June 15, 2011

#24 – Centre and recompose to beat shutter lag.

You can make your camera faster.

I was at a baby shower on the weekend when I ran into a woman who wasn’t all that happy with her Nikon point-and-shoot. There was too much of a delay when she pressed the shutter to take a picture.

The pros call this “shutter lag” and on point-and-shoot cameras it can be the difference between “wow” and “what am I looking at?” Milliseconds count a whole lot, especially when you’re trying to catch a bird taking off or a toddler doing the shimmy shimmy shake.

So do what I do and cheat. When it comes to taking a photo with autofocus, your camera will give you a bunch of options – full time autofocus, face detection, continuous tracking… I turn them all off because they let the camera do the thinking and  more often than not a thinking camera is a sloooooow camera.

Turn off the distractions and press the shutter halfway.
Instead, I turn off all the bells and whistles and work with the centre point of the autofocus on my camera. On some cameras it looks like a small box, on others it’s a cross hair. When I’m about to take a photo, I put my subject in the centre of the frame, right beneath that point and I press the shutter halfway.

Pressing it halfway engages your autofocus and you’ll often hear a double beep (or other sound) to let you know you did things right. This tells your camera that whatever was in the centre point when you pressed halfway is what it should focus on. Then, with my finger still pressing down halfway, I recompose the scene to put my subject where I want them – the left, the right, wherever. Because I’ve already told the camera what it needs to focus on, it won’t take any extra time to focus on the subject. As long as your little one doesn’t lurch at the camera, they’ll stay in focus. All you need to do is finish pressing the shutter when you’re ready. Instant photo.

The technique is called “centre and recompose,” but all that matters is that you just sped up your shutter lag by a whole lot – just like I did for the woman this weekend who is now the proud owner of a suddenly speedier Nikon point-and-shoot.

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