Focus Tip: AF-C/AI-Servo and back button focus

I am often asked “can I not leave my camera on AI-Servo (AF-C if you are a Nikon etc)?

The answer is: not a great idea normally. Because you cannot recompose. The moment you try that, taking your focus spot(s) away from your subject, the camera focuses on whatever is behind the subject!

But there is a trick, and I used it today to photograph these amazing insects:

Namely this:

  1. Set your autofocus mode to AI Servo/AF-C.
  2. Select “back button focus” in your camera’s menu (i.e. focus when you press a button on the back of the camera, not whenever you half-press the shutter button).

Now you focus as follows:

  1. Follow the insect, or hockey player, or whatever you are shooting.
  2. While doing this, keep the back button focus pressed, so your camera adjusts to follow the subject’s distance.
  3. But when the butterfly sits and you want to recompose, let go of the back buttoin focus. You can now move the camera to recompose, yet when you shoot, the camera will not adjust its focus.

Done and done!

A quick note about that amazing insect. Nature knows what many beginning photographers do not: you need a catch light in the eye to make it look real and alive. The butterfly’s owl eye has that catch light (the white circle part ion the “pupil”)! Amazing, eh? So learn from nature and always include a catchlight in your portraits.


Repost: Gear Happy?

A repost of a recent article, following popular request:

So… did your favourite holiday icon deliver any photographic gifts to you this last week?

For your sake, I hope he/she/it did. And if so, my advice is: learn how to use it properly. From a new camera to a new flash to modifiers to accessories, they are all much more effective if you learn how to use them properly. And the good news: it is easier than you think. Often much easier. And more often than not, adding additional extras will extend your creative options.

So is photography about the equipment? No, it is not. But without that equipment, there is no photography. So let me take you through some of the main equipment I use, to give you an idea of what you might like to look at if you wanted a full “pro” kit. Of course you do not need all this, but it is worth knowing what the full range would be. And this is pretty much a full range. Click on the links I provided for your convenience to read details (and to order: Amazon has amazing deals – especially on the perfectly good older models, i.e. the Mk1 instead of Mk2 lenses).


Why one crop body? To make my longer lens (200mm) appear even longer (320mm) when I need it!

Prime (fixed) Lenses:

Why so many fixed lenses? Well—their quality is great, they are typically smaller, and they provide wonderful consistency in your work. And.. they are usually faster (lower minimum “f-numbers”). Finally, some lenses (macro, tilt-shift) are only available as primes.

Zoom lenses:


Flash modifiers:

  • Honl Photo range of flash modifiers (highly recommended). Like the softbox, the invaluable grid, the gels, and the speed snoot. I could not live without these.

A few of my add-ons, etc:

There’s a lot more, but these are the main items. In future posts I’ll mention some more for you. Have fun—and remember, always carry your camera.



Mnemonic Monday

OK, it’s not Monday, but that alliterates.

You all remember my mnemonic “400-40-4” for indoors flash for events? If not, read up on the Willems 400-40-4 rule for ISO, shutter and aperture.

I have another one for you: 4000-400-4. That is 4000 ISO, 1/400 sec, and f/4. And that is for hockey in a well lit hockey arena. Easy to remember, and results are thus:

200 mm lens, 4000 ISO, f/4, 1/400 sec, stabilizer mode 2

Have fun!

This Weekend’s Flash Course

…was a good thing for all participants. Flash photography is a key to creative shooting.

Here’s me, and yes I need a haircut”:

One of the students outside:, using the Outdoors Recipe (1/250 sec / f8 / 100 ISO):

Charlie (who I think should be called Zoolander) and a shadow:

Learn to use flash, if you do not yet know how to do it. You will be grateful to yourself. I do private training, or you can sign up at a school, or you can read a good book (hint): but however you do it, learn this!