Beginner's Photo Tip #1 - Why Is the Duck Out of Focus?

December 10, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

 

 

Snowy LandingSnowy LandingSnowy Egret Landing Nearby Blue Angle FlybyBlue Angle FlybyLittle Blue Heron Flying Close Modern digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are loaded with features. Though this is definitely a blessing, it is sometimes a lot to take in for the beginning photographer. The cameras will take a lot of great shots right out of the box on full automatic, but some photo situations call for adjusting the default settings. One such example is when the subject is moving. It can be a swimming duck, your dog playing with a new toy or a child's soccer game. The default focus drive setting anticipates your subject is stationary. You press the shutter half way down, probably hear an audible tone indicating the subject is in focus. You continue pressing until the shutter releases and you have a sharply focused shot. This is not the case if you are shooting that swimming duck. You press the shutter. It beeps as you take the photo, but the subject is out of focus because it moved out of the zone of focus before the shutter fired. The solution is to set the camera so that the focus continually changes as the subject moves.

The Bad News: When shooting Canon's green square or Nikon's Auto and Flash-Off Auto settings, the camera does not allow the needed adjustments. But it is not all bad news. You can still use the Program (P) mode. The settings described below also work in the Aperture Priority (Av and A), Shutter Priority (Tv and S), and Manual (M) modes. Let's look at two settings that are important for shooting at moving targets.

Auto Focus Setting: Canon users would change the Auto Focus Mode from Single Shot to AI Servo. Nikon users would change the camera from the Single-Servo Auto Focus to Continuous-Servo Auto Focus. (These names vary slightly from model to model and year to year, and there are some hybrid modes. For other brands, see the manual for correct names and operation.) With Canon or Nikon, once set, the camera then focuses continuously while the shutter-release button is depressed half-way and the shot is taken when fully depressed. The focusing system even predicts where the subject will be in the near future, increasing the chances of an in-focus shot.

Drive Mode (Canon), or Release Mode (Nikon): Successfully shooting moving subjects typically involves using a combination of the above mentioned Auto Focus Setting and setting the camera to take multiple shots when the shutter is pressed. DSLRs will give you the option for taking one shot at a time, or taking many shots continuously while the shutter is held down. Relying upon a single shot in an action situation will too often result in a flying bird with a wing obscuring its head, or your daughters soccer shot hidden by another player. Setting the camera to fire at its fastest rate betters your chances of capturing a shot that has that perfect pose or action. Not all shots will be keepers. Keep the good ones; delete really bad ones.

Also: Entry- and Mid-level DSLRs normally offer "canned" settings for various shooting situations like Landscape, Portraits, Macro and Sports. This Sports setting will typically set the Focusing Mode to AI Servo (Continuous-Servo), and also change the Drive (Release) Mode to continuous. This allows you to make only one quick and easy change in your settings to take action shots. There is a catch. In photography there is always a catch. The Sports Mode makes certain assumptions about your shooting conditions. It sets a lot of features in addition to these two. If you are shooting outdoors with good lighting, it will probably work fine for you.  As you progress in your ability to modify the camera settings in Tv (S), Av (A), M and P modes you will be able to shoot action shots even when the lighting is less than ideal. But for now, if you are mostly shooting in Full Automatic Mode, and getting blurred action shots, give the Sports Mode a try.

And remember, sometimes only portions of your photos will be in focus. For people and other animals, the eyes will often determine whether or not the photo is perceived to be "in focus". Try to keep that focus point on the eyes, or at least the head. Sometimes it helps to try shooting with both eyes open, following the action with the non-camera eye until you can find the subject in he view-finder. Happy shooting.


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