4 : Focus Modes

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Another piece of the puzzle

Welcome to lesson 4! As always, we remind you that the overall goal of Shoot Along is to capture beautiful, authentic images of your family. If you see moments that you want to photograph that don't fit precisely with this week's lesson, don't hesitate to grab your camera and capture them anyway!

Enjoy this project as it unfolds, using your day-to-day life as fodder to practice each week's skills. There will inevitably be times that you'll want to capture a specific moment that doesn't correspond to the current lesson. In these cases, seize the opportunity to photograph your family by using  other skills you've learned through Shoot Along lessons or beyond.

The first seven lessons in Shoot Along cover a lot of territory but they all fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. Try not to get frustrated if one of these weeks is harder to practice. Keep enjoying the learning process and stick with it.

Settings for action

Do you remember this picture of kids jumping on the bed from last week's lesson on ISO? They also demonstrate an important principle for you to discover this week. We'll be exploring the Focus Mode function of your camera. This is a setting that allows you to choose how you want your camera to react when you press down on the shutter release button, and is extremely important with moving subjects. Next week, we'll follow up with a lesson about Focus Areas, or what your camera focuses on. These two lessons are interrelated, so plan on spending the next two weeks getting to know the ins-and-outs of your camera's focus settings!

Before we begin... let's talk frame rate!

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"Frame rate" refers to how many images are taken when you hold your shutter release button down. If available, set your frame speed to the highest setting to capture a burst of images, rather than just one at a time. The icon that represents this mode looks like three rectangles stacked on top of one another.

Setting your frame rate to the "high" setting will allow you to capture a series of images rather than just one. This way, you'll have more images to choose from... and a better chance that you'll have captured the special moment!

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DSLR Focus Modes

Your camera has two main kinds of focus modes: single and continuous. To best understand these, it's important to review a bit of the lesson on aperture.

As the image below illustrates, your camera can focus on an object that lies a certain distance away from you.  When in focus, this subject becomes the middle of a slice (or field) of focus which also stretches in front of and behind it:

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Single Focus Mode:

When set to single focus, your camera will "lock" the distance away from you which your camera focuses on. When you press down the shutter release button halfway, you should hear a "beep" that signals this locking action. It will keep this distance locked as long as you keep the button pressed down halfway, and will release only after you press the button all the way down to take the picture. Note, the camera is not locking on the subject itself. 

This focus mode is great for stationary subjects. In the illustration above, your subject would need to stay within the blue slice to remain in focus once the shutter release button is pressed down halfway. Should she move forward or backward out of the slice of focus at the time that the button is fully pressed, she'll fall out of the slice of focus because it's locked.

For Nikon, Pentax, and Sony DSLRs, this mode is called AF-S. For Canon, it's called One-Shot. 

Continuous Focus Mode:

Children, as you already know, rarely stop moving, which is why it’s essential to know how to maintain sharp focus on them regardless of their position. The good news? Your camera has a focus mode for this! For Nikon, Pentax, and Sony DSLRs, this mode is called AF-C (Autofocus-Continuous); for Canons, it's called AI-Servo. (Artificial Intelligence-Servo). This mode allows your camera to track your subject, constantly focusing even when it moves closer to or farther from you.

This focus mode is great for moving subjects. In the illustration above, your subject would be able to move towards and away from you (into the grey and/or orange zones) and still remain in focus.

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One more note...

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You'll see that your lens has a physical switch on its side related to focus. This switch designates whether you or your camera is in charge of deciding whether an object is in focus. It may look like "AF/MF" or "A/M".

A means Auto. M means Manual. You'll want to keep that switch toggled to whichever side has the "A" so that the camera determines whether an object is in focus or not. If it is set to "M" you will have to manually turn the focus ring of the lens.


Creative Prompts

  • Set your camera to Single Focus and practice getting your subject in focus before pressing all the way down on the shutter button. Your subject can be stationary. Note that once you hold the shutter down half-way, you can "reframe" your subject by moving your camera to the right or left a bit before fully pressing the shutter.
     
  • Set your camera to Continuous Focus and capture someone moving toward you. The subject does not have to move fast; any speed of movement is fine. It can be as low-key as a person leaning in toward you from across a table, or as crazy as a child running full-speed at you from across a field. Remember: you want to "freeze" whatever action is happening. If the subject is moving fast, your shutter speed should be set high enough to get a crisp shot with no motion blur.

Share your images!

How are the lessons going for you? Do you have questions or a great shot that you want to share? Pop into the Facebook group any time for help and inspiration... there's a welcoming community there waiting for you!