What is Pre-Focusing?
Pre-focusing is a technique not normally associated with wildlife photography. Sports photographers, on the other hand, use this technique to great effect all the time. It requires the photographer to focus on a spot where they anticipate the action to take place. For example, photographers covering a football match will focus on the goal. Photographers shooting a motorsport event will pre-focus on a particular section of the race-track.
The instant the action nears or enters, the pre-focused area the photographer will fire off a sequence of shots.
What are the key elements needed for Pre-Focusing?
Firstly, predictability. Knowing where the action will take place is critical. Secondly, sound knowledge and understanding of your subject.
For the image above, I pre-focused on the aloe rather than the Sunbird. Only the bottom flowers were open. As a result, the only way for the Sunbird to get to the nectar was from below. I pre-focused on that section of the flower.
I had no way of knowing which flower the Sunbird would visit. This is where recognising behavioural patterns of the subject become invaluable.
Admittedly, and rather frustratingly, the Sunbird landed on several flowers close by before this particular one. All that it required was a little patience from my part.
Likewise for the two images above. These bee-eaters returned to the same perch time and time again. Each would fly off, catch an insect, and return to that perch to consume their prey. As a result of pre-focusing on that specific spot, I was able to capture the birds each time.
It took several years in the field as both guide and photographer for me to begin to predict certain behaviour. For this reason, if you are starting out, using an experienced guide can mean the difference between an ok shot and a great one. Have someone with you that can help you get the shot you want. Wildlife photography is not easy. Our subjects are unpredictable and in most cases hard to find.
Although pre-focusing is a valuable tool, it may not always be possible. Nature at the best of times is unpredictable. On more than one occasion I have used this technique without results. However, there have been many times when capturing the shot was a direct result of using this technique. You cannot always rely on it, but make use of it when the opportunity presents itself.