Speed up Your Trigger Finger

If you have a compact digital camera, you might be frustrated with how slow the camera responds when you press the shutter button to take a picture. Especially if you are trying to photograph an erratically moving subject, such as a small child or pet, it seems like your subject or their expression is gone before the camera makes the photo.

There is a way to speed up the camera's response, though. Nearly all digital cameras (SLRs included) have a feature called Continuous Shooting or Burst Mode. This setting makes the camera take a series of pictures as long as you hold down the shutter button. (It's the equivalent of a motor drive or winder on a film camera.) So your camera takes several pictures instead of just one, increasing your chances that you capture the moment you want.

The symbol for continuous shooting looks like a stack of photos. The opposite of it is a single photo (rectangle) called single shot. Often the button or menu choice that controls this is the same one by which you turn on the self-timer. Check your camera manual for where this control is located on your model.

Continuous Shooting icon

Once continuous shooting is turned on, you still have to press the shutter button half-way to focus and set the exposure. But once you are past this delay, the camera is ready to take a series of pictures as soon as you press and hold the button.

Consecutive frames made with a 
compact camera in continuous shooting mode

There are a couple of things to know about continuous shooting mode. The first is that you should turn off the flash if your camera does not do so for you. If you leave the flash on, then one of two things is likely to happen. First, the flash might fire for the initial picture in the series but not for any of the others because it hasn't recharged yet. This makes your first picture properly exposed and the rest too dark because the camera figured the exposure based on the flash going off. Without it, your pictures are underexposed.

Second, if the flash does fire with every frame, your camera will take pictures much more slowly because it has to wait for the flash to be ready. This defeats the purpose of using continuous shooting in the first place. So remember to turn off the flash when you turn on continuous shooting.

If the camera wants to use the flash to make your photos, it probably means the light is pretty dim in your situation. Instead of turning on the flash, try raising the ISO or Sensitivity setting to a higher number, like ISO 400. (You might have to change the camera to Program mode in order to have access to this choice.) The higher ISO setting helps your camera "see in the dark" without the flash and keep your photos looking good.

On some cameras the burst mode setting is described as "last best" or "first best". In these cases, the camera takes a series of photos but only saves the sharpest one at the beginning of the series or the sharpest one at the end of the series. It automatically erases any others. You'll need to read the manual to find out if your camera works this way.

Finally, if you can't find your camera's continuous shooting setting, use the Action, Sports, or Kids & Pets scene choice. This setting turns on continuous shooting, turns off the flash (usually), and raises the ISO to about 400. Then all you have to remember is to hold down the shutter button for your series until the moment has passed. Much faster on the draw than trying to press the button faster!

Sports or Action scene icon