Manual Focus: Real life should have a manual focus option

This is a graphic design of the word “opinion” in a speech bubble. The background is purple and there are various shapes surrounding the speech bubble.

I switch the mode on my camera from autofocus to manual focus, and just like that, I receive the freedom to completely and single-handedly compose the perfect image — if perfection did exist. 

There are two main types of focusing when it comes to photography: autofocus and manual focus. In the former, the camera drives the decision making — it tells you what the most important part of the subject is and chooses what area to focus with just a click of a button. The latter, however, lets the user drive behind the steering wheel, permitting them to choose for themselves what to pay attention to and what to focus on. 

How do I know this? Well, I’m a photographer myself.

Using manual focus has changed my portrait game. I now control the key part in photography: the focusing. Without getting caught up in the way my camera frames a certain setting, I consciously pick and choose how to snap the shot. I look through my lens with a wide perspective and analyze every minute detail before clicking the release button. 

Manual focus grants me the ability to think freely — a freedom society at times forbids. 

The autofocus option on most cameras parallels society’s framing of certain discourses. From the normalization of the fox eye trend (goodbye!) in the beauty industry, to incorrectly labeling R&B as “urban” in the music industry to the corrupt and performative political discourse all around us, society, and more specifically the media, tells us how we should think, what we should do and how we should behave. Oftentimes, this framing blurs out crucial details and hides differing opinions. Proven by researchers studying media effects, media framing and priming alter the way we perceive news, events and people. 

It blinds us from being unprejudiced and nonjudgmental individuals. We need a real-life manual focus option before our current polarized discourse heightens. And here lies the point of my column: Together, we must make room for incorporating 360-degree thinking and other soft skills into our everyday repertoire. This soft skill — such as empathy and open-mindedness, among others — fundamentally builds this real-life manual focus, as I like to call it. 

Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain what I’m talking about. 

About a year ago, in my first year of college, I took a transformative class that completely reshaped the lens through which I view the world. Once a week on Wednesday evening, I left my “Professional Effectiveness: Building a Career through Third Space Thinking” class having learned something new. “This class provides students with a communication-driven analytic framework, along with knowledge that will help them identify and take advantage of opportunities in today’s digital, distributed media-rich society,” the first line in the syllabus read. And trust, so it did. 

While the class focuses on educating students on five soft skills, named Third Space attributes, so that they may gain an upper hand in the business world, these skills — adaptability, cultural competency, empathy, intellectual curiosity and 360-degree thinking — can be just as easily applied anywhere else. For this article, let me draw your attention to the lattermost skill: 360-degree thinking. 

“[360-degree thinking] takes a holistic, multi-dimensional, analytical approach to problem-solving,” the Center for Third Space Thinking website reads. “[It is] able to convert information into insights, infer implications from data and extrapolate from data to real-world applications and engage in sense-making by ‘connecting the dots.’” 

In other words, this skill makes you think holistically; it prompts you to understand the full scale of a problem across time and multiple areas, recognize patterns and make reliable conclusions based on those patterns. To illustrate just how powerful of a tool this is and to drive home my point, let’s analyze the coronavirus pandemic with this lens. 

Last week, the public learned from reporter Bob Woodward that President Donald Trump was aware of the serious threat posed by the coronavirus in early February and purposefully downplayed it for the past few months. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said to Woodward. “I still like playing it down … because I don’t want to create a panic.” It’s funny how we have a magnanimous amount of data on the coronavirus outbreak, yet a decent percent of the American population listens to Trump because of his “presidential authority.” 

Blinded by Trump’s framing, and that of respective news outlets, people overlook facts such as how at least 199,636 people have died in the United States alone, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Sitting comfortably with ignorance, some of us refuse to “infer implications from data” and “engage in sense-making by connecting the dots” — aspects of 360-degree thinking. 

This needs to change. 

Applying a 360-degree thinking lens when composing a certain “shot,” or, more accurately, reaching a certain conclusion or belief provides you and me with the freedom manual focus gives to photographers. We see the whole picture the way we think is best. 

Taking everything into account before reaching a conclusion, soft skills like 360-degree thinking clear the lens through which we view current events, politics and trends. I firmly believe that this is vital to creating progress in a society that is so divided. Instead of focusing on how the media frames topics and what our politicians tell us, let’s begin to use this real-life manual focus in hopes of tackling some of the biggest challenges society faces collectively.

Here’s to not taking blurry pictures when it isn’t intentionally for the aesthetic. 

Aisha Patel is a sophomore writing about soft skills in relation to current events. She is also one of the chief copy editors of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Manual Focus,” runs every other Tuesday.