Pre-focus vs tracking: when and how to use each technique

Pre-focus vs tracking - how to capture moving subjects with confidence: step 3

Getting sharp photos of moving subjects is a tricky skill to master, but knowing which technique to use for which subject will help improve your hit-rate…

There are two main ways to focus on moving subjects: you can either use the Servo or continuous autofocus mode, so that the camera ‘tracks’ the subject by continuously adjusting the focus automatically, or you can use manual focus, and wait until your subject reaches a point you’ve pre-focused on in advance.

Pre-focus vs tracking: when and how to use each technique

Which you should use depends to some extent on the type of subject and movement you’re shooting.

Generally speaking you should use continuous autofocus for subjects where the movement is unpredictable, such as birds in flight, animals running or team sports; and manual focus (also known as pre-focusing) for subjects where the movement is more predictable, or regular.

SEE MORE: Best camera focus techniques – 10 surefire ways to get sharp photos

Pre-focus vs tracking – how to capture moving subjects with confidence (1-2)

Pre-focus vs tracking - how to capture moving subjects with confidence: step 1

01 Select the focus mode
For subjects where you can’t easily predict the direction or speed of the movement, you first need to select the AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous (Nikon) focus mode.

These modes will enable the camera to automatically adjust the focus as the subject moves, as long as you keep the shutter release half-pressed.

With the focusing mode set, you should also set the drive mode to Continuous shooting, to allow you to shoot in bursts to maximise the chances of getting sharp results.

SEE MORE: Focus modes – how, when and why you need to change your AF settings

Pre-focus vs tracking - how to capture moving subjects with confidence: step 2

02 Select the AF point
To give you some control over where in the frame the camera will focus, you need to select the single-point autofocus mode, and then select the focus point where you are going to position your subject in the frame.

If you’re using a long telephoto lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or smaller, or if you’re shooting in low light, you will get better results by selecting the central point rather than the outer ones, as on most cameras this is more sensitive and accurate.

Pre-focus vs tracking – how to capture moving subjects with confidence (1-2)
Pre-focus vs tracking – how to capture moving subjects with confidence (3-4)

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