Choosing a Focus Mode and AF Frame

Focusing Modes Explained

Choosing a focusing mode (also called AF Mode) for your camera can be confusing. Very confusing. It’s not something you’re going to want to be thinking about when you’re ready to shoot, that’s for sure! Here’s a simple explanation for some common focus modes and how I use them.

Confusing Settings and What I Do

This is going to be confusing (note the jumbled image placement, for effect), but bear with me and you’ll come out of this with some general guidelines that you can apply when setting up your camera for various shots. The last thing you want to be doing when you get to a shot location is to be fiddling with your camera controls and menus to set the right focus settings. Worse yet, is when you go to take the shot and your camera doesn’t focus correctly or loses focus continuously, causing you to miss the shot or waste valuable photography time! Believe me, nothing is more frustrating when your camera won’t do what you want it to do, and you have a beautiful shot in front of you just begging to be taken!

Canon EOS 500D T1i DSLR options:
    • When you depress the shutter button half way, the camera focuses once wherever you had it pointed and that’s it until you depress the button fully and take the shot.
    • Suited for still subjects: landscapes, architecture, etc.
    • Exposure is set one-time, when the camera is focused initially.
    • When you depress the shutter button half way, the camera will continuously focus on the focal point.
    • Good for when the subject you are shooting is moving: people, sports, etc.
    • Exposure is set the moment the picture is taken and is adjusting continuously.
    • When you depress the shutter button half way, the camera focuses on the focal point. If the subject moves, then the camera detects this movement and shifts into AI Focus mode, re-focusing on the focal point.
    • Works well when the subject you are shooting may move: animals, nature, etc.
    • Exposure is set when the picture is taken and is adjusted if the subject moves.
Canon G-series G12 options:
    • Same as AI SERVO above. The reverse of CONTINUOUS AF below.
    • Before the shutter button is depressed half way, the camera focuses continuously. After the shutter button is depressed half way, the camera stops continuously focusing.
    • Good for rapidly changing conditions where fast action is occurring all around. Allows the photographer to fully depress the shutter button at any time and get the shot.
    • After the shutter button is depressed half way, the object in the focal frame is focused.
    • Focal frame (point) is normally in middle of view, but can be moved using the camera controls.
    • Best for all outdoor photography.
    • After the shutter button is depressed half way, the object of focus is maintained and if it moves, the focal point will follow it (track it).
    • Great for shooting animals in nature, and people in complex situations (sports, social gatherings, etc.).
    • When the shutter button is depressed half way, faces in the photo will be detected and focused upon.
    • Works well for portraits of individuals and groups.
    • The spot AE (auto-exposure) point should be linked to the AF frame when in Flexizone AF frame mode. This causes the exposure to be taken at the auto-focus frame when in spot metering mode. Basically you will get the exposure based on where you focus.
  • AE LOCK:
    • This button allows you to lock the exposure, but still focus at a different point thereafter.

The items underlined and in bold above are where I have my cameras set most of the time to get almost every shot type imaginable. I know that if I leave my cameras in these settings, I will achieve every shot. Yes, I would not potentially capture a moving target, but this is a rare item for me to try to capture anyway, so I don’t bother with it. If I know I am going to a sporting event or social function, then I will adjust my settings to suit the situation. But, even if I leave my settings as-is (underlined and bold ones above), I will most-likely get the shot.


Why should you know this information? Because, I believe, that any kind of confusion that results in missing a shot, not taking a shot or getting a bad shot, can be avoided. In fact, confusion over this type of stuff can lead to you not even going out to get the shot. I can hear it now “It’s too hard. I can’t figure this damn camera out!” I’ve said this myself. I hope by giving you my settings and defining these features, that you will be able to gain more confidence and go out there and get that shot!

Thank you for reading what I wrote – I hope you enjoyed it!