Burst Mode: What It Is and How to Use It

Capture better action photos with this camera mode

An iPhone being used to snap photos

Tomohiro Osumi/Getty Images

Capturing quick action clearly can be difficult on your smartphone since fast-moving people and objects can be blurry and hard to make out. However, burst mode, or burst photo, snaps a series of photos in quick succession to better capture action. Here's what you need to know about burst mode and how it works.

What Are Burst Photos?

Burst photos are a quickly-shot series of photographs, usually of fast-moving action. Burst mode is often used for photographing subjects moving quickly, like children or pets, or to be certain you'll catch a specific action without needing to capture the moment at exactly the right time.

Burst mode may sound like video, but it's different in a key way; it's designed to create a series of discrete, sharp photographs where even video would be blurry.

How Does Burst Mode Work?

To understand burst mode, you need to understand how a camera works. At its most basic, a camera is just something that can record the light in front of you, like a sensor, and something that blocks that sensor, usually a shutter. When you take a photo, the shutter opens and closes. How far it opens is called “aperture” and how quickly it opens and closes is called “shutter speed.”

The bigger the aperture, and the longer the shutter stays open, the more light lands on the sensor and the sharper the image generally is. Lenses help with this by focusing all the light coming into the camera at a specific point on the sensor, but if the subject moves, that smears light all around the sensor, creating blur. So, with moving objects, you need to balance getting the maximum amount of light with a shutter speed fast enough that there's no blur.

This is how burst mode works. It has a wide aperture at a very fast shutter speed, and it snaps a number of these photos. The goal is to snap quickly enough, while allowing in enough light, for a crisp series of images.

Does My iPhone Have Burst Mode?

Burst mode comes standard with the iOS camera app, and is available on any Apple device running iOS 7 or later. Hold down the shutter button or the volume button, and the camera will shoot a burst until you lift your finger. You can see how many photos are in the burst by a number that will appear on the screen. The bursts will be stored just like any set of photographs in your Photos app.

Does My Android Have Burst Mode?

Android is a bit more varied. It will depend on the native app you use to take photos and the specific device you own. However, you can also add Burst Mode by downloading a third-party camera app that has the feature.

Does My Camera Have Burst Mode?

While burst mode is not necessarily a standard feature on cameras, it can often be found on both professional single-lens-reflex (or DSLR) cameras, and in self-contained “point and shoot” cameras, especially more modern devices that also shoot video. Check your camera's manual to see if it has a burst mode available.

How Do I Take Better Burst Mode Photos?

Shoot burst mode photos in places with plenty of light. Sunny days, in particular, are well suited to burst mode photos. The less light your camera has to work with, in general, the less crisp and high-quality your photos will be. If you're indoors, turn on as many lights as possible or let in as much natural light.

Additionally, invest in some way to keep your camera stable, especially if you plan to shoot lots of photos. For outdoor photos, consider putting your camera on a monopod or a selfie-stick, a smartphone tripod, or brace your arms on a stable surface when shooting.

Avoid using the zoom function with burst mode photos, too. Zooming in makes it harder for the camera to focus, especially if you'll be moving the camera, and is more likely to create blur. You can always edit your photo later to better emphasize the focus of the action.