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Studio strobes and manual focus


TPF Noob!
Jul 12, 2007
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Indialantic, FL
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I've been reading some tutorials lately that all seem to talk about using manual focus versus auto focus on your lens when shooting with studio stobes. Is it really necessary to do this and why?
It's not necessary at all. It all depends on how much ambient light you have, and whether or not your camera will have enough light to actually autofocus. If your strobes have modelling lights, it's usually not a problem.
I can't see why that is more necessary with strobes than without strobes. Are you sure they weren't talkin about metering manually as opposed to using your cameras build in meter ?

This is important as the camera will not meter for strobes automatically. This is where light meters come in.
I've been reading some tutorials lately that all seem to talk about using manual focus versus auto focus on your lens when shooting with studio stobes. Is it really necessary to do this and why?
I believe you are mistaken. When you read that you must use manual mode for studio lights...it means that you need to use manual Exposure Mode (M)...not manual focus.
Believe it or not the tutorials were talking about manual FOCUS on the lens. I've had my studio strobe setup for about 3 months now (3 AB 800s) and have been shooting quite effectively with auto focus (see my avatar). Recently I've been reading about doing people portraits (I have an upcoming shoot to do people portraits which I have very little experience with) and all 3 of the tutorials started out with a section on camera setup: set WB to temp of strobes - ok, manual mode-ok; shutter speed to highest sync speed of camera (assuming you do not want any ambient light) - ok and MANUAL FOCUS - huh?. Then set exposure with a hand held light meter.

Since the point of modeling lights is to provide you with some basic information on where your light is falling and provide enough light to focus the lens I was struggling with why manual focus seemed to be 'necessary' and thought I was missing something (as usual)?
Information on the internet is like information on the street...sometimes it just makes you shake your head.

There is no reason why you can't use auto focus for studio photography...provided that you have enough light (ambient or modeling lights) for the AF to work.

When I'm shooting people with studio lights, I usually have the camera in my hands, so I'm moving...and the subjects are often kids...so they are moving...I'm constantly having to refocus...which I do via autofocus.
Yeah, I have to constantly remind myself that just because someone has written a turorial doesn't mean they necssarily know more than me :wink:!
Some people are of the school that Manual Focus is superior to auto focus. They feel they can focus the lens better with their eyes than the computer in their camera can.

It is personal preference really. I personally use autofocus when I shoot most of the time because I do not trust my eyes.

Sometimes people use manual focus because they want to focus the image differently than the camera would, or they are doing something like IR shooting.

With IR the focus point is slightly different than with normal images.
With a lot of studio work the artist is focusing on a part of the subject the cameras system may not. Also, most studio shooters are control freaks. Another reason, the photographer may want the shutter to trip exactly when they trigger the remote, not wait a few msec. for the af to work. I know when shooting animals and children a few milliseconds can be a show stopper.
Who knows what they were thinking when they wrote that tutorial... maybe they were a portrait expert... because their job was taking license pics at the DMV, and all they needed was manual focus... lol.

I also use autofocus, I cannot see the advantage of manually focusing it over a fast autofocus lens. Also, you will RARELY be able to get a pic as sharp as fast manually... I do not care how good your eye is or how fast you can twist that focus ring.

Only exception, as mentioned, if light is too low, but thats when I slap on the SB-800, and use it to focus, but manually not set the flash any stronger than 1/128th... enough to trigger the strobes but not add anything to the picture.

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