Intermediate Tutorial 9
In Burst or Continuous Shooting mode, your camera takes several shots in very rapid succession to capture a fleeting moment in time or to ensure you get the perfect shot you want. Here we look at how to set and use this function, and how its usefulness extends further than you might think.
Continuous Shooting or Burst mode
Most modern digital cameras feature a Continuous Shooting or Burst mode which captures a sequence of images in rapid succession.
The speed of shooting is expressed in ‘fps’ – frames per second – the number of images captured for each second the shutter button is depressed.
A number of factors determine the maximum frame rate of any camera; originally, it was the construction of the motor drive, moving 35mm film past the shutter. Entry-level SLR cameras might offer 2fps, while more sophisticated models could achieve 6fps. But modern digital cameras use ‘fast readout sensors’ and powerful processors with large buffer memories to achieve 4-10fps at full resolution, or up to 40fps with resolution reduced, giving you far more chance to capture that special ‘one moment in time’.
Burst mode – how to set it
In most circumstances, you will wish to use Burst shooting to capture fast-moving subjects – sports, wildlife, energetic children… !
The function can be selected in conjunction with most of your camera’s creative modes.
Often, the simplest way is to set the camera to Shutter Priority and select a speed sufficient to freeze the motion of your subject. Be aware that exposure time will impact on the camera’s ability to work at its maximum burst rate, so select as high a Shutter speed as practical; you may have to raise ISO to achieve this.
Burst mode is usually activated via a dedicated function button, as shown here on the LUMIX G6.
This will give access to the cameras ‘Drive mode’ options.
Once selected, just frame your subject and press and hold the shutter button for the desired amount of time.
However, before using the mode, you first need to have set the required shooting speed from the camera’s record menu. Depending on the camera, you should find the option to set your chosen Burst speed.
Within the Burst setting menu you will see the range of frame rates available.
For example: L – low 2fps, M – medium 4fps and H – high 7fps, plus SH – super-high 40fps in the case of the G6:
Don’t be tempted to simply pick the highest setting and ignore the others! It is actually better to use as slow a burst rate as possible – according to the needs of your subject.
Consider these factors, as they will affect your burst shooting speed:
- File size is crucial – smaller JPEG files can be handled by the processor faster and more efficiently. But if you are using RAW files, you may find that not only can you shoot less quickly, but also you can only shoot a much shorter burst before the camera’s buffer memory is full and the frame rate slows down.
- Memory card speed – related to the image file size, the data write speed hugely influences how many shots can be captured. For full-resolution JPEG or RAW files, a minimum Class 6 speed card should be used. (Memory card speed is covered in our Beginners module).
- Resolution – setting this lower, for example 5MP rather than 10MP, will allow for smaller files, potentially allowing you to shoot longer bursts.
- Focus speed – if a camera is having to autofocus between shots then the longer this takes, the fewer images can be captured in a given time.
- Maximum lens aperture – a larger aperture allows for a higher shutter speed, but also fast, maximum-aperture lenses tend to focus quicker, so use your faster lenses where possible.
- Flash – recharge time largely restricts burst mode to use with only the most powerful additional flashguns. Therefore, if you need flash, Burst mode will likely be disabled.
As mentioned above, one of the factors that influences the speed of operation, and effectiveness of Burst mode is the priority given to autofocus. But with the number of autofocus options available, it is possible to make the focus work with you:
Focus settings with Burst mode
With AFS set, the camera will focus for the first picture but not re-focus while that burst of images is taken. If you select AFF/AFC, the camera will attempt to refocus between each image. Depending on your subject and its movement relative to you, setting AFS or even focusing manually may work perfectly – most likely for subjects moving across your field of view but at a constant distance.
AFS was used for this group of shots on the right as the subject remained the same distance from the camera throughout:
For subjects moving rapidly towards or away from you, AFF/AFC is likely to yield many more correctly focused images. Auto White Balance and Exposure metering will also be assessed for each shot in AFF/AFC mode, so also consider this if light levels are changing.
Manual Focus or pre-focus can also be used of course – if you can predict where the action will happen (see example with the owl, below).
As ever, experience and practice will guide you in choosing settings to best suit any particular scenario.
Super high-speed Burst mode
If your camera offers super high-speed shooting – 40fps in the case of the G6 – the image resolution will be somewhat lower, but you will be able to capture a dynamic sequence of shots breaking down a subject’s movement to capture a precise moment.
As you can see below, timing is everything!
Burst Mode – when to use it
Many photographers routinely working with fast action will have their cameras permanently set to continuous shooting. Wildlife photographers also make frequent use of Burst modes, however it can also be very useful for informal portraiture, say of family and pets. Try to resist the temptation to just follow your subject with the viewfinder, shooting image after image. Instead, use smaller bursts to capture the moments just before and after the image you visualise as the shot you wanted; it can often be these that have a drama or spontaneity that makes a great shot.
Also try Burst mode for holiday/landscape photography – shoot a sequence of waves building and breaking over rocks, for example – rather than trying to time that one perfect shot! And although Burst mode is often used hand-held, try a tripod when capturing images of something you know (or hope) will happen at a precise spot – here you can pre-frame and pre-focus manually, then be free to concentrate on triggering the camera at the right moment.
This image on the right was captured by pre-focusing on the top of the post and Burst shooting as the owl flew across:
A remote release such as the DMW-RSL1 will make this a lot easier and frees you up to keep an eye on the action. (Not all models are compatible with a remote release, please check your manual).
This excerpt from a series of images of a Little Egret about to land (right) was captured in less than a second using continuous autofocus at super high-speed.
Working this way allows you to capture many subtle variations – notice the symmetry of the reflections, especially in the second shot.
The LUMIX Advantage
The reduced resolution Super-high speed 40fps on LUMIX G cameras allows you to capture intricate movements and break down sequences of action to reveal hidden details that otherwise could be missed. But even at full resolution, the G6 offers 7fps Burst mode, while the GH4 increases this to 12fps.
Try using SH Burst mode to capture a sequence hidden to the naked eye; perhaps analysing the swing of a golfer friend? Or try capturing items falling or moving through air and water – often, intricate patterns and effects can be revealed.
Remember that plenty of light is required and working with a tripod and a remote will allow you to concentrate on timing your shots to perfection.
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