If your subject is moving around, select AI Servo on a Canon camera or Continuous Servo mode on a Nikon camera. When using continuous focus, most cameras will lock onto your subject with one active focus point—often selectable—and then use all focus points to track the subject. This allows you to recompose your photo once you have your subject in focus. This is also useful when it’s dif!cult to keep the subject in the same place, like when tracking birds in "ight or a soccer player darting around the pitch.
Continuous focus works best when the subject is over a plain background. When there is a lot of texture or contrast in the background, the camera sometimes loses focus on your subject, usually at a critical moment, and this can be frustrating. Cameras are de!nitely getting better at sticking with your subject, but you’ll generally need to experiment with the autofocus settings to !nd the perfect balance between responsive tracking and sensitivity of focus.
Continuous focus also works better if you have time to stay locked on your subject, as this will give the camera time to detect what it’s focusing on and re!ne the focus. In this photo, I focused on a Steller’s Sea Eagle way up in the sky, stayed locked onto my subject as it darted downwards, and then !red off nine frames as the eagle swooped across the surface of the water and caught the !sh in its talons.
The first and last frames of the series were slightly soft, as the camera identi!ed the new direction in which the subject was now moving, but the seven frames in the middle were all tack sharp. You can see the sea ice in the background too, which is good at stealing focus, but with my selected settings—based on a lot of bird photography over high-contrast sparkly water and sea ice—I’m pretty happy with how the focusing on my Canon EOS 1D X is working.
You will need different settings for different subjects and scenes. My go-to settings are: tracking sensitivity at -1, acceleration/deceleration
tracking at +1 and AF point auto switching at +1. Note that I add these three options to my menu so that I can access and tweak them quickly in the field. I rarely go back to the preset scenes.
With good shooting and focusing techniques, I’ve been nailing focus for years. While I am not advocating that you run out and buy a new camera, I will say that the camera technology improvements in recent years are enabling photographers to achieve better focus more regularly than ever before. During a recent trip to Hokkaido (the day after I shot the Steller’s Sea Eagle photo above), I turned and a White-ailed Eagle was just meters from the boat. I raised the camera and hit the back focus button and mashed down on the shutter button for seven frames. Despite only having a split second to focus, the middle five shots were all tack sharp. This photograph is probably one of my favourites from the trip.
Even with the latest camera bodies, you won’t nail every shot in fast-paced photography, but I’m finding that even in challenging conditions, I’m now hitting focus probably twice as often as I used to (in comparison to the last generation of Canon pro bodies). Of course, I doubt that even the next few generations of cameras will enable us to nail focus every single time, but then there’d be no fun in that would there?
Photography Tips To Make Sharper Images (Part 4: Moving Subjects) by: Martin Bailey
Photography Tips To Make Sharper Images (Part 3: Focus Error) by: Martin Bailey
Photography Tips To Make Sharper Images (Part 2: Subject Movement) by: Martin Bailey
Photography Tips To Make Sharper Images (Part 1: Camera Shake) by: Martin Bailey