Bursting the Burst Mode Myth: [What I Learned from Shooting with Film]

Bursting the Burst Mode Myth: [What I Learned from Shooting with Film]


burst mode

Over the next week we’ll be featuring a mini-series of posts from Rachel Devine (author of our new Natural Light Photography eBook and our kids photography eBook) in which she’ll be talking about five reasons learning photography on film cameras made her the digital photographer that she is today.

Here’s today’s on Busting the Burst Mode Myth.

no burst mode here

There are a few things I hear as top advice for budding children’s photographers and parents who want to take better photos of their children. I think that setting the camera to burst mode and holding the shutter down while taking photos is the one I hear most often and makes me cringe hardest. Called the “spray and pray” method, lots of digital photographers rely on taking hundreds of images (I have actually heard of thousands of frames shot for one portrait session) at a sitting to get a handful of good shots.

When keen new photographers ask for advice on how to get better photos of kids (their own or for a client) and are told, “It is digital, it will not cost you anything, just put the camera in burst mode and take as many as you can and you are bound to get a good one in there” they are being fed bad advice…or rather non-advice.

I started my photography career on film 16 years ago and when I did, those who swear by the spray and pray method may be shocked to learn that there were lots of other kid and family photographers who had to get the entire session worth of images for their clients on just a few rolls of film. And they did…every time.

Here is why shooting in burst mode not best for everyone and what I think is better advice for those really wanting to get better at taking photos of kids.

Burst Mode does actually cost something

Time:: It takes time on your end to weed through those hundreds of resulting shots. Culling images is a time sucking and soul zapping process where you will be tied to your computer for hours sorting, comparing and slitting hairs. It may be fun the first few times you go through your images, but it will wear on you over time and if you get into the habit of having to shoot this way, you will also have to allow time for sorting and editing all of those images.

Not learning to see:: If you do have to resort to shooting in burst mode, then things really are on auto. Burst mode does not allow for the photographer to make changes to the image and exposure settings while they are taking the shots. With single images taken thoughtfully, the photographer can fine tune the exposure settings and compose carefully. Learn to recognize what makes a great image and then set out to purposefully shoot that.

no burst mode here

Missing Details:: When the camera is set to burst mode, the focus is on quantity and quality tends to take a back seat.

People tend to forget to scan the shot for details and end up with an entire series of cute expressions on a child who seemingly has a tree growing out of the top of their head.

That photographer can now tack extra time onto their post processing routine to edit that sucker out. I have seen tags left on clothes, dirty faces, cars parked prominently in the background. Things get missed easily in the rapid fire fury.

Connection with the subject:: Finally, I have heard an argument in favor of burst mode that it helps avoid missing any special moments. Really, the wham-bam-thank you ma’am approach to photography may seem like a good idea for kids because they are fast and have short attention spans, but getting them involved in the whole experience is so much more enriching for both photographer and subject.

These are not wild animals on safari, but tiny human beings who can and should bring personality to the table when they are active participants in your sessions, not just being shot at. This is especially true for people who enjoy documenting their own children over and over again. Slow down, take a moment to breathe, observe and photograph and then breathe again…it is then when you will not only be photographing the special moments, but also participating in them.

If that all does not speak to you, let’s talk cash…

Shutter actuations:: Your camera does have a shelf life and it really is not determined by when the latest and greatest new model is released, but more by how many times the shutter has actually clicked. While the total end number can vary by camera model and may seem really quite high, it will be reached faster if you are taking hundreds of images each time you go to use your camera.

Where burst mode does come in handy

no burst mode here

Shooting big group portraits :: Great for getting extra shots of the same scene (especially when mounted on a tripod) where you may need to do a head swap because someone closed their eyes.

Sports :: That is pretty much why it is called Sports Mode

Portraits with a point and shoot camera :: The shutter lag present in point and shoot cameras (the time it takes the camera to actually capture the shot from when you press the shutter button is called shutter lag and is very apparent in point and shoot cameras) can cause you to miss the moment even when you are shooting carefully and are ready for it. Setting the little compact cameras to sports mode can help overcome this technical hurdle.

Back in the days of film, we were limited by budget as we had to pay cash money for the film and processing. That made it necessary to shoot mindfully. We ended up with more images that we loved and fewer wasted frames. Today with digital, the costs are hidden, but there are still costs. Take the time to set up the sessions, meter the light, compose and be present while you are photographing your little subjects. Practice shooting digital with the discipline of film. You just may find that you enjoy the act of photographing kids even more than you thought possible.

For more on the topic of Kids Photogrpahy – Check out Rachel’s eBook Click! How to Take Gorgeous Photos of Your Kids. Also check out her brand new Life in Natural Light eBook (which currently comes with some great bonsuses for early birds).

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Some Older Comments

  • Paul Plak August 8, 2013 06:51 am

    Thanks to Dave and Jamie for showing me (us) the way to really increase your chances to catch fast moving situations with burst mode.

    I still think DPS could issue a more detailed article on the subject. The only time I used burst mode ( 8 fps) with birds feeding the nest I did not catch any situtation worth showing. But I should have tried more times I think.

    It doesn't make Rachel's post totally invalid, it's just not adequate in all photo situations.

  • Jamie Felton August 7, 2013 05:23 am

    Re: Paul Plak,

    Here are a couple of examples of how I use burst mode . I use it for many different reasons, but I never ever use it to 'spray and pray' . In fact I use manual exposure mode and I carefully focus then compose my photos before pushing the shutter button to prevent having to crop or delete, as much as possible, later on. If the situation calls for it, I will even use manual focus.

    The first series I'm showing as an example is a bobcat kitten in the wild. As you can imagine, this is not an opportunity that comes along very often. So I needed to make the most of it. I was taking single shots of her. At the moment she yawned I used a burst of shots to catch every nuance of the yawn. A split second made a huge difference in her expression, in every single shot. As you can see in my series .
    She yawned twice and by using burst mode in a controlled and thoughtful way, I ended up with 25 sharp shots to choose my favorite expressions from. Here are a few : The pictures are not perfect but the light was nonexistent under the shade of the cypress trees and wildlife photography is about making the most of what you get.. Not setting up a perfect shot with controlled conditions.


    My apologies for the new flickr format .. You will have to press the "view 20 more comments" button to be able to see the series at the beginning of the posts.

    And here is another use for burst mode. I used it to show the interaction of the bird and the bee. And to tell the story of what happened. And if I had not been anticipating the action and using burst mode. I would not have gotten the photo story.


    Again apologies for the new flickr format you will have to push the "view 20 more comments" button a couple of times to see the series.

  • Edmund August 6, 2013 07:07 pm

    I completely agree, John, and many photography books recommend this. Normally the first shot can be blurred so keeping your finger on the button just increases the chance of success.

  • John August 6, 2013 07:37 am

    Burst shooting helps hand shake. Blasting away (6 or 7) most-often will produce at least one sharp shot, IMHO.

  • Dave Stephens August 5, 2013 12:35 am

    Here's the link I'd hoped to post showing multiple shots from bursts:


  • Dave Stephens August 5, 2013 12:31 am

    Paul, I use burst mode frequently when shooting birds in flight, perched birds and wild animals particularly when they're hunting. A great wildlife shot will have a perfect head angle, with the animal's perpendicular to the photographer or somewhere in the 180-degrees toward the photographer. The ideal will have a gleam in the eye from the sky and, even better, some action, like a bird's mouth open as it sings. Also, there won't be a tree branch covering some key part of the subject.

    For somewhat static subjects, like a perched bird, I'll shoot bursts of three or four when I see high potential for a keeper. I make sure that my single-spot AF is on the eye of the subject. I try to use an aperture like f/8 or f/11 to get a bit of DOF with my long lens, but I often have to shoot wide open to get enough shutter speed.

    I look through the images and examine the good poses very carefully, at 100, looking at the sharpness of the eye. If the eye isn't 100% sharp, I reject it. Pose, eyelight, head angle, background (I position myself in such a way that hopefully there'll be nice creamy one-color bokeh behind the subject).

    My Website in my signature here points to a picture of a downy woodpecker tearing apart thistle. This is part of over 200 images of this one bird that I took as I moved from a bad backlit angle to a good position with the sun behind me and the bird almost clear of obstructions. The shot that I selected makes it clear that the bird is ripping apart the thistle, because you see the thistle in the air. I was hand holding 1,000mm lens and, even with that magnification, you can't really see clearly that you captured the thistle. It's a woodpecker, so the head was rapidly pecking the thistle. My 5D MkIII does 6-fps. Next week, Canon's sending me a 1D-X that does 12-fps, along with their new, lighter telephoto lens.

    Oh, the situation where I might do a long burst, like six or eight shots, would be a bird in flight. You need an exceptional AF system to keep up with that, but these new cameras are amazing, but a Rebel, for instance, can't really keep up.

  • Paul Plak August 4, 2013 11:39 pm

    I agree with most of the views and opinions Rachel brought in.

    But I'd also like to hear more about the cases where burst mode really is useful : sports, wildlife, children in action (as many advocate here), etc.

    I'd like to see this illustrated by multiple burst images showing why and how some of the images are better than others in the burst, and what differenciates them from a single image taken at the peak of the action, I mean, does the percentage of good shots really increase that much when using bursts ? How long should the bursts be ? 3 - 4 - 5 - 7 images ? What's most effective ?

    Anyone having prcatised burst mode extensively willing to take up the challenge and propose an article to Darren ?

    Now I only use burst mode to do bracketed series.

    In many cases, I find the noise coming from burst photography to be really disturbing. It sure is more agressive to models than single shots. It doesn't sound cool to my ears (though dan's argument is probably genuine for some photographers - then again, those probably don't come here a lot).

  • Kim August 3, 2013 03:31 am

    I agree with June. i would expect some great photos to back this article and I disagree that they are adequate. The color is terrible and the blur is in places that make the child look abnormal. Although your article is well written and give food for thought.

  • Tim Lowe August 2, 2013 11:38 pm


    You know, that's the best explanation I've heard. ;)

  • Dan August 2, 2013 08:59 pm

    You know, I think half the people who shoot burst do it because they think it sounds cool. Just like the fools who put extractors on their exhaust system to make their 4 cylinder car sound like a V8.

  • james s August 2, 2013 08:09 pm

    I think its a time and place for everything. I use burst a lot with my grandkids, bit then I am not doing portraits. I photography children at play as I do not like posed photos, so burst comes in handy.

  • edmund August 2, 2013 06:02 pm

    Although it is not really burst mode, I often vary the exposure by one stop so the camera takes a burst of three photos with a 1 stop difference. As I shoot almost exclusively in aperture priority (and did so when using film), I really find this one of the absolute advantages of digital and I'm not talking HDR where 1 stop either way is not enough.

    With film, on a 5X4 I would take maybe 5 polaroids to every transparency, on 35mm I just had a better feel for the lighting conditions and would be able to get around a 70% success rate on exposure by adjusting the compensation but those were the days of manual focus and anticipation of a precious shot by pre-focussing and pre-adjusting the exposure. Don't tell me you never had a motordrive / autowinder!

    Reluctantly, we have to move with the times and there is a place for burst photography now, just as there was with film, only digital cameras make it easier and less expensive to achieve this.

  • June August 2, 2013 10:11 am

    For such an unequivocally worded article I would expect to see stunning portraits accompanying it as back-up. The portraits here are adequate, but to me lack wow factor. I've taken far, far better portraits on burst mode and I disagree with most of the points rather sanctimoniously made in the article. How on earth you can judge photographers who choose to use that mode as lazy and unseeing is ridiculous. Lack of connection with the subject? Ludicrous. Every situation, every subject, is different, and you would do well to respect that instead of throwing out a blanket of discredit which ultimately only serves to make readers doubt your own credentials.

  • Marco August 2, 2013 07:56 am


    Again, no one is talking about spray and pray here. However for my type of photography I will set up at a location that I know from years of scouting will often have eagles that are fishing for the nest. They must feed the young and this is close to the nest. I set up at first light and wait for hours. Then once they fly in they will often find a perch to "fish" from. At that point I am shooting test shots for exposure adjustments. Then when they make up their minds and target a single fish out of many, they drop out of their perch and dive, grab and fly off to the nest. That perch time is often more than a half hour but can be just a few minutes. The second I see a certain behavior, I know that they are coming off the perch so I start tracking them and start the burst. I will get eight to ten frames or more but it all happens in less than a minute. Hours of planning, time watching for the right gesture, and such is NOT JUST MACHINE GUNNING and I have only the one chance of getting that image unless I return tomorrow. IT WOULD BE CRAZY TO TRY GRABBING ONE FRAME IN HOPES OF THE PERFECT WING POSITION AND ALL THAT MAKES UP A GREAT PHOTO. This location is two hours of driving from home, so I am looking at a major money investment AND a day of shooting to get that one minute of flight!!!! You bet I shoot in bursts!!!!

  • Marco August 2, 2013 07:42 am

    Burst mode for portraits does seem a little silly, however I can see many uses even for that type of photography. That said, I cannot help wondering why an author who does childhood portraits FEELS COMPETENT to judge other types of photography and their needs!!! Wildlife photography is almost another world compared to portrait photography. The tools are completely different even though they use a DSLR and the methods are very different as BURST MODE has made it possible to reliably get the shot of an eagle grabbing a fish from the river. Yes, some photographers were able to get these shots before, but not in a reliable way. IT WAS GOOD PLANNING WITH A LOT OF LUCK instead of good planning with a good technique!!! I just dare this author to rent a 500mm prime lens and go out to get that eagle shot using their methods of photography!!! The lens rental WILL BREAK THEIR BANK ACCOUNT!!! And the five or six months in the field will keep them from their children. I just wish all of these "experts" would stay in their own branch of photography and recognize that the camera companies PUT THESE FEATURES IN THE CAMERAS to serve different sectors of photography!!! Birding is one sector that requires very special gear and while you can learn on some entry level DSLR with a 300mm lens for a while, to reach a degree of professionalism you must invest in a camera with a high frame rate and large buffer that uses fast memory cards and then get a second mortgage for the lenses you will need!!!! Your camera must have enough processing power to effectively use AI Focus and fast burst rate without overloading the buffer. With this gear and enough time in the field, you too can get professional quality images most of the time.

  • Tim Lowe August 2, 2013 07:24 am


    Let's agree to disagree. Shooting kids at play requires a bit of observation and a little bit of prediction. But firing madly in the general direction of a subject is not photography and seldom gives a result half as good as a well thought out shot. Maybe you get lucky. I have no problem with lucky shots. I just don't know any photographers that rely on luck.

    Shoot film. You'll most likely develop better habits. Or waste a lot of money. Your choice.

  • Chris Fieldhouse August 2, 2013 07:05 am

    coming to grips with DSLR and weighing the pro's and con's of burst shooting. However last week when Whale watching in Monterrey CA - that burst mode was the single most valuable tool in the photography tool box to get the entire sequence of a whale breach, dive and final view of the tail fluke in 20 frames. Couldn't have done it without burst....

  • Dave Stephens August 2, 2013 06:56 am

    I use less burst mode shooting for portraits than birds in flight, but there's an appropriate level in all situations. Look for the peak of action and then shoot a short burst or two. If action continues, then you can continue bursts or not. To take 1,000 of images of you child, for example, in hopes that two or threee might be useful, is bad advice and will likely yield fewer useful images that a few shot at the peak of action or expression.

    There's no hard and fast way. I think that judicious use of bursts while watching for peak action and expression is the best way to go. The shots may not be free, but they're close to free. I preview dozens of shots per page to select the ones for Raw conversion and processing. Time wasted is minimal.

  • Jerry Schneir August 2, 2013 06:49 am

    A few good points mixed in with a few bad ones. There are times when shooting in burst mode is necessary, like taking pictures of a kid who doesn't stop moving or and adult who can't stop talking. Anytime you take a picture of more than one person in the scene you need to take more than one shot, burst allows you to do that. You rarely need to change settings between shots so that argument is bunk. A photographer has to evaluate when it is appropriate to shoot in burst mode and when it is not, and the article barely addressed those needs. If photographers would use more burst mode shooting they might be selling more pictures. I use burst mode when I am shooting moving subjects from a moving car. But even then I do not shoot 20 or so pictures but only 4 or 5.

  • Tim Lowe August 2, 2013 04:40 am

    Unless I am at a sporting even, when I hear a camera firing frame after frame after frame, I know that I am in the company of a complete and utter moron. It's "SEE, THINK, SHOOT." Not "SEE, SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT..." It's clear to me that "THINK" ever enters the picture.

  • chris martin August 2, 2013 03:44 am

    I've been taking pictures for 53 years. I started with the original Nikon F and Leica M series. I use burst mode when it is deemed appropriate, that includes when taking portraits. Not hundreds of shots but normally a burst of 3 shots at a time and it has worked for me when most of my shots are in the region of 1/15 second or slower at 105mm due to available light. I'm hunting for that magical moment !

  • David Wilson August 2, 2013 03:21 am

    Old film photographer her too. I learned to take the shot at that magic moment and find burst shooting a distraction. I do take a slow burst of 3 shots on group photos so that if someone blinks I can switch heads in PP. - Dave

  • chauncey August 2, 2013 03:14 am

    I disagree completely...by shooting in burst mode you are much more likely to capture different micro-expressions that can be added into you image during PP.

  • CJT July 31, 2013 02:51 pm

    Burst mode comes in handy when there is the possibility of people stepping in front of the lens. I started using burst mode during a trip to Denver a few years ago. Burst mode increased the odds getting a picture without a pedestrian stepping in front of the lens. I now do in in any urban situation.

  • Vic Neves February 27, 2013 01:44 pm

    I do alot of burst shooting for sports including my Daughter's cheerleading competitions! There's no other way to catch all those facial expressions and high basket tosses, without it. In a weekend i may take 1,200 shots and only use about a 100 due to out of focus issues.

  • RJohnston October 18, 2011 07:22 am

    With one company I worked for the limit was 6 images.... we had 5 photographers working and they all were able to get portraits that satisfied parents with six choices. Many had collages made including all of them or some just 3...

  • RJohnston October 18, 2011 07:18 am

    Yep, remember the days when getting childrens photos, ONE ROLL of 12 exposures was the limit. We wrote the clients name on the roll and turned it in.... One mother complained, he was only taking pictures for 5-10 minutes. Girl told her, "If you are not satisfied, we will reshoot the sitting. But most people have a difficult time limiting the choices to less than 7-8 and many want all 12." It takes lots of practice, knowledge about child psychology, behavior, and more practice to do that. To know which children you can approach and which ones to stay at least 3-5 feet away from. Visually dominant children at unconscious levels are very uncomfortable if you are in their space. Feeling or emotionally dominant children may even let you adjust clothing or pose and the auditory dominant at unconscious levels, respond best to your voice directions. Knowing who is which, can make the difference in a so-so image and an amazing portrait.

  • Mark October 9, 2011 01:30 pm

    I'm on the fence with this, more of an "everything has its time and place". I use burst mode for toddlers and action as well as group shots i.e. any scene when your reaction time and the shot time is no guarantee of capturing the moment. However I also understand that there are many starting out in photography that blast away with little thought. As long as the thought is in there it shouldn't cause any issues.

  • Joe Stephenson October 9, 2011 02:21 am

    Interesting article. I have been a photographer for about 40 years, and have never used any camera in burst mode, and have never felt the need to use burst mode. I have also worked with young children for many years, and have learned--to some degree--to foresee what a child is likely to do, and when they will do it. I find that using a camera that allows you to see more than the field of view is very helpful in framing and timing good images. A Leica M9 is a particularly good camera to use in photographing children and families. I find that I much prefer the M9 to even the best SLR's when it comes to following and predicting action that is about to take place.

    The more you learn to press the button at the right time, the less you will need to take countless shots most which will be deleted. And, stick to the old maxim to take the image you want in the camera, not in Photoshop, or in cropping in the darkroom. Don't be sloppy, blasting away at a high rate; take your time and take fewer good images in the camera. This advice will help you learn to look carefully at what you see in the viewfinder. Going slower and looking carefully at what is happening in front of your camera will make you a better photographer, and a photographer that does not need to take a large number of shots in the possibly vain hope that you will get a few good ones. Quality comes from the photographer, not from having a rapid fire camera that will--you hope--produce a few usable images.

    Be an accurate shooter, not a machine gun operator,

    Joe Stephenson

  • Dearly Loved Photography October 6, 2011 05:35 am

    I'm with Anne. Plus, I tend to shoot wide open and when the kid moves, they aren't in focus any more.

  • Phil October 5, 2011 06:02 pm

    @Chandira: You improve your chances of avoiding motion blur when you shoot in burst mode, but its no excuse not to work on your panning technique when shooting birds in flight (BIF). If shooting stationary birds, then just set it on burst mode, point and click, but don't lift your finger off the button. Shoot in bursts of 3 to 5 shots and hopefully one of them should come out blur free. The reason this is necessary is because, given the lengths of the lenses used and the distance involved, it is so easy to blur a photo just by pressing the button. but by leaving your finger down, maybe the succeeding ones will turn out clear.

    As for improving your panning technique to get BIF, practice shooting cars passing by til you get a grasp of panning combined with burst mode (when the cars come out clear, you've got a grasp of it). Then move on to dogs, kids and other unpredictable subjects. Hope that helps.

  • Phil October 5, 2011 05:47 pm

    @chris: This is off topic which is why you have so few responses to your question, but Depth of Field is determined by several factors, among them are:

    1) Sensor size - the bigger the sensor, the easier it becomes to get a thin DoF. This is why the pros love their Blads while we ordinary mortals struggle with our compacts;

    2) Optical qualities of the lens - the better the lens, the easier it is to get a thin DoF (this is oversimplified but more expensive lenses do tend to perform better, something to do with all that glass);

    3) Size of the aperture - the more wide open your lens aperture is (signified by a low f/number), the easier it becomes;

    4) Distance from the subject - the closer you are to the subject, the easier it is to blur the background. The farther you are from the subject, the easier it is to blur the foreground;

    5) Distance of foreground or background from the subject - the farther it is, the easier it becomes to get it blurred.

    Maybe not complete but hope that helps.

    Back on topic, while I do agree with burst shooters that I like to shoot in burst to improve my chances of getting the shot but don't necessarily subscribe to the "spray & pray" methodology, I do see the author's point of taking the camera off burst in order to train oneself to think before you click. I may not care to follow it but hey, different strokes for different folks. But that's just me Ü

  • Chandira October 4, 2011 03:49 am

    I have never used burst mode, I was hoping for some instruction on how to effectively use it! I have been guilty of taking too many shots instead of setting up for just a few good ones though.
    It would be helpful for wildlife photography, I love shooting birds, and always wish I had a better handle on using burst mode for that.

    Can we have something about how to use it effectively, rather than why you shouldn't use it?

  • Jamie October 3, 2011 10:18 pm

    'Im with the people who disagree with you here. Shooting burst mode has absolutely nothing to do with taking random shots in rapid fire succession with a click and hope approch. You said " When the camera is set to burst mode, the focus is on quantity and quality tend to take a back seat." Thats just totally not true. In fact I looked at your photos and thought you have a really loose standard when it comes to focus and composition. Which to me is what quality is about. To you it may mean something different. I focus, compose and set my camera settings ( using manual exposure mode) BEFORE my finger holds down the button to take a burst of photos...and again before I take the next burst. So your statement " If you have to resort to shooting in burst mode, then things really are on auto. Burst mode does not allow for the photographer to make changes to the image and exposure settings while they are taking the shots. With single images taken thoughtfully, the photographer can fine tune the exposure settings and compose carefully." Is untrue. The exposure and composition are done before the burst is taken. Who in the world takes a burst of pictures while swinging their camera wildly around, taking different scenes, requiring different settings? I think about my composition and camera settings continually as I shoot. And I don't use 'sports mode" or any other automatic setting .. I use manual exposure mode to get the exposure exactly the way I want it .. My thoughts are constantly ...Do I need more DOF to get everything I need in focus, or do I want a shallower DOF to blur the background? Do I need a faster shutter speed because the action is really fast? And on and on. I set my camera to the correct settings BEFORE I shoot a burst of photos. Then I use burst mode to try to capture the perfect moment. There is nothing at all random or thoughtless in the way I shoot. And I started out with film too, but that does not mean I am stuck with doing things the old way. I feel its worth the few extra seconds of deleting extra frames to get the perfect shot.
    I think an article describing your way of doing things is fine, as long as you stick to the facts and not make up things about people who do things differently than you do.

  • Peter Fletcher October 3, 2011 08:11 pm

    I use Photoshop CS5 and still learning of it

  • Peter October 3, 2011 01:05 pm

    Any advice that implies "think before you shoot" is good advice. Thanks for a great blog.

  • ccting October 3, 2011 12:00 pm

    Since after these 3 articles, I never shoot in burst mode and start shooting flash... Thanks again to the author

  • Tricia October 3, 2011 11:35 am

    Thank you for this post, was great reading and great advice. Thanks!

  • Brad October 3, 2011 11:19 am

    The only time I really use burst is when I am shooting lightning. It is hard to time a bolt from the sky, so I will shoot in burst to capture that exact moment. Post processing is actually easy since the without shots are typically very dark and the with...well they speak for themselves.

  • Virginia October 3, 2011 06:44 am

    I agree and will s hare this with my photography students. I think it comes in handy for fast moving babies sometimes and yesterday I was trying to photograph a big ole lab fetching a stick in the creek. Most were blurry, luckily I got one sharp one. Later I wished I'd changed to Sports Mode for that.

    I think the most important thing a photographer can do with portrait work is make that connection! Good article. Thanks.

  • Russ October 3, 2011 05:02 am

    I love the idea, just need to find the self discipline???

  • José Bóia October 3, 2011 02:04 am

    Hi! Thank you for telling me when to use burst mode. I have a camera for may years - both film and digital - and I never used burst mode. I'm not the sports type photographer. Sometimes I use to shoot a "second" shot when the subject is tense. When he/she ears the shooting they become relaxed and then I shoot a second time immediately afterwards. Quite often it shows to be a good picture.
    Best regards,

  • David October 3, 2011 01:23 am

    Rapid fire is just another tool in the photographer's bag of tricks. And, if you have only one tool, then it becomes the solution for everything. (When the hammer is your only tool, then all your problems begin to look like nails...)

    Sometimes, engaging with the subject is the best way to go. Sometimes, "spray and pray" meets my needs for the situation.

    When I'm photographing a new (to me) sport...such as rowing right now...I use the burst mode to learn. I'm trying to determine what part of the stroke connects with me. While shooting football, I'm a single shot kind of guy. Both might change at some point, but that's the way I use my tools right now.

  • María Paula September 30, 2011 03:53 am

    I agree with everything you said. Specially with the editing part. I don't have much time to edit the few shots i get while thinking about them, i can't even imagine what it would be in brust mode.
    Also, i know someone who takes most of his pictures in burst mode, i'm not really qualified to say if it's "proffessional" or not, but he calls himself a photographer, and i feel that most of his pictures were taken by chance, just because he got lucky with one of the million shots he took. I don't know, i honestly don't like it, i rather think about the pictures i make.

  • Michael Cheng September 28, 2011 10:10 pm

    Hi Rachel, thanks for the reply.
    Firstly I'd like to say I really apprieciate any one that writes an article for DPS and share their knowledge and skills. I am really enjoying your second article on Natural Vs Available light. If fact I'm read it through the third time just to make sure I absorb everything :)

    But I think you missed my point about my idea of a burst mode. The first shot would be the same as you described, observed, anticipate, settings, etc and would result in the same as if it wasn't on burst. I view the extra 2 which only takes 1/4 of a second to take as "Safety" shots. Which 90% would get deleted quickly.

    But I also understand what you mean about spending too much time being emotional attached or too picky about details to cull. Especially when there is a child envolved. I get the habit of shooting bursts of 3 for most situations without flash from shooting indoor sports, and 90% of the time I keep the first shot and delete the next 2 without much thought or time. I suppose burst is only good for people that can delete ruthlessly.

    Also the comment about people shooting film thinking they are superior wasn't directed at you. But it's regularly gets mentioned in various forums and websites frustrating me that it must of slipped out that way. Apologies if you took offence to it.

    Once again thanks for writing the articles as they are interesting reads, but I don't think I'll be changing my habits :)

  • clair_obscur September 28, 2011 07:03 pm

    Rachel, thank you for this article. There are very good points there. Sometimes I'm thinking that shooting digital makes us forget to think about the moment and about what photography is all about. Trying to capture EVERYTHING, just because we can, leaves us with less real experiences, less real moments. Photography is not about getting everything in your camera, is about CHOOSING what to capture and when. And knowing how to do it. Otherwise things just happen and you have no control over the outcome. Surfing like crazy among hundreds of burst shots afterwards just to get just 3 or 4 good ones in the end is not photography, is lottery. And you know what the funny thing is? You may end up with NO real keeper simply because you were much more concerned to get everything captured than to anticipate the moments and press the shutter the exact right time.
    Burst mode is absolutely great, the thing is knowing WHEN to use it. And knowing how to live without it.
    I shoot both digital and film and I love both. But I think one can't really understand photography if they haven't tried to shoot, if not film, then at least digital but without any of the helping hand digital offers. Try to shoot for a few days without checking the LCD screen, without using burst mode, shutter or aperture priority, even without relying on the camera light meter. And you'll see then what the essence of photography is. It's not just how fast the camera fires, isn't it?

  • MattG September 28, 2011 11:16 am

    I think I get it - watching the scene, anticipating and then capturing the moment reveals more in the final image because you invest more in the shot. It is proactive, not reactive - you are waiting and visualising the shot, checking composition, background distractions, distance to subject and crafting the photo in general before pulling the trigger. How you take the photo is a little less relevant - using a burst mode to grab two or three shots to ensure sharpness or facial expression is fine, but just spray and pray doesn't help anyone grow. Nice article.

  • rachel September 28, 2011 01:01 am

    Oh but, Micheal, to use your example I know as an observer that when my toddler throws up that clump of sand in the air that there is going to be a split second that sand is in the air and the toddler is laughing. As a photographer, I will know the settings that I need to freeze the sand and the moment with the pleasing out of focus background to highlight the moment and I click that shot and maybe a few more without holding my finger down on the shutter button and capture the joy.
    I pull the camera away from my face and giggle along with my child.
    I then as a mother know that that sand is going to land in said toddlers eyes and hair or the eyes and hair of that toddler next to him in the sand pit and because I am in the moment and not rapid fire shooting, I have gotten my shot and can come to the inevitable rescue.
    I comfort them and maybe as a distraction I show them the photo I just took on the LCD and then we run off because the swing is finally free!
    I try to take a few shots on the swing, but the light isn't as nice and my child gets fussy because I have to stop pushing to take a picture so I turn the camera off and swing it around my back. I have other swing pictures anyway.
    Later on when we all get home and I need to clean up that toddler (and his twin and older sister) from the day at the park and then everything else as a mother, I download my shots from the camera to my laptop. I know that later on after I have had dinner with my husband, I can just pull those three funny shots from the sand pit into Photoshop and quickly tidy them up and then upload to my blog. I show the funny shots to my husband and neither one of us for a moment thinks about the seconds that were not captured.
    Nothing is ever just an extra second as a mother. When there are hundreds of images from the same thing, it is quite a bit of time looking through those shots and being emotionally attached to them...splitting hairs and not wanting to part with any of the 5 frames that I took of that one moment. Nor any of the 10 frames from the two seconds after that. Nor actually the 20 frames in the seconds after that. There are now 35 frames that I love of one moment and I will narrow it down to maybe 5 and then I will narrow it down to 2 and then back and forth and maybe just go with a diptych in the end. Typing that took longer than 2 seconds so I know the process will be at least 5-10 minutes. Add that 5-10 minutes to all the other shots I took a the park and it adds up.
    Because I am in the practice of shooting this way all the time, it translates to my professional sessions as well.
    My eBook, these little articles and all the information and advice I give out on my blog comes after much soul searching as a parent and a professional children's photographer who has shot campaigns for huge companies and daily life photographs of my three kids over film and digital mediums with the same passion and respect. This advice and this eBook is not to show people that I am a superior photographer because I shot film, but just to share a lot of valuable lessons over my 16 years in business and my 7 years as a mother. I have found regret only in over shooting.

    I never said in the article that I only take one shot nor did I say my skill was superior...you did.

  • Leandro September 28, 2011 12:40 am

    The hunting metaphor wasn't a happy one, I suppose. If you're working and you have to feed your family, well, use whatever you have. Fishers that need to eat use a net; fishers that want to achieve something more personal use fishing rods; hey, there are even fishers who try to catch fish barehands. If waiting for you you only will find starving eyes waiting for fish, any fish as long as it's edible, use the net and get something, you can't come back with your hands empty. But not all photographers do it for the money, and even if they do it, they perhaps want to take it more personally. I have known many photographers that bet on statistics. I am not talking specifically about burst mode: they get out and fill their memory cards with thousands of photographs. They shoot, shoot, shoot, they don't stop to think. In the lot they'll find one decent, statistically speaking. And if not, there's always Photoshop, right? I agree with you that the people who look to your pictures won't clap more if you did it thoughtfully than if you used statistics on your favor, but for you it shouldn't be the same. All fishers would use the net, should that be true, or buy fish at the fishmonger's, and more than probably they'll get better fish. I'm sure any sport fisher will tell you that's not the point.

  • Jeet September 28, 2011 12:00 am

    This is for Chris, and I probably will be bettered by others:

    Shallow DOF, as far as I have got it, depends on -
    1. Wide open aperture
    2. If it is a zoom lens, zooming in (longer focal length) helps
    3. Distance from the subject to the background becomes a factor, more the distance, greater the blur in the background

    It's what I have learnt reading around on this site, and what I have practiced, and found to work

  • Paul September 27, 2011 11:27 pm

    Trying this again, since my first comment seems to have vanished...

    As you point out, burst mode does have its uses; it's absolutely vital with a point-and-shoot, given the shutter lag. The problem, I think (and I've run into this myself) is that the "spray-n'-pray" mentality ends up spilling over into your work even when you're not shooting in burst.

    So shoot with film, even if only briefly and temporarily. I love digital, and I'm not about to give it up, but I think if you need to refresh how you shoot, it can be useful to either limit yourself to a set number of shots in digital, or even just go to a drugstore and buy a cheap film camera (even a disposible would do). You tend to be more mindful when there's only so many shots you can take, and that habit -- the slowing down and the mindfulness that comes with it -- can carry over into your digital shooting.

    One other point when it comes to sports shooting: While this is probably the best time to use burst mode, there's also an argument to be made for leaving it off while shooting a sporting event. If you take the time and pay attention, a lot of times a game has its own internal logic and rhythm that you can tap into, to a point where you can often anticipate where and when the shot's going to come. That gives you the time to compose the shot versus hoping for it... with the downside of the occasional missed shot, of course.

  • Paul September 27, 2011 10:32 pm

    I have found burst to be useful every so often (and you're right, it's practically vital on a compact, given the shutter lag), but I've also found that it tends to spill into other areas of your photography when you're not careful with it. Sometimes even leaving it off burst when you're shooting sports can be useful, because it forces you to tune into what's actually going on in front of you. It takes practice (not to mention patience), but a lot of times you begin to realize that there's a certain rhythm or internal logic to what you're shooting so you can begin to anticipate the shot.

    Of course, one thing that can be helpul is to buy a cheap film camera at your local drugstore (even a disposable would work). When you realize you've got a finite number of shots, you tend to be more mindful of what you're doing, and more careful in actually doing it. Do that a few times and the habit will start to carry over into your digital photography.

  • Michael Cheng September 27, 2011 09:20 pm

    I actually don't agree with quite a bit of the article. I actually like the idea of compose once and shoot 3 (high speed burst or lost speed burst depending on the situation).

    Sure I can understand that this article would apply for someone that just picks up camera and shoot without thought, but I think that lot is really REALLY in the minority. I will point out some of my thoughts on comments.

    Time - after composing and shooting groups of 3, it doesn't take much time to delete 2 in quick glance, and if they are similar delete the back 2. That means you have lost no more than you would with taking 1 shot.

    Not learning to see - Just because you use burst, it doesn't mean you are not composing the first shot or put thoughts in to it.

    Missing details - as above, but you might actually get something more if you are lucky such as a bird in flying past.

    Connection with the subject - OK, I sort of agree with this one. Not so much with kids. but with an adult portrait I think the subject will would feel a pose is more special not in burst mode.

    Shutter Actuation - I think this is the one of the silliest reasons. I shoot with a Canon 7D, which the body costed $1700 at the time at 150,000 actuations, that is around 1 cent a shot. I would much prefer to use 3 cents per burst and not miss something or a chance of getting a better shot.

    An example, You are shooting a Todler in a sand pit, all of a sudden the Todler picks up a hand full of sand and throws it up. The difference between 1 shot and burst could mean the difference between a clump of sand in mid air covering the childs face or a fine spray of sand raining down.

    I am really not a fan of people that use to shoot film thinking their skill is superior because of they are limited with their amount of shot. You can put just as much skill and thought into doing burst photography.
    Photographers should embace new technology and make the most of it to capture that special split second of time rather than reflecting back in regret of just missing that special moment because they were worried about only shooting 1 shot.

    Using TrentReznor's example. If shooting an animal was your job, I'd trust a skilled shooter with a machine gun over a skilled shooter with a rifle.

  • Fuzzypiggy September 27, 2011 04:57 pm

    The advice to "burst shoot" has always bothered me a little. Maybe because I like shooting landscapes and hate shooting people or action, I tend much more to faff about and get things right. As said above, when shooting your subject how the hell are you going to account for changes in the light, the position of the subject ( especially with impatient kids! ) ?

    In addition to the superb points above, people who preach the burst mode should study how a SLR shutter curtain functions. They might not be so quick to advise it when they realise how it works and how "bursting" technically kills the quality in favour of capturing split-second shots!

  • Dewan Demmer September 27, 2011 04:56 pm

    I understand the postion that you come from and while I understand I do not agree outright. Burst mode has its place and far more than you suggest. In a static or posed shot, burst mode does loose its usefulness since the photographer should have taken the time to check what needed and what does not belong in a scene, and honestly burst mode is really a waste in this case.
    However any time your subject is not static or posed, so children, pets, the outdoors, weddings, sports event etc continuous or burst mode can be a real help, now I do not mean roll off a stream of shots, but calculated bursts of 2 or 3 photos can be of great help, when someone blinks, moves, winks or if the weather plays up, and at the same time that simple burst can help catch that clever smile, of the impromptu wink.

    Photo management, really it takes an extra 2 seconds to decide which of the 2-3 shots to keep and then delete, so long you do not mind that few extra moments .. although if you have 1000s of photos either you a tad happy with burst mode or it was a big photoshoot.

    True if a shot stinks in the 1 photo of a burst chances are it will stink in the last shot, because a burst shot is not a cure all, its part of a tool set to help catch a certain moment. So perhaps the focus of the article should be how to use burst to catch that special moment.

  • Sara September 27, 2011 03:59 pm

    I absolutely hate culling photos.. anything to get my number of shots down and keeper rate up :)

  • Rick Ohnsman September 27, 2011 03:41 pm

    If you're going to shoot portraits in burst mode, maybe you oughta just shoot video instead. You'll be sure to get everything. :)

  • Mark K September 27, 2011 01:51 pm

    Good article, this is not nitpicking its common sense. and good technology should not be a replacement for good technique. When I first started in concert photography I'd come home with 1,500 images but just as many of you pointed out, that joy wears off real fast during post production. Now, maybe 200 at the most for a 12 hour day. shoot smarter, not more.

  • Mark September 27, 2011 01:48 pm

    I think that there are some great points made in the article, however when it comes to shooting toddlers (so to speak) then I find "burst" mode invaluable. I think the most important thing to remember (as indicated strongly in the article) is to always compose the shot first before you hit the shutter release. Whether you are taking a single frame each time or a run of 100, you still need to pause, look and think before pushing the button.

    Back to toddlers - These kids are not going to hold still because you want them to, and they have only recently discovered how to run and grab and laugh and pretty much everything else and can move between emotions (and places) very quickly. I find burst mode very useful when dealing with these little guys.

  • Sarah September 27, 2011 01:07 pm

    Oh, the time culling photos is a KILLER! I've noticed that I'm becoming more intentional with my shoots, which is resulting in less shots, quicker turn around and just as many good good shots.

    Thanks for this reminder.

  • Chris September 27, 2011 12:56 pm

    Can anyone please help mr understand how to get the super-shallow depth of field in these shots? I'm a novice, but have experimented enough to know that it's more than just using the widest possible aperture. THANK YOU!!!!

  • Chris September 27, 2011 12:49 pm

    No actual comments..,just questions! Asking here because this article has so many gorgeous examples of crazy shallow depth of field. HOW DO YOU DO IT?!?!? I've experimented enough to know that it's more than just the biggest aperture possible....help?!?!? I'm re-learning on a canon t2i after learning on a or tax k1000 20 yrs ago...thanks so much!!!

  • Johnp September 27, 2011 12:36 pm

    The only time I ever use burst mode is when shooting, from the hip, candid shots in busy market places. It helps to capture that one keepable photo. A silent shutter helps.

  • Aaron September 27, 2011 11:53 am

    I am surprised by how many people I have heard say they can shoot video and pull frames from the video. Instead of taking photos. Just this weekend I had to explain to my brother about how this is not a good idea.

    Great advise about curbing the use of burst mode.

  • Tony September 27, 2011 11:31 am

    I agree. No-one looking at your photos wants to see a million of the same shot, and culling shots from lots of very similar shots is boring and very time-consuming.

    Also, if you are taking portraits using flash, your flash/s often won't recycle fast enough to keep up with burst mode - after a recent session I found myself deleting most of the 'non-flash' photos anyway. Much better to take your time and watch for the right moment.

  • Jessica September 27, 2011 10:57 am

    I love that - "spray and pray" - haven't heard that before! I had my settings on burst mode for a few weeks a while back and the time it took to cull and organize them turned me right off! Thanks for the well-written post!

  • ccting September 27, 2011 10:05 am

    Do we need to know the event and process of shooting to avoid burst mode shooting? Predict what she is going to do, and get ready where we should be, and the camera settings and composition then timing? D5100 comes with very few button where we must look at the digital view finder to adjust.. ...

  • Anne September 27, 2011 08:02 am

    Along the same theme of just taking heaps of shots - I also hear people say I'll fix it i'n photoshop later - why not do it right the first time I say

  • TrentReznor September 27, 2011 08:01 am

    All this talk about shutter clicks costing money. Let's say you have a high end camera (2000$). You can shoot about 50.000 photos before you have to worry that it might fail on you the next time you pick it up. That's like 4 cent per photo. My camera cost 700 bucks and will propably last for 30 - 40.000 shot. Do the math.

    Shooting a maschine gun might not make you a good hunter but as long as it feeds your family, who gives a damn? Always this nitpicking. I don't give a frack about the way you shot a photo. If it's a good shot, it's a good shot. Use automatic and burst mode for all I care. The end result is what matters. No one is going to compliment you on a crappy shot because you chose nice settings and put so much thought in that piece of crap.

  • Edgar September 27, 2011 06:37 am

    It seems that people get the impression that picking the best of 100 shots is better than taking the time to compose one really good shot. This was a great article, I really enjoyed reading it.

  • someone September 27, 2011 06:36 am

    I agree with Rachel about the time it takes sorting out the photos. There definitely is room for burst to be useful. For children, their expressions change in the slightest of moments, so there really is no time to twitch the settings and adjust composition. It's not even to mention the really energetic ones.

  • Brett Valentine September 27, 2011 05:39 am

    Funny, I grew up shooting in the film era, moved away from it and came back to it in the digital era, and have only used burst mode a handful of times. My niece got her first dslr 2 years ago, and she uses burst mode regularly; different periods, different modes of thought.

  • Jeff Colburn September 27, 2011 05:09 am

    Amen. I recently wrote a blog post about how digital photography is not free, there's a price for every shutter click. Digital photographers think that because they aren't using film, photography is free, and it's not.

    I have no problem with digital, as that's what I use now. But the spray and pray method of shooting sends up a red flair saying "Hey, I don't know what the heck I'm doing as a photographer."

    In a forum I visited, one photographer was complaining that his camera would only bracket 5 stops up and down, and did anyone know how to make his camera bracket 10 exposures up and down. Really?

    Have Fun,

  • Verena Fischer September 27, 2011 03:14 am

    The only time I really use continuous shooting mode on my camera is when I take pictures of people who are talking. It's hard to capture that one moment where the person is not just pulling a face in one way or another due to moving their mouth to say something expressive. Even then I only take short bursts of 4 or 5 pictures and then wait for a different expression or a different way of gesturing.

    Also without burst mode I often end up with too many pictures, although I try to limit myself to 100 pictures a day. However, trying to select the best picture for my daily blog post is especially challenging if many of them are good. Maybe I should switch to 100 pictures in burst mode to make the choosing process easier. Most of them are going to be useless then ;)

  • javan September 27, 2011 02:55 am

    Funny that this article came along when it did...my nephew asked my help with purchasing his first DSLR the other day. The whole time we are at the camera store all he was interested in was "how fast does it shoot?"
    Later that evening at a family get together in a dimly lit restaraunt, he kept shooting in continuous mode and was disappointed that the camera wasn't just rattling off frames like a machine gun and that the images it did take were blurry. He will learn as he shoots more and articles like this are a great help.
    I wonder if in the future we will see more people shooting video and then capturing their still images from the video?

  • Donald September 27, 2011 02:32 am

    good article and some great pointers.. thanks!

  • Leandro September 27, 2011 02:00 am

    Excellent article. "Burst mode" is, mutatis mutandi, the preferred method to shoot anything these days with digital camera. If you shoot with a machine gun all around, chances are bigger that you kill a duck or two, yes, but that doesn't make you a good hunter.

  • TC September 27, 2011 01:51 am

    I agree that shooting in burst mode just to luck out is a bad idea. However, I disagree with most of your points.

    Shooting in burst mode doesn't mean that you are paying less attention to quality or composition. Many times, burst mode is incredibly useful for getting the sharpest possible photos. In a portrait session, especially one that involves any movement, getting multiple shots can ensure sharpness as well as wide open eyes, etc.

    With the advent of the digital camera, I feel it's important to evolve the art not push back because it wasn't done that way with film.

  • Russ Frisinger September 27, 2011 01:34 am

    Great reminder: there are hidden costs in my time and the camera wear. Just returned from AK with 1500+ frames of bears and otters slightly moving. I did not shoot on burst but probably could have gotten on with less than half those files. Thanks for the thought provoking blog.