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Focus Modes

Which focus mode will be best for pet photography?

I highly recommend using “Continuous Autofocus” (or AI-SERVO on Canons). This focus mode continually tracks and readjusts focus for micro-movements, of your hands, the dog, etc to make sure that whatever is inside the focus area is in focus. This is an important definition so keep it in mind as we continue. 

Let’s look at the other modes and see why they may or may not work for our purposes.

  • Single Shot Autofocus: This mode focuses on on area and locks there. It  usually “beeps” when it’s locked on. This is great for non-moving subjects like apples, landscapes, buildings, or very slow crocodiles. Since our dogs are living, breathing animals, I don’t recommend it, especially since we’ll usually have quite a narrow depth of field so even a slight movement from you or the dog could cause the eye to no longer be in focus. 
  •  Continuous Autofocus: This mode finds the thing you want to focus on, then continues to adjust the exact focal area based on its understanding of what you told it to focus on in the first place. For example, if I position my focus point over the dog’s eye then it doesn’t matter if the dog is slightly moving, as it will make adjustments for this.
    • This is not to be mixed up with some kind of “tracking” mode. AF-C Does not mean that the focus area will automatically move around of its own accord. You may need to move your camera slightly (or a lot!) to keep the dog’s eye in the focus area. This depends largely on which focus area you’re using.
  • Automatic Focus Mode: This may have different names between camera brands. Basically, the camera decides if it would be better to use single shot, or continuous autofocus mode in the scenario. I don’t recommend, as it might get it wrong. 
  • Manual Focus: You set the focus where you want it. This sounds good because we have complete control, however, because it works much the same as Single Shot (once the focus is set, it won’t adjust for slight movements unless WE adjust it), it it very difficult to use with animals. Some older lenses may ONLY allow Manual focus. 
In summary, I recommend Continuous Autofocus, as much as possible.

Many new cameras also have animal eye autofocus. This is a great tool and can be really effective if the dog has visible catchlights.

Use animal eye AF but don’t rely on it entirely! I also have my small single point as a backup. If the eye AF can’t find the eye, then I have the single point positioned over the eye ready to get the shot.