Beginner Photo Tip #8: Understanding Focus Modes

Another way to rocket your development as a photographer is to learn to use the correct focus mode.

Let’s go over the options.

No matter what brand of camera you have, focusing modes can be divided into these four types:

Manual Focusing Mode

In this setting, you focus the camera. You rotate the focus ring until focus is achieved. That’s all there is to it.

Manual focus is preferred for videography and photos that you will make on a tripod such as architecture, product photography and other static subjects.

When you are using manual focus, you can zoom in on your camera’s electronic viewfinder to make sure you have the focus nailed.

Single-Shot Focusing Mode

Depending on the manufacturer of your camera, this might be called single, one-shot focusing mode or AF-S.

When using this focusing mode, your camera acquires and locks focus on your subject. And focus will stay locked as long as you keep the shutter button depressed. If you want to refocus, you have to initiate auto focus again by releasing and depressing the shutter release button.

One shot focusing is best for static subjects.

In Single / AF-S mode, an on-camera speedlight will emit the auto-focus assist beam which can be very helpful in low light. (But it will not in the following focus mode.)

Continuous Focusing Mode

Depending on the type of camera you have, this focusing mode is called Servo, AI Servo, Continuous focusing mode or AF-C.

In continuous focusing mode, the camera will continually adjust focus to track motion.

This mode is ideal for sports, action – basically, any time the subject is moving.

Automatic Focus Mode

Depending on your camera’s brand, automatic focus mode may also be called Intelligent focus or AI Focus.

This intelligent focus mode acts in One-Shot / Single mode when the camera doesn’t detect movement. But as soon as there is movement, the camera switches over to Servo / Continuous focus mode.


Since most of your photos will be of static subjects, you will usually shoot in single / one-shot / AF-S.

However, when you are shooting sports, your kids playing or any other action subject, switch over to servo / AI Servo / Continuous / AF-C.

How you select your focus mode varies from camera brand to camera brand. And it even changes from model to model within a brand. You have to read the dreaded manual to learn how to select your focus mode.

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