Photo Tips: Burst Mode – How to Shoot More of Less

Original shot of the Monkey. Wooly Monkey started to turn towards me.
My original shot of the Wooly Monkey. He started to turn towards me.

The essence of a travel photographer’s job is to capture life as it happens. More times than not, as life tends to happen in front of our eyes, we are too worried about getting the perfect shot. By the time the shot presents itself and we recognize it and press the shutter button, it has passed away forever.

So the question is: How can you capture what you want before it’s gone?

Answer: Burst mode!

Shooting more of less yields better results

When you want to capture your subject as he goes about his day, there’s a way to get the best shot possible: Shoot a bunch of shots so that you will have more photos to choose from.

Check your camera: Most DSLR cameras have a setting for continuous shooting. This setting is often called “burst mode.” Sports photographers use it all the time; that’s how they get the perfect shot of an athlete in action. When you learn to use it, you’ll increase your chances of capturing the best image possible, eliminating blinks, the stray person or car entering into your picture, and other fails. You will be pleased to discover that your travel photography has immediately improved.

Another feature to use with Burst Mode

Another feature available with most DSLR cameras is “Object Tracking”. Object Tracking allows your subject to move through the frame but still be in focus. When this option is in use and you focus on your subject, the camera will continue to follow it through the frame and keep it in focus. I shoot with a Sony a77; its SLT technology allows for continuous focusing, but most DSLRs can focus rather quickly.

Learn proper panning techniques and you will capture many more images of your subject in focus. The combination of shooting a ton of shots of your subject, while tracking it across the frame, will give you fabulous results that will show in your final result.

Start of the burst shots.
Start of the burst shots.
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Second shot of the sequence.
Second shot of the sequence.

The “con” of burst mode: Extra work in post-production

Okay, with every good idea there is a con to it, and in this case it is in post-production. With burst mode, you’ve captured a lot more photos of each subject, which means that now you have managed to capture 800 images instead of 50. (Okay, I am over-exaggerating, but you get the point.)

Here is what I recommend to solve the problem: Sometime during your day, you will sit down to a meal. After shooting the heck out of your delicious-looking food, eat a few bites, then review your shots from the day and delete the ones that are obviously nasty. This will not only allow you to weed out the worst ones right away, it will also create more room on your memory card. It will also mean you’ll only need to go through good ones later on, when you take a closer look in Lightroom or whatever post-production software you use.

The second “con”: write speed

This is very important and cannot be overlooked. When shooting in burst mode, the camera can only capture a certain amount of data before it needs to write the images to the memory card. That means that you will only be able to take a limited amount of shots at a time.

There’s nothing like being all prepared, you start shooting … but – whoops – you had started too early and now the camera is writing to memory. Just as the camera is ready again, the shot is gone and the frustration begins. Don’t put that on your camera, put it on the lack of practice.

Started turning away, but eyes are crisp and sharp, another keeper.
He’s turning away, but his eyes are crisp and sharp. Another keeper.
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Last of burst and he has moved up slightly throwing off exposure.
He moved up in the last burst, which has slightly thrown off exposure.

So now what?

So what is your first step? Get out there and shoot! Practice shooting in burst mode to become familiar with your camera’s write speed.

As usual, set your ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Then shoot your subject as the action is happening. Start with a moving car or children at play in a nearby park. Practice panning and pay special attention to your camera’s burst mode/write timing. Before you know it, both will become second nature. After you are comfortable with your new-found skills, take them on the road to a small town in Europe or a quaint village in the Ecuadorian Andes.

I once read, in an article about taking photos at night, that you should know your camera in the dark. I think that is so important to travel photographers: Know your camera. Once using its features become routine, you won’t miss those shots you dream about taking.

FINALLY! Success in the burst as he is looking right at me.
FINALLY! Success in the burst as he is looking right at me.

What other photo tips would you like me to cover? Please share them below.

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Written by Dan

Professional photographer specializing in street, food and travel shots at As We Saw It travel blog. “Photography is unique in that it captures light in all forms, and since the Bible says YHVH (God) is light, photography captures Him in many forms.”

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9 thoughts on “Photo Tips: Burst Mode – How to Shoot More of Less”

  1. Really helpful post Linda because we received a real camera for Christmas. I reckon it has burst mode and all those trimmings so it’s time to take more snaps of the one shot/subject to find those gems. Until now I just focused on shooting stuff that caught my eye. Going forward it looks like high volume of one subject will give me the most eye-popping shots. This little guy is cute; good work while you were monkeying around 😉

    Thanks Guys!


    • You’re welcome, Ryan.

      When we began traveling we had a Canon Sure Shot. It did a good job but we couldn’t change lenses, which limited the types of images we could capture. A few years later Dan decided to upgrade our cameras, did a bunch of research, and purchased a Sony Alpha for each of us.

      The problem with getting a new camera is that you begin to view your old photos differently: They start to look horrible in comparison. It’s taken me a whole lot of time to convince him that he should add them to our travel photo gallery anyway. Fortunately, he finally relented and our photos from Dominica, Dubai and Timor are online. They may not be fabulous, but at least it’s something. There’s nothing like sharing memories with loved ones.

      I hope someone was there to capture your wedding … photos of life events always trump travel shots and selfies. I hope you and Kelli are as happy in your marriage as Dan and I are in ours.

  2. I love burst mode as well – especially if it a moving subject or an action shot. I agree that it is a lot of hard work to sort through the photos but there is usually a perfect shot among the bunch. My husband is a pro at doing this but I need a lot more practice.


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