How to use burst mode (3 creative photography techniques)

Using burst mode in photography, also called continuous shooting mode, on your camera is as simple as switching from single shooting mode (S) to continuous (C). Easy as that.

Before we get into the creative fun that you can have with continuous shooting mode, let’s look at:

  • What is burst mode
  • How burst mode works
  • When to use burst mode
  • 4 things to watch out for with continuous shooting mode

And just to clear up any confusion, despite the similar terminology continuous shooting mode is a different setting from shooting mode camera settings. These refer to program, shutter speed, aperture and manual mode, as well as the scene modes on entry level cameras.

How to use continuous shooting modes

I used continuous shooting mode, aka burst mode, for this dance photoshoot, to capture the dancer’s fast movement

What is burst mode?

Continuous shooting mode is often referred to as “burst mode”, because of the burst of shots you can take with just one press of the shutter. Your camera manual will call it continuous shooting mode.

Some cameras have different continuous shooting mode settings, such as

  • CL for continuous low
  • CH for continuous high

The only difference between these two camera settings is the number of frames per second that your camera will shoot. CL will be a lower frame rate than CH.

The actual frame rate varies from camera to camera. Your camera’s user manual will be able to tell you about yours.

What affects the frame rate in burst mode?

A number of factors will affect how fast your camera can write images to your memory card.

To speed up the frame rate:

  • Shoot in JPEG instead of RAW (although I wouldn’t want to do that, but it is a factor)
  • Make sure that the write speed of your memory card is fast
  • Increase the size of your camera’s buffer – not that you can change it without spending a fortune on a new camera, but it is a factor
  • Switch off your camera’s noise reduction
  • Switch off your vibration reduction (or Image Stabilisation)
  • Use a low ISO setting
  • Set focus to continuous autofocus mode, so that the camera doesn’t have to refocus between shots

When to use burst mode (continuous shooting mode)?

I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea to use continuous shooting mode for a normal situation.

It would be the “spray and pray” method of just shooting like mad and hoping something will be in focus and look good. You’ll never learn to master your camera or composition, but you will spend a huge amount of time on the computer working through mountains of images.

There’s a time and a place to use burst mode.

The most obvious ideal time to use burst mode (continuous shooting mode) is when your subject is moving, or you’re moving. If your subject is running towards you, a high continuous frame rate setting (CH) is better than a low continuous frame rate setting (CL).

By shooting in continuous mode, with your autofocus set to continuous, you’ll be able to follow the action and make sure you don’t miss that perfect moment. It’s ideal for:

  • Sports photography
  • Photographing dancers
  • Photographing busy kids or dogs being happy, galloping dogs

You’ll also need a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement.

Here’s a handy cheat sheet to download if you’re not sure of focus area modes for your Nikon or Canon.

Find out more here about camera settings for photographing moving subjects.

4 continuous shooting mode points to consider

Of course, there’s a bit more to think about when using all the wonderful wizardry of burst mode.

1. Getting carried away in burst mode

The more photographs you take, the longer it’ll take to load all the images to your computer and the more time you’ll spend on your computer selecting the right one.

Some people are better at culling images from a shoot than others, but many struggle.

If you find that you’re not great at choosing the best of the best fast, save yourself the frustration and be conscious of how much you’re shooting at the time.

2. Buffering in burst mode

With your camera recording so many images so quickly, they won’t have a chance to load to the memory card straight away. So when you stop shooting, images will continue to load to the card. 

This is the camera’s buffering system at work, holding onto the photo until it can load.

When the buffer reaches its limit, you won’t be able to continue photographing until the images have been written to the memory card.

It won’t take long, but you’ll have to pause for a moment.

3. Pay attention to the warning light

When the camera is buffering, a light similar to the one on this camera model below will flash.

As the images are still loading to the card, don’t switch off or try to take the card out until it finishes buffering and the light goes off.
Memory card light indicating camera is buffering

4. Not all cameras are equal

Also, not all cameras allow you to just keep photographing. So, your camera might restrict the number of shots you can take when in continuous shooting mode.

The same goes for memory cards.

Better quality, fast memory cards handle continuous shooting mode far better than lower quality, slower memory cards.

3 fun ways to use burst mode

Here’s the good news. Continuous shooting mode opens up avenues for getting creative!

1. Capture personality

Cranking up the energy and getting somebody in front of the lens to let go and have some fun is the perfect way to bring out personality in a photoshoot.

Capturing slow moving subjects is when (CL) low continuous shooting mode is best.

2. Create a gif

Put something different on your social media with a self made gif. You can create a little movie by uploading a burst of images to, then download the gif ready for use.

Depending on the situation and subject and how much movement is involved, you could use either (CL) low continuous or (CH) high continuous.

Creative fun with continuous shooting mode

3. Create multiple images of action in one image

How to create multiple photos in burst mode for one image:

  • Mount your camera on a tripod
  • Set it to continuous shooting mode to CH (continuous high)
  • Frame and pre-focus (with manual focus or using the back button focus technique) on where the action will take place. This is one of the times when manual focus is better than autofocus.
  • Hold down the shutter button while your subject performs an action
  • Combine the images into one in Photoshop to show the various stages of the action

Examples of good burst mode subjects are a:

  • Skateboarder performing tricks
  • Diver performing a complex dive from the high board

Burst mode is great for photographing anything that moves – let your imagination come up with some interesting scenarios and see what you can achieve.

Multiple shots using continuous shooting mode

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about using high or low continuous shooting mode, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my burst mode tips have helped you to understand how to use continuous shooting mode creatively, share that too.

2 thoughts on “How to use burst mode (3 creative photography techniques)”

  1. “The only difference between [Continuous High and Continuous Low] is the number of frames per second that your camera will shoot.”
    On Olympus cameras Low refocuses between frames whilst High does not. I guess that High guarantees regularly spaced shots, such as for an acrobat tumbling, but Low guarantees all (any?) shots you get are in focus, but I haven’t experimented to find out. You can also change the frame rates in the menus.

    • Hey James.
      Good point about focusing in continuous high shooting mode.
      If you use back button focus, and set your focus to continuous, your camera will constantly focus. Then depressing the shutter button will be just to take the shot, rather than focus and take the shot. This way you would be able to shoot in continuous high shooting mode and maintain focus throughout.


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