Pin Me

Understanding Continuous Shooting (Burst Mode)

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 12/21/2009

Continuous shooting, or burst mode, is pretty much what it sounds like: the camera continuously taking pictures, but it's also so much more, a technique both for creating intriguing compositions, or simply getting the most out of your photo shoot. This article provides a basic guide.

  • slide 1 of 2

    How To Use Continuous Shooting

    Think of it as video with an extremely low frame rate: the camera continuously takes its shots at a given rate. Continuous shooting modes vary from camera to camera: it may simply be the fastest rate at which the camera can take pictures, it may a rate custom-set by the photographer, or it may be one of many rates preset on the camera.

    They are on virtually all DSLRs, and on many point & shoots. It may be accessed in a number of ways, dependent on the camera; check your user manual. A common way of initiating burst mode is by holding down the shutter button, though you may need to turn on this option. In most cameras, burst mode ends when you release the shutter button.

    The fastest rate at which a camera takes photos on burst mode varies by a number of factors, primarily the exposure length and the resolution: a faster shutter speed and a lower resolution will obviously speed it up, while a lower shutter speed and a higher resolution will result in a slower rate of continuous shooting.

    The processing speed of your camera also plays a factor; slow cameras with slow processing rates will have latency between shots. Because the image goes into the buffer, and not memory, all cameras limit the number of pictures you can take on continuous mode at a time, the number dependent on the size of the buffer. This number may be as low as five or well into the double digits. A high speed memory card may also make your continuous shooting rate more efficient, as the photos will be dumped into the memory from the buffer faster. Also, make sure that you have a large amount of space cleared on your memory card beforehand, so that you have room for all these photos!

  • slide 2 of 2

    When Should You Use Continuous Shooting?

    Continuous shooting is useful for a number of situations, particularly those where timing is difficult and the best strategy to getting that perfect shot is really just to take as many as possible—one of the best things about digital cameras.

    Sports photography is a good example of this: fast moving, unpredictable objects, where timing your shots is rendered nearly impossible, and you never know what's going to happen next: getting that perfect shot is largely a matter of luck, helped along with a healthy dose of continuous shooting.

    Wildlife photography, if anything even more unpredictable than sports photography, is another place where you can benefit from burst mode. A sudden rush of wings from a meadow, a deer bursting from the brush - your best strategy here is to shoot, shoot, shoot and see if you get something good.

    Portrait photography, where that perfect, unconscious smile may be too fleeting for you to intentionally capture, is another great place to try burst mode, as you're more likely to catch those perfect expressions by sheer quantity of photos.

    Also, if you want to create a montage of photos demonstrating some movement—a soccer player running across the field, a dancer across the stage—continuous shooting is the way to do it. There are many interesting compositions possible with multiple photos of the same subject represented in slightly different ways.