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Nailing the Correct Focus- Servo Mode vs. One Shot

Have you ever been shooting your client and they start moving or running and all of a sudden all your images start coming out blurry? Or, on the other hand, have you ever been shooting your client and you press the shutter half-way to focus on their face, and when you recompose the shot the camera then changes focus on something else? Well, there are tons of little factors that play into how your camera focuses, but one thing we need to understand is the focus MODE that our camera is set to and how that effects the way it handles focusing.

focus mode al servo

One Shot: When you have your camera set to one shot (check your specific owner’s manual for how to do this), the camera will focus when you press the shutter button half-way down and lock it in, and then you finish pressing the shutter button all the way down to take the shot. This MODE is great for shooting stationary subjects that are not moving around. It is cool because you can focus on one thing (like their eyes) then recompose your shot (while keeping their eyes in focus) and then take the image. This helps you be more creative in framing your shots, especially if your camera only has a handful of focus points inside the view finder.

canon 5D focus points

The Canon 5D mark II only has 9 focus points (which is not nearly enough!) and only the center focus point is truly accurate. The rest of the outside focus points are very weak, so using the center one to focus in One Shot Mode, then recomposing your image, is a great way to get cool shots that are in focus.

The problem with this focus method, is that once you press the shutter half-way to focus on your subject, the camera locks the focus in, and then what if your subject starts to move (say a baby takes a giant reach toward your camera, or your subject walks towards you)? The the camera is still focused on where your subject used to be, which now puts your subject out of focus either a lot or a little depending on how fast they are moving. So, this isn’t the best mode for subjects moving forward or backwards in relation to the camera.

The below images were all shot on One Shot! None of these clients (or objects) were moving at all, so we were able to focus and recompose these shots the way we wanted them to look.

focus mode for wedding details photograph zach and jody gray

wedding details photograph zach and jody gray

wedding details photograph zach and jody gray

wedding portraits photograph zach and jody gray

Now, the only other option we defer to!

Servo Mode: Servo mode is a mode where your camera is continually focusing the entire time that you have your shutter button pressed half way down. This mode is designed to focus on moving subjects and works very well for that. (Again, if you use any Canon camera except their 1D or the new 7D cameras, only the center focus point will be able to track well enough to get consistent images in focus).

The best way to utilize this mode is turn all your focus points on.  You can do this (Canon users) by pressing your AF point selection button (see picture below…  confirm with your manual for your specific camera body).


Great scenarios to use this mode in – your subjects moving toward you, moving away from you, dancing shots, and any other situations you can think of where your subject is moving around a lot 🙂

Below are a series of images that were all shot on Servo Mode! You can see that the camera did a great job of nailing the focus, even though some of the clients were moving pretty fast.

wedding couple photograph zach and jody gray

reception photos photograph zach and jody gray

reception photos photography zach and jody gray

reception photos photograph zach and jody gray

The problem with this mode is, as mentioned, if you try and focus on your subject and then recompose an image, the focus will change onto whatever your selected focus point is over.

So, the trick is that you must be able to switch between modes fast so that you don’t miss a shot! Memorize your buttons so you can simply and quickly switch from one mode to the next.

*Side note – in changing between these modes quickly, we use the LCD panel, and not the LCD Monitor (where you view your images). In using the panel and its surrounding buttons, you will be able to switch between modes WAY faster instead of having to dig deep into your menu to find the right tabs you are needing.

The LCD panel:


We also have our cameras set up so that you can change the focus points (not the modes) by using the Canon multi-controller button. This allows you to very quickly change focus points, turn them all on and get to the center point by pressing one button. (Again, ignore in the below image how it displays the different camera options in the LDC monitor, we advocate using the LCD panel :).


(If you want to use your multi-controller to change your focus points, check the custom functions area in your owner’s manual).

Hope you enjoyed! Happy focusing!

Written by Zach & Jody Gray

Zach and Jody Gray

Named as one of Nashville Tennessee’s top wedding photographers in 2009, Zach and Jody are a dynamic photography duo who have quickly emerged into the wedding scene gaining local and national recognition for their work. They have been named by Westcott as one of their Top Endorsed Pros, received awards for their imagery, hosted numerous highly successful photography and business workshops across the United States, have been invited to lead a MasterClass at WPPI 2011, and their work has appeared in various publications including People Magazine, Southern Bride, and PPA Magazine.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!