Burst Mode Isn't Always Better: Why You Should Sometimes Photograph Action in Single Shot Mode

It seems like a foregone conclusion: if you're shooting sports, you shoot in burst mode to capture as many frames as possible. It turns out that while that works a lot of the time, it's actually not always the best idea. Here's why you should sometimes switch back to single shot mode. 

Coming to you from David Bergman of Adorama TV, this great video discusses why burst mode is not always the correct choice for sports. The idea is that when you shoot in burst, you're surrendering the timing of the shots to the camera, and even with a top body, the right moment could land between two frames. But if you shoot any sport enough, you grow to understand it to the point that you can anticipate action and fire at just the right moment. I personally know a few baseball and horse photographers who generally shoot at least partially this way. While you could try to line the first image of a burst up with the action, if you miss that, the rest of the burst will be useless anyway, and you'll be putting unnecessary frames on your shutter and forcing yourself to wade through many more images to see if you got what you need. Try out single shot mode for yourself sometime! 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I can only comment for motorsport photography I agree with you Alex. I don't often use burst mode to photograph motorsport. I prefer to plan when I want the picture to be taken. Face that point, then start panning and press the shutter to get the shot I planned. I see so many reviews that are obsessed with how many FPS the camera is capable of. I have the camera in burst mode in case a car spins and I want the series of shots. But it's single pictures for me.

I do this often in baseball in particular, especially with pitchers and batters. I know when the shot I want is going to happen and I don't want to waste time or card space with bursts of the pitcher winding up or with the ball just outside of the frame. I want the ball just leaving his fingers and I can grab that with a single shot. Same for a batter; I am far more consistent in grabbing a ball-on-bat shot with a single frame than when I trigger a burst.

I've had the same experience. Don't get me wrong, it's saved my but a few times, but being patient and timing your shot helps. I had to shoot a tennis tournament last year. It had been years since I covered the sport . During the first match I was leaning on burst mode way to much. Once I slowed down a bit and timed my shots I was able to get the photos I wanted.

I do this too. But, I follow that first, timed shot with a burst.

I shoot a little sports and admit that I'm not as good as you guys at anticipating that exact moment. I do shoot tennis tournaments from time to time and to get that perfect shot of the ball on the racquet, I need that burst. Fact is, I have a 5DIV and when I shot the last tournament, I got lucky a couple of times, but reviewing the shots, I can see that had I owned the 1DxII, I would have gotten many more of that "perfect shot". It seems the shots went like: ball in front of player, player set up for big forehand. Next frame is the ball in front of the player, the player following through on that big forehand. That's at 7 fps. At 14 fps, chances are I would have that ball on the racquet shot.

I think it's a nice tip -- for people maybe starting out. And, I would have liked him to define his idea of 'laying on the shutter'. If I'm on the sideline or sharing a pit with people, our idea of laying on the shutter is about 10 frames. And in as much as these specific examples are places where this would/could work. In the long haul, during a game, you just don't have the luxury of 'learning a person's moves'. Auto racing aside.

I like Dave's work..

I have always said this, I shoot a lot of freestyle mountain biking, and knowing the trick, and the timing of each trick is a much better way to capture the right moment. It almost never fails for a burst shot to miss the moment of extension of a trick.

This is why I love my Sony cameras. Zero blackout and rarely do I miss the contact in sports images.