Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Panning versus Motion Blur

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 4 Comments

Panning and motion blur.  These are two techniques that almost every wildlife photographer has played with at some point during their photographic journey.

Both are very effective at creating striking wildlife images which convey movement in the frame.  Now to be technically correct panning is a form of motion blur but for this blog post let’s see them as two different approaches to telling different types of wildlife stories.

Here’s a quick look at the basics.


Panning refers to the technique where you select a slow shutter speed, lock focus on a subject and move along, or pan, at the same speed as the subject.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Panning at a shutter speed of 1/15 sec

By moving your camera at the same speed as the subject – i.e. keeping him in the same place your viewfinder as you pan – you will allow the subject to be rendered sharp while the background gets streaked as it sweeps past in the background.  The slower your shutter speed and the faster you sweep your camera with the subject the more streaky the background will be.

The sharpness of your subject will depend on how smooth your panning motion is and whether you keep the subject in the exact same spot in the viewfinder as you pan.  A good technique to try and get used to is to try and focus on the subjects shoulder which, for most animals, is the spot on the body that will move in the straightest line as the move.  This has to do with the way most mammals pivot around their shoulders as the generate forward motion but more on that in a future post.

A panning plate or tripod can come in very handy when panning.

Motion Blur

When creating a motion blur image you allow the subjects to move around and, while your camera is dead still and set to a slow shutter speed, basically create your image for you.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Motion blur at a shutter speed of 1/10 sec

Subjects that are standing still for the duration of your exposure, while your shutter is open, will be sharp and in focus while subjects that move around during the exposure will be more and more blurred based on how fast they move.  Fast movement will be rendered as very blurry streaks where slower movement will look like an out of focus part of the frame like can be seen when looking at the zebra in the bottom right of the frame.

Motion blur images are great for when you are shooting large groups of animals that are moving around.  Once you’ve banked your shots you can then create very dynamic images that conveys a wonderful sense of movement.

For these kind of images you have to have a bean bag or tripod to make sure that your camera is completely still while you’re taking the image.  It’s very unlikely that you will be able to hand hold your camera at these slow shutter speeds.

Both panning and motion blur is something that we always play with a lot on our photo safaris and some workshops and can make for amazing wildlife images.  It’s definitely something to look at when you’re next out in the field but be careful to get carried away and only do panning.  Many people get so enamoured by the results that they seem to get stuck and only focus on this one technique.

Remember that these two techniques are just two more tools you can add to your photographic toolbox and which you can use when the time is right.  When is the time right?  Hey, that’s for you to figure out and the best way to do that is to join a dedicated workshops or safari and spend as much time out in the field as possible!

Until next time.


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About the Author

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at or follow my journey on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter a look forward to changing the way you see the world.  I also host a Wildlife Photography Podcast and I Vlog!

Comments 4

  1. Wayne Edwards

    Hi Gerry
    Just wanted to let you know that I have been following all of the Wild-Eye posts for a few months now as we have a trip planned for Mana Pools in August. Our last trip was 3 years ago and my photos were pretty ordinary so hopefully with everything I have learnt the results should be a lot better.

    Thanks heaps.

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      Gerry van der Walt

      Thanks a lot Wayne! Glad to have you on board. 🙂 If you have any specific questions or you would like us to do specific blogs please let us know! Wishing you a great trip. Mana Pools is amazing!!

  2. Carol Bell

    Gerry thank you for this post. I love panning especially in Kruger when animals move amongst the trees and bushes where I cannot get a nice back ground shot. I have not tried motion blur…….. but have been trying to get “movement ” in the animal….. a flick of an ear, stamp of foot, tail ext…… without much success. ……. will carry on trying.

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