Peek-A-Boo Practice

Cat-like reflexes are not just for cats and ninjas. Speedy reaction time is incredibly important for a photographer. You have to be able to get your settings, focus, compose and press the shutter in an instant. The faster you are at the process, the more likely you are to capture those decisive moments that Cartier-Bresson talked about.

This is something to always be practicing. Your reflexes are such an important part of your work, especially if you shoot photojournalism or portraits, where moments and expressions last mere seconds. How you practice is completely up to you, but here’s a suggestion of a fun game that really tests your focusing and shooting skills: peek-a-boo!

If you have access to a child, then you can play this game with them. A child-like adult works too. Then it’s simple: encourage them to hide behind something, and quickly peek out at you from either side. It’s up to you to try to focus on them, and get off a shot before they duck back in. It is surprisingly challenging, and will definitely reveal any weaknesses in your technique!

The bonus is that this is just plain, good fun. I was shooting at a wedding and saw an adorable little boy. He was camera shy, and hid behind his father’s legs as soon as he saw me approach. So I started to play peek-a-boo as he peered out at me. Within minutes he was laughing and smiling and fully into the game. He actually enjoyed having his photo taken, and I got some great practice in!

Upload from March 13, 2012


  • We use the center-point focus + recompose method. Only the center point is used to focus, and then, after focus is locked, we make a small pivot of the camera to recompose. We’ve found it to be far faster than manually selecting a focus point for each image, and as long as you make only small pivots, you still get the image in focus.
  • You can use the shutter button, half-pressed to focus. Or many DSLRs allow you to use a seperate button to focus (the * button on Canon cameras, for example). We’ve tried both methods, and personally found the shutter button focus method to be faster, because you only have to press one button to focus and take the image, instead of two. Those milliseconds really do make a difference!
  • Try out a variety of techniques and methods as you practice, to see what works best for you!

Do you have any ways you practice your shooting reflexes? Have you found that you’ve improved over the years because of it? Share with us in the comments!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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14 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Good idea as usual – thank you Lauren :) Quick, sort-of-relevant question: do you use continuous shooting mode a lot of the time too? I tend to when doing portrait sessions, to deal with some of the blinking that goes on, but keen to hear what others do. Another way to capture great moments, but admittedly more about luck than speed to catch a specific moment.

  2. Fantastic question Mim! I do use continuous shooting mode all the time. When expressions change so quickly, I tend to shoot in little bursts during a moment when someone is laughing or experiencing a strong emotion.

    I find that this gives me a better chance of capturing that one perfect expression. Usually in my bursts I'll get a few ok expressions, and just one fantastic one. And it definitely helps with blinks!!

  3. I just used this method today! Very effective. Another thing I did was to "race" him to a tree and then when he'd turn around wondering where I was I'd be there behind him waiting to catch his expression. Priceless.

  4. Thanks for the tip Bobbi Jo, that's a fantastic idea! I'll definitely try that one out. :)

  5. LOVE your peek-a-boo practice game at the wedding with the little boy! I practice my reflexes shooting with my kids and have them throw rocks into the water. I try to grab focus on the rock, as well as the splash. And at dinner last night, I tried shooting the carpenter bees that were buzzing around our table. They like to fly in a zig zag with no notice. I have found my 24-70mm lens is better for either of these than my 50mm when the subject is more than 3 feet from me.

  6. Dogs and cats are great for focus practice. Particularly the kind of dog that immediately starts walking towards you when you crouch and point the camera at him. It seems like they always do that when I don't want them too and never when I do.

  7. Nikos Sideris says:

    Great tip!
    I would like to ask your advice on how/where we focus, when we want to capture a landscape.
    Thank you.

  8. @ Kelley & Paul – Great practice suggestions. Animals (bees included!) make for great focus practice!

    @ Nikos – What to focus on is usually a creative choice. For a landscape you might have something interesting in the foreground that you focus on, or maybe your composition is more about trees and mountains at infinity.

    Another thing to consider is what lens you're using, what your aperture is set to and the depth of field you want to achieve. This could determine what you focus on.

    Sorry the answer isn't more straight forward. This might make a good blog post!

  9. One thing I seem to have difficulty with is focusing. I have tried your center-point focus + recompose method before but either I am doing it wrong our I am not on the right setting. I shoot with a Canon T2i and my autofocusing options are One Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo. Which one should I be using for this method? I have been trying AI Servo. Thanks!

  10. Hi Karen!

    Great question! The focusing method we use when we do the center-point recompose technique is One Shot. AI Servo actually will continually try to refocus on a moving object, which may be why you're having difficulty!

    Try with One Shot, and hopefully you find it's far easier to lock focus!

    Lauren :)

  11. Christian says:

    Ooh, another tip for good practice.

    The second point (about the seperate focus button): I think I'd use the shutter button as well. You are working in fractions of seconds (pressing buttons to take the picture – not exposure time) so every press of a button potentially ads camera shake, which leads to motion blur… which leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to suffering, mm?

  12. Such a great tips! So would you still use One shot while shooting kids/families?? I was told that for moving subjects like kids it’s best to use AF servo but then how do I make sure that the focus is achieved??

    • Kaitlyn Luckow says:

      I think that Continuous Focus would be a great setting to use for this specific situation, especially if there are children involved :)

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