Keeping Your Images On Track

AF And AI Servo Settings • Noise Abatement • Selling My Pictures

Setting the AF mode to AI Servo and activating it from the AF button on the back of his Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, Lepp was able to instantly have the predictive focus he needed to render this impala tack-sharp. The image was taken at 1/250 sec. at ƒ/5.6 and ISO 800 using a Canon EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 at 330mm.

AF And AI Servo Settings
Q I’m primarily a nature/bird photographer, and I recently bought a Canon EOS 7D. I’m curious about whether using the AI Servo mode when you’re not tracking a moving subject would have a tendency to work against you. Basically, is the camera trying to track when it doesn’t need to, reacting to vibration or some slight movement? Is it best to take the camera out of AI Servo mode when you’re shooting a stationary subject like a landscape or a portrait?
T. Richey
Via the Internet

A AI Servo is a predictive focus feature found on Canon DSLRs; Nikon offers a similar capability called Continuous Focus. These modes are especially useful for wildlife/bird and sports photographers because they allow the photographer to “lock” onto a moving subject and keep it constantly in focus by predicting its next location. The photographer can concentrate on keeping the subject in the frame while the camera keeps the subject in focus. As I’ve written before, predictive autofocus, introduced in the mid-’80s, was one of the great game-changer advances in photography.

When I’m photographing wildlife in the field (or on my grandkids’ soccer field), I want to be able to shoot both moving and still subjects without changing my camera settings. This is accomplished not so much with autofocus modes, but rather by the camera’s custom functions. Straight out of the box, I program all of my Canon DSLRs to deactivate autofocus from the front shutter button and activate the autofocus (AF) button on the rear of the camera. From that point on, I’m using my thumb on the rear AF button to focus the camera and my index finger on the shutter button to capture, and because autofocus isn’t active on the shutter button, the focusing decision I make isn’t overridden by the camera as the image is captured.

With this setup, the AI Servo tracking is active only when you depress the rear autofocus button. Keep it depressed as you follow the action, and capture your images with the front shutter button. When you lift off the rear shutter button for a stationary shot (as for a single player on the field or a portrait), focus is locked at that location. You can reframe the image, then capture with the shutter release. When your thumb is off the rear AF button, you can manually focus with the lens’ focusing ring and override any previously set autofocus. AI Servo mode is only activated when you depress the rear autofocus button, so leave it on all the time. With this setup, you have it all.

Noise Abatement
Q Occasionally, I forget to turn on the Long Exposure Noise Reduction function on my DSLR when needed, and the camera then reminds me to do it. Is there any good reason not to just leave it activated all the time?
J. Pelton
Via the Internet

A Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) is an in-camera processing feature of some DSLRs that reduces or eliminates hot pixels that may show up on long exposures as spots that may be mistaken for noise. To accomplish this, following the initial capture, the camera takes a second exposure of the same length with the shutter closed (a black image). The in-camera software then compares the two captures, identifies hot pixels in the second image, and removes them from the first. While the camera is going through its second exposure and comparative cycle, you can’t take any new images. That’s a good reason to turn it off if you aren’t using it, but if you do leave it on, it doesn’t actually activate until you set a long exposure, usually in the one- to 10-second range, depending on the camera and manufacturer. If you’re photographing landscapes and/or working slowly, frame by frame, you won’t notice it. The feature does impact your buffer at all exposures, however, so if you’re shooting fast action, you need to turn LENR off.


Don’t confuse Long Exposure Noise Reduction with a newer feature called High ISO Noise Reduction. The higher ISOs (up to 102,400, theoretically) available in some high-end DSLRs increase the sensitivity of the sensor, which is helpful in low-light and/or fast-action captures. But captures at higher ISOs (more than 800 or more today, higher still tomorrow) are vulnerable to chrominance and luminance noise, which shows up as grain, especially in undetailed areas of the image. High ISO Noise Reduction is an in-camera process for JPEGs that reduces noise; the downside of automatic noise reduction is reduced image detail at the higher ISO settings. With RAW images, you can achieve noise reduction with more control in post-capture processing in either Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Raw, or with programs specific to the problem, like Noise Ninja from www.picturecode.com and Dfine2 from www.niksoftware.com.

Selling My Pictures
Q I have a few spectacular shots that I’d love to make available for sale. What’s the best way to get my work out there when I’m not affiliated with any photo stock agencies?
P. Hinz
Via the Internet

A Push, push, push your work in every venue you can access. If you’re photographing with professional-level equipment, you can consider applying to stock agencies, or microstock agencies, which have proliferated in the digital age. Look through magazines and online sites that feature a lot of photographs of subjects you like to work with and target the agencies that handle those images. Consult the annual publication Photographer’s Market (by the editors of Writer’s Digest) for a directory of photo editors and other direct-marketing contacts. Be aware that the value of images has significantly diminished in recent years because there are so many free or cheap ones out there. Keep in mind that the quest for publication and/or commercial use of your images is time-consuming, meticulous and sometimes discouraging work. And be prepared for the possibility that your spectacular fine-art images may be deemed of little commercial value in the image marketplace.

But there are other arenas where quality and artistic merit really count. Participate in local exhibitions and donate your images to local hospitals and public agencies where they’ll be seen by many. The North American Nature Photography Association (www.nanpa.org) or the Photographic Society of America (www.psa-photo.org) have structures that facilitate competition and photographic achievement and a great international network of chapters and affiliated clubs. Regular entry into the imaging competitions of the local, regional and national PSA affiliates gains you visibility and recognition in the field.

Two other highly credible and visible annual photo competitions come to mind: Look at Nature’s Best (www.naturesbestphotography.com) for an excellent example; winners are exhibited at the Smithsonian. The British Museum of Natural History/BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year photo competition is considered to be the pinnacle of achievement for a wildlife photographer: see www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/temporary-exhibitions/wpy/competition/index.jsp. Don’t miss the frequent opportunities to submit your images to competitions conducted by Outdoor Photographer! The easiest way to keep track is to click on “Contests” at the OP website.

When entering competitions, judge the cost/benefit relationship. If the sponsor requires that you give up ownership of the image or grant broad usage in exchange for entering the contest, don’t go there. If the entry fee is out of proportion to the benefits of winning, someone is running the contest to make a profit for themselves, and you probably don’t want to be a part of that, either. But watch for occasional contests offered by image-oriented companies such as Canon and Microsoft; these can be great opportunities to get your work promoted in a larger arena.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit www.georgelepp.com. If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at www.georgelepp.com.

1 Comment

    I have a canon 7D .I wonder if george can give info,on how you set up the rear AF button for exposure and front to shoot.
    Which custom function is this?

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