Shooting modes

Face recognition mode

Written by Gail Bjork

Digital camera Face Recognition mode detects faces in a scene. It automatically focuses and optimizes exposure for the faces.

Face detectionA growing number of digital cameras now include a Face Recognition mode. The camera detects faces in a scene and then automatically focuses (AF) and optimizes exposure (AE) and, if needed, flash output.

The technology can be effective when taking pictures of large groups, when a person is in the distance or when the subject moves into the frame. Even if a person moves, the camera will stay focused on it and adjust exposure. It is also effective when photographing people in bright light when the LCD is difficult to see.

Some digital cameras also have a tracking function that allows the user manually give priority to a single face. This comes in handy when taking photos in a crowd, at school plays and similar function.

Face the digital camera

A person’s face must be facing towards the camera for Face Recognition AF/AE to work most effectively. Like so many digital camera features, it also works best when taking photos in good light.

Face Recognition, also known as Face Priority, is typically activated when switching a camera to portrait mode or a dedicated face-detecting shooting mode. It is also the default for cameras that have intelligent auto modes, which automatically detect the scene you’re photographing (eg. landscape, person, close-up shot).

Since the technology is hardware based, it is generally faster than manually composing and locking focus and exposure on a face.

A word of caution about using face detection

It’s important to note that Face Detection (FD) may be associated with a multi-point autofocus mode, where the camera, not you, determines where to focus. When a face is not detected in a scene, some cameras will revert to this mode. Other cameras switch to a center focus point.

Many photographers find multi-point autofocus mode to be inconsistent  They use Single Area focus instead to have precise control of where the camera locks focus. Except if using an intelligent auto mode, they only switch to FD mode when photographing people.

Soul Mate photo by Chad Forbes – Creative Commons Copyright 2006. (Face detection box is simulated by Digicamhelp).

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.


  • With some more recent digital cameras, such as the Canon s90, you can use Face Select to choose the face on which to focus. Even if the individual moves, the face frame follows it. According to the s90 manual, the camera can detect up to 35 faces. For additional models, contact your local camera shop or online retailer.

  • hello,
    is there any camera that is capable of detecting individual faces in a group photo of atleast 30 persons.and such type of camera is available the what are the different costs.

  • Thanks for your useful comment on this.
    Since asking the question, it looks as if the techies are now trying to out-do each other by inventing a system that will work on groups of faces[ presume weddings and ball game
    spectators etc.]
    I still wonder if this would leave all the backgrounds in a right mess, if all the concentration were on a large mass of faces !!

  • Thanks for the chuckle about monkeys. 🙂 It’s a good question. I’ve heard others say that Face Recognition will work on posters and pets. Not quite sure about monkeys…but if they have a light colored face I suspect it will work. Face recognition is still evolving and it is more refined on newer cameras than those made just a few years ago. If your model has face recognition with a tracking mode, you may be able to lock focus on a particular subject, even a monkey, and the camera will track it as it moves around. Most face recognition technologies lock focus on the eyes, so if someone turns their head it will not work.

  • Is the face recognition system geared only to human faces? Or will it work on say monkeys or billboard posters showing say a dozen faces or so??