Autofocus Settings in Dog Photography - dummies

Autofocus Settings in Dog Photography

By Kim Rodgers, Sarah Sypniewski

One of the most critical things you do when you take a photo is focus on your subject, and your subject is most likely a quick-moving dog! Unless you set up for a shot of Riley sleeping, use your camera in autofocus mode. Using autofocus allows for much quicker focusing and all-around better results.

Today’s cameras are so sophisticated that you can almost guarantee your camera lens has better vision than you! Your focus mode switch is actually on the side of your lens, not on the camera body itself. You’ll see two options — AF (for autofocus) and MF (for manual focus). Make sure your switch is set to AF.


You can access some additional AF options through settings on your camera body: AF mode (different from the focus mode switch) and AF point selection.

AF mode during dog photography sessions

Within your AF mode setting, you have three options:

  • One shot: In this mode, when you press the shutter release halfway, your camera locks focus once. This is typically your camera’s default setting and works wonderfully for still photos like portraits.

  • AI servo: In this mode, when you press the shutter release halfway, your camera continuously focuses on your subject. This setting is typically used when photographing action.

    Not all camera terminology is created equal. If you’re having a hard time finding AI servo, look for words like tracking AF, predictive autofocus, or focus tracking.

  • AI focus: In this mode, your camera is set to one shot but automatically switches to AI servo if your subject starts to move.

One of the biggest complaints goes something like this: “My dog is too fast! Even at the fastest shutter speed, I just can’t get a sharp photo!” People get very emotional about this issue, but don’t worry —take a deep breath, stay calm, and know that it’s all going to be okay.

Nine times out of ten, the culprit is the AF mode. When you’re dealing with a fast-moving subject, getting a crisp photo can be nearly impossible because, between the moment your camera locks focus (at the halfway mark of pressing the shutter release) and the moment you actually release the shutter, your speed-demon dog is still moving.

However, your camera is focused on the position your dog was in a millisecond ago. To combat this issue, simply change your AF mode to AI servo so that your camera continues to adjust focus on your moving subject up until the moment you take the image.

AF point selection during dog photography sessions

Your AF point selection setting tells your camera exactly which AF point to use. To choose a specific AF point, do the following:

  1. Find the AF point selection button on your camera body and press it.

  2. Look through your viewfinder (or at the LCD panel) to see all the AF points lit up.

  3. Slowly spin the dial near your shutter release button to see the AF points light up one by one.

  4. Simply stop spinning the dial when you land on the AF point you want to use.

By default, your camera is set to “automatic AF point selection.” You know this because when you look through your viewfinder and press the shutter release halfway, you see all the AF points light up.

In this mode, you’re at the mercy of whatever your camera decides is most important to focus on (like the tip of Quincy’s nose instead of her eye). Remember to take back auto-focus control by choosing one specific AF point instead!

If you’re using a single AF point in AI servo mode, move your camera with the subject, making sure that your AF point overlays your subject. Otherwise, your camera will focus on whatever that AF point hits and not on your dog.