Continuous focusing | Dog photography

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How do you capture a running dog? This is the most common question I get. I decided to share a few tips and tricks how to master action shots of our lovely furry friends (not necessarily dogs!) on the go.

But before I’ll jump into the world of continuous focusing…

Composition is your number one concern with action photos, too. Make plans and frame them. You need to think through the foreground and the background. Moving target makes this a lot trickier but hey, practice makes perfect.

Let’s cut to the chase now, shall we?

So, how do you capture a running dog? With continuous focusing I always say. It’s my lovely little assistant with dogs and kids and everything else moving. Canon users are familiar with AI Servo autofocusing and us Nikon users call it AF-C. Continuous focusing means just that: your camera focuses continuously. (The opposite is AF-S which means single shot focusing. You’ll find it handy when shooting still life or stiller life.)

I couldn’t live without AF-C. My Nikons’s 51 focusing points work hard to detect movement. When you tell your camera to focus (pressing the back button or shutter half-way) it starts buzzing and humming. It tries to keep up with the target. If your target moves further, your camera re-focuses all the time. Continuously.

It’s like your subject’s guardian angel.

Sure, sometimes it gets confused. If there’s simply too much going on, you’re using a reaaaaalllly slooooow lens, you’re focusing on a subject that merges too well with your background or it’s too dark for your camera. I mean, after all they do tend to be afraid of the dark. If they cannot see, they cannot work.

That way it’s nothing like a guardian angel.

Few things that might help you master AF-C/AI Servo/some other tag:

Try to predict where the animal is running or where you’d like it to run. Don’t be afraid to direct the scene. (Sometimes it takes 30 tries to nail that perfect shot, sometimes you get it at once. Stay calm and try again.)

One of the trickiest of situations is trying to use a very shallow depth of field when capturing a speedy dog running straight towards camera. Usually it takes (at least) 1/1250 to freeze the motion. If this is a piece of cake for you, try with two or more dogs. And try to get all of them tack sharp. Pull it off and you’ve earned two rounds of applause!

Read your camera manual. Yeah, boring. But useful boring. Knowing all the options available makes you a better photographer. When you can reason your whys you’re more likely to make cooler pictures. I take out the manual from time to time because I (as a not very technical person) want to improve my technical skills.

Happy focusing!

PS. Choose continuous shooting mode, too. In this case it’s better that you’ll take lots of frames and choose the best ones. Lots of action means super quick movement. You’ll have a better chance to succeed if you’ll spray a little!

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