nikon, it means I always have my thumb on the dial to change the focus point.

For getting really close for a macro shot like the one below, that works pretty well. But there is still room for error. Look how close the petals are to the center of the flower. Any tiny movement on my part could make that focus point move.

That’s when I resort to my second option. I change the lens to manual focus, and do it the old fashioned way.

So many of my friends are into photography now, so it’s fun to have others to “talk shop” with. I’ve been asked about cameras, lenses, and software, but sometimes it’s the little stuff like this that makes the most difference in the resulting photos. I do have a great camera, but the lens I use 90 percent of the time is the old zoom lens (28-105mm/3.5-4.5) that came with my first Nikon 35mm 9 years ago. It is nothing special–it doesn’t even have VR. It’s slow. It’s needed to be sent in for cleaning and repair for years now. I can’t remove the lens hood because it fell and kind-of smashed the lens hood into the lens ring 5 years ago when I was in Africa. But it still works! I know its limitations, and I work within them. And what would I use if I sent it in? I have 5 other lenses, but it feels like I’m cheating if I go to them. I’m pretty married to my zoom. Who wants to carry around a bunch of heavy lenses? Two is my max.

What is your favorite lens? Do you like to shot up close and get details? What are you doing to get some of your favorite shots? Try playing with some of the manual focus options on your camera and let me know what you think. Happy shooting!

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4 Responses to Manual Focus

  1. Robyn Farmer says:

    Thank you for this. Do you use back button focus? I want to try but haven’t figured out how.

    • Natalie says:

      I’m glad it’s helpful! Yes, that round dial/button on the back of my camera is how I select the focal point on my camera. Is your camera a Canon? Let me know if you need help–I’ll come by or we can meet at the park to practice.

  2. Veronica Smith says:

    Great pictures Natalie! I love a good close up! I never think to flip it to manual. I really should venture out more often. :)

  3. Jimbo Hafner says:

    Love the close-ups. I’ve never shot a macro before. Sitting in the airport right now wishing I had my camera so that I could try one. :)

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