Autofocus, Every Animal Photographer’s Best Friend

We’ve been exploring autofocus with several of the last few blogs, and we know that taking a portrait like this is really easy with autofocus. Just focus on the eyes and you’re good to go.

If there’s just a tad of movement, you’re still good to go, although I’d ignore my rule to always move in close with this fella. Don’t like the look of those spurs at all!

With action it gets a lot harder. Especially if you are using a point-and-shoot. However there are a few things you can try. You can pick out a point to pre-focus on— a point where the action will occur, and keep your shutter button pressed half way down to override the shutter lag (the annoying delay before the camera fires when you press the shutter button) with a point-and-shoot.

Here’s a good example. My SLR was at home when I attended this fun dog event. How’s that for always being prepared? Arrgh! I knew it would be tough to photograph the dogs with my point-and-shoot, but at least I had a camera. I knew I couldn’t track the dogs with my autofocus as they raced by, so I focused on one of the poles, held the shutter button half way down, (the camera was now focused on the pole) and waited to fire until the dog was in my zone of focus under the pole. Makes sense right?

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Let’s see. I should probably crop this a bit to take out the information that’s not necessary and put all of the emphasis on the dog. I didn’t try to crop the action in the camera, because I needed a wide enough angle of view to be sure not to cut off the dog as he raced by. With fast action, it’s best to do the cropping afterward in my editing program.

If I had used my SLR for this action sequence, I would have needed to count my shots as the dog raced towards me. What? This is a question to look up in your manual. Check out how many frames per second your camera can shoot and how many images it can store in the buffer before it stops to write the information to the memory card. It’s usually between 10 and 15 shots, which is way important to know so you can pace yourself when you are working on an important action sequence. If you are shooting away and your camera won’t fire you’ll know the computer decided to take a quick break. Well, ok, it didn’t decide to take a quick break, it’s more like a sit down strike. It was on overload so it locked up. Egad. Right in the middle of action you really wanted to record.

Here’s another one for your manual. Every lens has a minimum focusing distance so it won’t focus if you are too close to your subject. To keep from being too close, you need to carry a small tape measure in your pocket that you can whip out to measure the distance from your subject. Attach one end of the tape to the subject, and walk backwards focusing on that subject until it is in sharp focus. Voila! Now you know the minimum focusing distance for that lens!

Or, pull out your trusty manual and look up the minimum focusing distance for your lens.

And you were about to go get your tape measurer to add to your camera bag, right?

Ok, enough with the smart aleck remarks. No more. Promise. Sort of….

So your assignment this week is to practice pre-focusing with your point-and-shoot or your SLR. If you are using a SLR, look up how many shots you can take before your system locks up, and for both a point-and-shoot and an SLR, figure out how close you can be to your subject and still have your autofocus work.

Good shooting!

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