How to set your focus on moving subject ?

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Everyone knows how to focus static subject. You can manually set the focus using the focus ring or you can auto focus by half pressing the shutter button. Once focus is locked take the shot by fully pressing the shutter button.

The camera setting is simple, it doesn’t really matter what the setting is, as long as you pressed the focus button, it should do the job well.

Nailing the focus on a moving subject is a little bit more complex, but with some practice and correct camera setting, you can rely your camera to get the focus right.

Some of the newer pro DSLRs offer stunning frame rate like the Nikon D800 (4 FPS), Canon 5D3 (6 FPS) and   Nikon D4 (12 FPS), they can capture fast moving subject, but the hardest work is getting that focus right.

Here is what you need to set your camera to for shooting moving subject.

To shoot moving subject, set the camera AF mode to AF-C continuous servo for Nikon and Al Servo for Canon. You can then set how many dynamic AF points you want to assist with the selected AF point. For example in the Nikon D700, D800, D3, D3s and D4, you can choose from 9 points, 21 points or 51 points dynamic AF points. More dynamic AF points is not necessary better, more AF points can lead to longer processing time as well as more prone to AF error. So it is important to understand  the best AF setting depending on your shooting subject.

If you are shooting something moving relatively slow, like a runner on the track, you can use 9 point dynamic area AF. The selected AF point is where you want to focus on, and the 9 AF points around the the selected AF point will assist with the focus to track the moving subject if it move outside the selected AF point.

The 21 point dynamic area AF has a larger AF coverage, this is used if your moving subject is moving relatively fast, like a soccer play on the field. The 21 AF points around  the middle AF point will assist with the focus to track the moving subject if it move outside the selected AF point.

The 51 point dynamic area AF uses all the available AF points and has the largest AF coverage, this is used if you want to track very fast moving subject like birds. All of the 51 AF points will be used to assist with the focus, it will  track the moving subject using all the 51 dynamic AF points.

Once you have the camera setting set up, here are the steps to focus your subject

1. Switch to single AF point. Focus your subject, either by pressing AF-ON or half press the shutter.

2. While your subject is moving, hold the AF-ON or half press the shutter to continue to focus on the subject. Depending on how many dynamic points you have selected, either 9, 21 or 51 points, the AF system will used the available AF points to help to focus the moving subject.

3.  Press the shutter fully to take the shot, keep holding the AF-ON or half press the shutter to continuously focus on the subject as the subject moves.

Here is a set of sequential shots taken at the Wellington Fashion Week. I set the camera to AF-C continuous servo AF and uses 21 points dynamic area AF since my subject covers a lot of the frame, so a large dynamic AF area works better. As the model walks towards the end of the run way, the focus changes,  I held down the focus button as the model walks towards me to keep her in focus and at the same time changes the zoom from 280mm to 140mm to frame the shots.

Canon 5D3, D700, D800 and D4 all have amazing AF system which you can rely on. The shots below are from my D700 which kept the subject very well focussed.


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About Kent Yu

Kent is a professional wedding and portrait photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He and his team specialise in modern and contemporary weddings. Kent has his work published in international magazines and is a regular author to a number of photographic publication. He is fascinated by photographic equipment and enjoys showcasing the gear used in creating his images. You can find him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+
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