Camera Drive Modes for Nature Photography

Drive Modes as displayed on the Canon 1D Mk4

When it comes to the various drive modes available on modern DSLRs, some times the choice as to which one to use for a particular situation can become confusing. I am going to discuss the main drive modes, as well as when and how I utilize them for nature photography.

Single Shot

Single Shot mode, as the name implies, produces one exposure each time the shutter button is actuated. If you are not photographing action and live subjects, this is the mode you will likely be in. There is no need to fire off multiple exposures when composing a still life subject. Another example of when I will use Single Shot mode is when using flash; this allows the flash sufficient time to recharge between exposures. If you were in High Speed Continuous mode, you may unintentionally fire off multiple exposures without meaning to do so which can be hard on the flash.

Low Speed Continuous

I never use this drive mode. Some people reason that it prevents a camera that is capable of shooting 8-10 frames per second from getting away from them when they press the shutter release. I say, “practice” with high speed continuous mode to learn how to control your camera, and not vice versa. When photographing wildlife, I am in high speed continuous 99% of the time. It is beneficial to be able to rap off three or so exposures of every shot so you are able to capture different gestures as the subject moves. When a high-action scene unfolds like dueling Eagles, I want to know that I am already in the correct mode to fire away at will at 10 frames per second to capture all of the action.

High Speed Continuous

Dependent on the type of camera you are using, you may only have one continuous drive mode, in which case it may be called “continuous” mode. Some higher-end cameras have both  low-speed and high-speed continuous drive modes. As mentioned before, when photographing wildlife, this is the mode I am in 99% of the time. Having the option with a moving subject to fire off multiple exposures, is simply the only choice of drive modes to be in as far as this photographer is concerned when photographing moving subjects, barring a few special situations.  The frame rate per second will vary depending on camera make and model, but you can expect 3-12 frames per second on today’s models in continuous mode.

Silent Mode

This function is only available on certain camera models. It is a valuable capability to have in nature photography from time to time. It does work only in Single Shot mode, and is nearly silent when the shutter release is depressed, but still makes some noise when the shutter release button is released. I will use this mode when I just HAVE to get the shot of a very skittish subject and I want to control when the noise happens. So for example, if I am photographing a perched Kingfisher, and the bird is in super-alert mode, I may snap off an exposure, and then wait a few seconds before I release the shutter button allowing the minor disturbance to happen (the sound of the mirror resetting.)

Two and Ten Second Timers

I rarely utilize the two second timer, as two seconds is usually not enough time to do anything. If you are using a slow shutter speed, two seconds may not be enough time to let the camera settle from photographer-induced camera shake. The ten second timer I use all the time. If you don’t require a cable release for precise timing for release of the shutter, then I highly prefer using the ten second timer. Since we are talking about nature photography, we are assuming that you are actually out in nature, right? Well in my oppinion, having a dangling cable only increases the chances of camera shake due to wind movement blowing the cable around. Besides, who wants to deal with one more piece of gear to hook up if it really isn’t needed?



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