Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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I have a Canon 7D, and typically shoot everything I do in its single-point autofocus zone select mode, because I usually want fine control over exactly what the camera is focusing on and I often find that its two automatic focus zone select modes don't focus on what I want in focus. For most of the photography I do, this is fine -- I have enough time that I can compose the shot the way I want, use the joystick on the back to select the right focus point, and take the shot at my leisure.

However, recently I've been doing more event/action photography, and I've been running into issues with this mode of operation. Too often, I will see a person start to do something interesting, but my autofocus point is not in the right place -- so by the time I get the camera up, adjust the settings, and move the autofocus point, the opportunity to take the shot has passed. My question is, what autofocus zone selection mode and workflow should I use for this type of photography? I could use the 5-zone partial-auto mode (which gives me a choice of top, middle, bottom, left, or right, and then the camera chooses the points within my selected region), but I find that the time needed to switch in between that mode and the single-point mode is similarly prohibitive, and I have to hope that the camera chooses the right thing to focus on.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I generally select the focus point that gets me closest to the majority of shots. For an example, in soccer, I'll select the point either above the midpoint or two above in the vertical orientation, and I'll select the midpoint for horizontal orientation.

I would not be comfortable letting the camera pick the point.

Then, if I want the subject off center, I'll either compose loose enough so that I can crop in post, or I'll change the focus point accordingly. In sports like tennis, I'll put the point to the right or left of center depending on which player I'm shooting so that the player's back is closer to the edge of the frame and the ball is in front.

It's more of a matter of learning to anticipate where the action will be. The more you shoot a given subject, the more you'll learn where to put the point for the majority of the shots, and when action happens you didn't anticipate, shoot loosely enough to crop after the fact.

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Interesting idea -- in most of my photos I spend a lot of time trying to get the crop right in camera, this is the first time I've heard the advice "crop loosely and deal with it later". But I think for this type of photography, that makes a lot of sense. – David May 20 '12 at 23:56
I absolutely agree - especially for fast-changing scenes. I use the centre point all the time and crop later. It's one less thing to worry about in a fluid situation. – AJ Finch May 21 '12 at 8:52
"Shoot wide, crop tight" – Rene May 22 '12 at 12:52

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