Burst Mode: What It Is and How to Use It

Capture better action photos with this camera mode

Capturing high-speed action can be difficult on your smartphone because 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 rapid succession to capture action. Here's what you need to know about burst mode and how to use it.

What Are Burst Photos?

Burst photos are a rapidly-captured series of photographs, usually of fast-moving action—sporting events, playful children, or pets—to catch a specific action without needing to capture the moment at precisely the right time.

Burst mode may sound like video, but it's different in a key way: Burst mode is designed to create a series of discrete, sharp photographs in situations where even video would be blurry, in the expectation that at least some of the frames will be in focus.

Burst Mode on iPhone

Burst mode is a standard feature in the iOS Camera app and is available on any Apple device running iOS 7 or later. The method varies slightly depending on the model of iPhone. Here's how to capture a series of high-speed images using burst mode on iPhone:

  1. Open the Camera app on your iPhone.

  2. On iPhone Xs, Xr, and later, tap and immediately slide the shutter icon to the left to start the burst mode.

    iPhone Camera app showing burst mode

    On iPhone X and earlier, tap and hold the shutter icon to start the burst mode. No sliding is necessary.

    A counter shows how many shots are being taken.

  3. Lift your finger from the shutter icon to stop taking photos.

  4. At the bottom of the Camera app, tap the burst thumbnail.

  5. Choose Select to show the frames of the thumbnail. Gray dots beneath the frames mark suggested photos to keep. They are the ones the app considers to be in sharp focus.

  6. In the lower-right corner of each image you want to save, tap the circle. Choose Done.

    iPhone Camera app showing burst image thumbnail and selection

The selected images are stored like any other photographs in the Photos app.

An alternate method exists for burst mode iPhone Xs, Xr, and later. You can press and hold the volume up button on the phone to take burst shots. Enable this option by going to Settings > Camera and toggling on Use Volume Up for Burst.

You can take burst photos with both the rear-facing and front-facing cameras.

Does Android Have Burst Mode?

Android devices vary, so no one answer fits all. Burst mode depends on the app you use to take photos and the specific device you own.

On some Android phones, tap and hold the camera icon until the camera starts to flash. On many Samsung phones, you first need to activate the camera's multi-shot mode; then, tap and hold the shutter icon to take multiple shots in quick succession.

As an alternative, you can add burst mode by downloading a third-party camera app that offers the feature, such as Fast Burst Camera or the Google Photos app.

Does My Traditional Camera Have Burst Mode?

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

How Does Burst Mode Work?

To understand burst mode, you need to understand how a camera works. At its most basic, a camera is something that records 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. Lenses help with this by focusing 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 a 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 and very fast shutter speed, and it snaps a series of photos. The goal is to snap quickly while allowing in enough light for a series of images—some of which are in perfect focus.

How To 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, the less crisp and high-quality your photos will be. If you're indoors, turn on as many lights as possible or let in natural light.

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

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

Person holding iPhone to take a photo
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