Tip of the Week: How To Select Correct Focus Mode

One of the most crucial things for a successful photographer is to know the capabilities of the camera being used. To achieve this, you should consult the User Manual of your camera every now and then, and not only when you get stuck at some point.

Managing to shoot razor-sharp photographs, apart from all other things, requires good focusing. Modern DSLRs today have two or three focus modes and if you know the difference between these focus modes, and where and when to use them, you would most probably manage to shoot sharp photographs all the time.

Selecting AF Operations - One-Shot

In this article, as I'm a dedicated user of Canon, I will concentrate on the focus modes on Canon cameras only, but other DSLRs have the similar modes with different names which work almost exactly with the same logic.

One-Shot AF

Selecting AF Operations - One-Shot

This is the perfect mode to use for stationary subjects like portraits, landscapes and macro shoots where there is no wind in the air. You just half press the shutter button first, focus on the subject (recompose if necessary) and then press the shutter completely to take the picture.

Handsome Cute Man

AI Servo AF

Selecting AF Operations - AI Servo

The second focus mode on cameras is called AI Servo and it's used for moving subjects like cars, airplanes, birds; all moving subjects in short. If you half press the shutter button, the camera will continuously try to refocus on the moving subject. When you're sure that the subject is in focus, press the shutter button completely to take the shot. You may also use High-speed continuous shooting mode together with this AF mode to ensure sharp and on-focus photographs. An example for this might be a bird in flight.

White-tailed Eagle in Flight

AI Focus AF

Selecting AF Operations - AI Focus

This mode is used for subjects that are quickly changing from still to moving position. Depending on the situation, the camera switches from One-Shot mode to AI Servo mode. If your subject is still for a moment, half press the shutter button and if the camera gains focus in One-Shot mode, when the subject begins to move, the camera will detect the movement and will follow the subject passing from One-Shot mode to AI Servo mode. This mode can be used for a bird that stands still first and then starts to move or fly.

Penduline Tit on a Reed

In addition to the above basic AF modes, modern cameras today use some supplementary modes to assist focus like selecting the AF area and AF point, which maybe listed as Single-point Spot AF, Single Point AF, Zone AF etc depending on the camera make and model. Some high end cameras also offer the user to customize the AI Servo AF according to the subject or the shooting scene.

Please remember to refer the User Manual of your camera for further and more advanced functions assisting AF modes.

I hope this article will help you improve your shooting skills.

Photo credits: Caglar Gungor.

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October 28, 2018


Thanks for the comments..

October 27, 2018


Useful! Thank you!

October 25, 2018


From a fellow birder, you have some great flight shots in your portfolio... both birds and planes! Thanks for the article and tips! William

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