How To Use Your Autofocus Correctly

“Every professional should remain in his heart, an amateur.” ~ Alfred Eisenstaedt

Holding your camera steady is one of the first things you need to learn when you are photographing action, and I’ve given you some excellent pointers on how to do that in past blogs. Not too shabby, eh?

We started with holding your camera steady way back in the blog on April 12th, because once you are doing that correctly you will have eliminated blurry images caused by camera shake. Remember camera shake? It occurs when you move the camera during the exposure.

Here’s one. See how there is nothing in focus in this image?

Kinda hurts to look at it, don’t you think?

Here’s another, but in this one we see that there is a focus point. Unfortunately it is sharp  behind my subject, the dog. See how the man’s legs and the trees are much sharper? Oops

Time to take a tai chi step back and review autofocus. Today’s cameras and autofocus lenses can take marvelous action images provided you know how to set the right mode.

Of course you can let the camera’s computer decide where the focus should be, and this works beautifully when there isn’t much movement and there aren’t any distractions to the main subject to confuse the autofocus, such as this completely stationary car.

With the above photo, I used the  Single-point autofocus setting. That mode will allow you to choose your specific autofocus point. So to figure out how to do that with your camera we……..wait for it…….read our manual! Yes!  (If you are new to the blog you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but if you have my book, or read the blog regularly you know that I consider your camera manual to be your most important piece of equipment because it has everything you need to know to operate your camera.)

Ok. So we use the Single-point autofocus setting if we are photographing anything that isn’t moving. With Nikon this will be the AF-S setting. With Canon it will be the One Shot mode. This mode locks in your focus based on the distance to your subject, so as long as the subject stays at that distance, your photo will be in focus. If the subject moves, the camera will not take the photo because it cannot lock in the focus.

Next up is continuous autofocus (AF-C for Nikon or AI Servo for Canon). In this mode you place your autofocus point over your subject, and the focus continues to adjust while you hold down the shutter button, keeping your subjects in focus as they move. For animal photography this is a wonderful feature! Just place the AF point on your subjects and slightly depress the shutter. As long as you are pressing the shutter, the autofocus will continually adjust to the subjects, keeping them in focus as they move. When you are ready to make the photo, depress the shutter completely, and the camera will focus on your subjects for a sharp image. Voila! Couldn’t be simpler.

A third option combines the single autofocus and continuous autofocus (AF-A for Nikon or AI Focus for Canon). Your camera won’t focus until you lock in on a stationary subject. Once you have your subject in focus, you can take the photo as you would in a traditional single autofocus mode. But if your subject starts moving, the autofocus releases and continues to track your moving subject. It gives you the best of both worlds.

So we’re animal photographers right? We make images of both stationary and moving subjects. Many times, our stationary subjects start moving. So keeping your autofocus set on the third option is the ticket. Hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. Get out there and run some tests and see which focusing method works best for you.

Good shooting!

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