If you are an absolute beginner at cat photography using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you still want to take the best photos you can – right? You want to work with your camera and set it up so everything works properly!
You may read of experts taking control of focus manually and this is someting you can explore but, for great cat photos, letting the camera focus for you is a good place to start your photo journey. We take autofocus for granted but what is it?
What is Autofocus?
Autofocus is where the camera focuses for you so you don’t have to! It sounds so easy but knowing a bit about it means you can use your camera much better. There are two types of autofocus and they work brilliantly for those of you learning to use your camera in different situations.
- Single: One Shot (Canon), One Shot (Sony) or AF-S (Nikon) – works on landscapes, cat portraits or a product shot. [Does not use a lot of battery.]
- Continuous: AI Servo (Canon) or, AF-C (Nikon & Sony) – works on moving subjects like a cat in action, or for sports photos. [Uses a lot of battery power.]
Auto Focus is Great
Wait! If you have a fancy camera that you paid serious dollars for, would you leave something like the focusing to your camera. Don’t you want complete control of everything, like the experts do?
Honestly? Not at the start.
- Photographers often say, people will forgive you a lot of things as long as you get the eye of your cat (or human!) in focus and it’s true.
Where Do You Focus?
This is such an obvious question but sometimes you might not know and have to decide. So, how do you decide what to point your camera at to get the best shot?
Let use a cat portrait as an example. You start by focusing on your cat’s eye. The closest to you should be sharp, or if you are taking a full face shot, chose one eye (or take several of both eyes!) and avoid focusing on your cat’s nose.
How does your camera help you focus?
When you look through the viewfinder you will see a set of dots or blocks spaced around a central point. Your camera may have been set up to focus on the central point and this can be changed once you gain more experience. For a beginner practicing with your camera, focusing by using this central point, maybe on your cat’s eye, is great practice. Try finding that central point, practice taking photos of different things and keep that central focus in mind.
- Want to try a portrait? This might look best if you focus while in Aperture Priority (A) mode.
- To capture a cat as it runs you might prefer to try focus while using Shutter Priority (S). This is a bit harder.
This comment by New Zealand based photographer Tom Ang sums up where you need to start, in order to focus perfectly.
….use the focusing point only as the aiming device for the precise part of the scene you want to focus: half press the shutter button, hold it down to maintain focus, then recompose your image.
Keep your shutter button halfway down, and the focus will not change. This is especially useful if you have focused on your cat (or other pet) then want to adjust the composition slightly so they look better within the frame. Believe it or not this will become second nature after a while, it did with me.
As a cat photographer I spend most of my time in continuous focus mode
Two Types of Automatic Focus
There are two basic focus modes on most entry level cameras Single and Continuous Autofocus. Single focus is best for a stand alone cat portrait, but if your cat will be moving then you need something more versatile like active focus mode. Let me explain how they work.
This works great for a single, static shot like a portrait.
How this works. To activate single autofocus, press the shutter half way down. You will meet a bit of resistance. While you finger stays in this position the camera will find and focus on your subject, then take a photo. (I learned the value of autofocus when I was taking photos of a New Zealand exhibition of movie costumes I had not learned I could use manual focus, but they came out very well!)
Continuous (Active) Focus
If you know your cat will move, or is moving then continuous focus is great because the camera keeps adjusting its focus.
How this works. When you press the shutter button, the camera will stay focused on the spot you have selected for several shots doing its best to keep your photo sharp. On my Canon camera, this is the AI Servo mode and on a Nikon (or Sony) this is AF-C.
This photo of Toulouse yawning was part of a series taken very quickly using Continuous Focus. The first photo, which you see at the top of this post, was taken moments before he yawned, and the second was taken using continuous auto focus as he moved backwards yawning.
How is Manual Focus Different?
Manual focus is something you can explore when you gain confidence. Manual focus needs a slightly different mindset because you need to adjust every time you move your camera. This means you may be holding your camera in your right hand and making small adjustments with your left. The positive for focusing manually is that it will allow you to get really sharp focus exactly where you want it.
Final Focus Thoughts
The more you know about your camera, the more control you have over your photographs and the better your cat photography will be. Auto focus works for everyone 99% of the time and you can spend your time making sure your light is great and your camera settings purrfect for your cat photo!
BONUS: Do I have Autofocus on a Mirrorless Camera?
A mirrorless camera is smaller than a DSLR and has no mirrors at all, which makes it much more compact. It is a radical new departure for camera technology with Canon, Nikon and Sony investing serious money in these cameras. The downside is that they are very expensive.
You may not hear a sshutter sound. New technology activates and a reading is taken from the camera’s sensor instead. The camera finds the point which is meant to be in focus and focuses the lens this way. This is called contrast detect autofocus.
The mirrorless camers sound amazing but ithey have their own unique learning curve so if you are lucky enough to have one, I advise you invest time in learning to use it well. This preparatory work will pay dividends in better pictures, sooner.
How are the cameras different?
How Your Camera Works:
If you have about 15 minutes to spare and are prepared to grab a coffee and sit still, please give this a try. One voice, one screen and a lot of knowledge shared.
There are no intros, pleas for follows or cute video tricks. Only a clear and unrushed explanation that absolute beginners or non-tech peple will appreciate – how your camera works, and how it focuses.
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