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Here's Some Unconventional Photography Advice
Why you should turn off autofocus
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When I sat down late last year to plot out the things I wanted to share with this community, there were some concepts that felt unconventional. Unconventional to the point that I wondered if I should really share these things…
Then I came up with some even weirder, metaphysical topics that made the unconventional sh*t seem timid, so here we are. Oh, and don’t worry, we’ll get to the weird stuff in the coming months. This week, I wanna highlight the value of turning off your autofocus.
This photo was captured a couple days ago in Hyderabad on my Leica M11 with the Summilux 21mm F1.4 lens (special thanks to Leica USA for loaning me this lens). The aperture was set at F4.0, the shutter speed and ISO landed at 1/360 and 800, respectively.
After all these years of shooting—along with what I’ve come to study and learn in my university years—I truly believe there’s a deeper conditioning that takes place when we start to strip away the comforts and guardrails of modern cameras. Let me take a step back and explain how I got here.
You pick up a tool, use it, and with enough repetition, you come to some understanding how it works. Now, if some expert comes along and teaches you how to use it, the learning becomes faster and you can move to mastering the tool a lot sooner.
Now imagine instead of picking up the tool, you pick up the 50th version of this tool that looks similar but its much more advanced and makes the job incredibly easy. Easy to the point that it requires a really low effort by you to use the tool. This is great right? You can now move to mastering this tool sooner and putting your attention on other matters in the moment. Well, I think this might by doing more harm than good in the long run.
Early cameras were such an involved process that it required a good amount of understanding of photography to become really good at the craft. Modern cameras have become so easy, that many more people can become proficient at a faster rate. This is a good thing. But through this process, I believe there’s a loss of so much proprioceptive learning that it may actually be working against the artist behind the camera.
Okay, I may have lost some people on proprioceptive so let’s just take this as your body reacting to stimuli as it moves and interacts with the world around it.
What does this all have to do with autofocus? Well, the magic of these modern cameras to lock and acquire focus near instantly is f*cking great. It makes so much of my professional work easier. But the lessons from manual focus made me a better creative. When you have to really work with a camera, there’s a deeper learning that’s happening. It’s a form of punishment you’re putting yourself through and your body starts adapting to become better. Not unlike long distance running.
When you have to earn the focus on a subject—where your gaze narrows into the viewfinder and you start to laser in on the exact area that needs to be the focal point of the story—I believe you’re taking the hard road. A road that strengthens the stimuli from the act of photography and deepens the learned experience.
I know this might sound crazy to some of you but I’ve come across too many autofocus shooters that can take a photo, but fail to create a compelling story. There’s a disconnect between them and the moment. And I believe if we can get closer to the moment, we can become much better storytellers.
So this week, I challenge you to only use autofocus when your eyes fail you. Otherwise, turn that sh*t off. Use your eyes. Work harder for the photograph. Earn the moment. Deepen the learning. And just get closer to the moment.
October Contest Winner…
Congratulations to the winner of a Capture One Pro annual license.
You’ll be receiving an email with details on activating your license. Enjoy!
New Contest for November!
Each month, I run a contest for the Church & Street community and try to feature something that I think people will appreciate.
For November, I’ll be giving away the Moment Strohl Moutain Light Backpack. For those that find themselves outdoors a lot and need the ability to pack a wide variety of essentials, this is a backpack to keep on your shortlist.
How am I picking the winner? All you have to do is be a member of this community and leave a comment on this post. As with every contest, I’ll be randomly picking one person, confirming they meet the requirements and then contacting them directly before announcing the winner publicly.
Once again, this contest is void where prohibited by law. Good luck!
My thanks to the team at Moment! Not only for this contest but for being the longest supporter of my work online. They’re a lean team of passionate creators that truly believe in supporting other creators on their journey. Whether it’s a new camera, lens, workshop, or just some great articles, visit ShopMoment.com today.
Reader Question: How do you afford to go on all those photo adventures?
Six years ago, I sat down to write what my life would look like and it boiled down to one sentence: travel the world and make dope shit. And so, I started to work backwards and plot out a path to this becoming a reality.
For me, I opted to create a YouTube channel that would become the my “marketing department” and share my journey with others. I believed that if I could write valuable stories with rich imagery, I could earn three key things that would set me up for success in the future:
A deep understanding of video production
An engaged audience that saw value in my unique journey
A small but influential list of sponsors that saw value in supporting my journey
Fast forward to 2023, I’ve been able to take this my YouTube channel and branch it out to fund my personal photography adventures directly and indirectly. I save almost every dollar—from sponsorships to affiliate clicks—and put it into flights, hotels, assistants, etc. The goal is to have at least one big trip a year where I go out and really challenge myself.
There’s more to the story but to keep this short, I worked my ass off at a loss for many years to get to a place where my personal work can be subsidized through a scalable media platform.
Right now, I’m in Bangalore in pre-production for some video projects. Over the next two weeks, I’ll make it out to Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai with my cameras in pursuit of my best work yet. And as usual, I can’t wait to share those stories with you soon.
Anyway, that’s enough for one week. See ya next time!
Thanks for reading Church & Street. Be sure to leave any thoughts or questions in the comments and if you really enjoyed this post, share it with your circle ✊🏾