Caveat: Yes, this is an extremely boring topic, you’re probably yawning right now, aren’t you? If you can hang in there and read it (perhaps after a cup of coffee), and then put these tips into practice, I guarantee you’ll have better photos of your kids as a result!!
How many focus modes does your camera have? Most people don’t even know the answer to that question, yet wonder why they consistently have trouble getting crisp photos – especially when kids are moving around. So let’s get to it!
Manual vs. Auto
The simplest choice you’ll have to make is whether you want to control focus, or whether you want your camera to do it for you. Point and shoot cameras generally don’t offer this feature, it is a switch found on the lens of SLR and mirrorless cameras.
So why on earth would you want to use manual focus when you could use automatic? Primarily manual focus comes in handy when you are shooting static images (landscapes, products, etc.) or when your subject is behind something (trees, grass, etc.) that makes it difficult for the camera to achieve focus. You can also use manual focus when you are shooting long exposures at night so your camera doesn’t have to recalculate focus for every shot. In other words, you likely won’t find yourself switching to manual focus very often when it comes to children’s photography.
Single Shot Mode (for subjects that stand still)
This is your basic focus mode; when you hold the shutter button halfway it calculates focus using your camera’s auto-focus points. When you release the button the focus is released, but as long as you hold the shutter button half way (or all the way, when taking a photo) it will “lock” focus until you depress the button fully to take a photo.
However, if your subject moves then you may not have perfect focus – hence why you might want to consider continuous focus for active kid’s photography.
Continuous Focus (for sometimes movers and shakers)
This mode (also called AI Servo) is your best bet for working with moving subjects. Like one shot mode, it will “lock” onto your subject, but when your subject moves your camera will adjust to ensure that your subject remains in focus. When working with busy kids this mode can be a lifesaver. Keep in mind that it does tend to use up a lot of battery, which is why the next mode is such a great choice.
Automatic Focus (when things go fast)
Also called AI Focus, this mode is a blend of the other two focus modes (one shot and continuous), so it’s a perfect choice when you’re working with sometimes still, sometimes moving subjects. Sound like anyone you know? Exactly – when you’re working with kids or even pets, this is a good mode to use. It will let you get good focus with both still and moving objects by sensing which focus mode needs to used.
Another note: You generally don’t get to pick your focus mode if you are in automatic settings – you’ll have to make the jump over to semi-automatic or manual settings in order to experiment with the different choices.