Photography: Keeping the rider in focus


Are you fed up with getting blurry photos of you and your mates on tour? Simon Thomas explains how to avoid this and guarantee pin-sharp images by using a feature available on almost every camera

So, you’ve set up your camera, checked the settings, balanced your tripod, and the universe has aligned for an epic adventure riding shot. But when you review the photo it’s blurry. Worst of all, your subject is blurry. No one likes an out of focus shot, so how do the pros get their pin-sharp images? That’s what I’m here to share with you today.

Some camera magic

Most modern cameras have several autofocus modes on them, like single spot focus, multizone focus, and even manual focus. But did you know that most also have a mode called continuous autofocus?

Whether you’re photographing your kids playing football or your riding partner hurtling towards you, continuous autofocus is about to become your new best friend. Effectively, once you’ve focused in on your subject, your camera will sync with your lens and automatically pull to make sure that your moving subject stays in focus.

Yep, you stay still and the clever electronics magically move the glass inside your lens by the correct increments, ensuring that as your subject moves closer toward you, or farther away, it stays in focus and sharp.

Using continuous autofocus

Dependent on which model and brand of camera you’re using, the continuous autofocus feature will be accessed either via a physical dial on the camera body or via a menu system which you’ll find on the LCD screen. So, find it and select it.

Once you’ve selected the continuous autofocus feature, the rest is pretty simple. I’ll use the main image I shot of Lisa on the Dalton Highway in Alaska to explain. First off, I chose to shoot in aperture mode and selected an aperture of f4 (this is the size of the opening in the lens) to give the final photo a slightly blurred background for effect.

Here’s the info for the image:

Camera body: Nikon D3
Lens: Nikor 70-200mm f/2.8
Focal Length: 95 mm
Focus Mode: Continuous autofocus
Aperture: f/4
Shutter Speed: 1/800 seconds
Exposure Mode: Auto
Filter: None used
Exposure Comp: 0
Metering: Spot
ISO Sensitivity: ISO 100
White Balance: Auto
Speed light/Flash: Did not fire.
Picture profile: Neutral
Sharpening: 0
Contrast: 0
Brightness: 0
Saturation: +1
Hue: 0
Processed with: LUMINAR AI and Photoshop
Location: Dalton Highway, Northern Alaska, USA
© Simon and Lisa Thomas,

With Lisa somewhere off in the distance, I then selected continuous autofocus and pressed the shutter release button down halfway, while keeping the single spot focus point on Lisa and her bike. I then gave her the signal to ride.

By keeping the shutter release button still pressed halfway I ensured that, as Lisa rode toward me, the camera and lens held her in focus. When I felt she was close enough to fit into the composition I wanted, I pressed the shutter release button all the way down and captured the shot. Job done.

If you really want to give yourself the best chance of capturing a great shot, then select your camera’s burst mode. This will take a continuous number of shots for as long as you depress and hold the shutter release button. Check out my last ABR Photography Masterclass in issue 66 where I explain how to do this.