The real answer? As slow as you want.
With our Great Migration safari season fast approaching I have had quite a few people ask about how to photograph the spectacle that is a river crossing. As with any sighting your first goal should always be to bank a few good, solid images.
Keep an eye on your shutter speed, use a DoF that supports the narrative in your frame and put a few images in the bank.
It’s at this point that a lot of people get stuck and they do one of two things.
They either keep on banking the same shot again and again which, if you think about it, is kind of pointless as how many of the exact same images can you really use, or they start obsessing about getting sharper images. The question I then ask is how sharp do you want your images? You see, a sharp image is kind of like being pregnant. You cannot be half pregnant – you either are or you’ve not. Same goes for sharpness. An image is either sharp or it’s not and once you’ve created a few good, solid sharp images isn’t it time to try something else?
The obvious answer is to slow the shutter speed down and to create motion blur images and a river crossing is the perfect place to lay with the slower side of things. Yes, it’s been done before and yes, some might say it’s cliché but do you really care what other people think? You shouldn’t!
The nice thing about motion blurs and panning images is that nobody can exactly mimic your image and there really is no right or wrong result. Ok just to confirm – you cannot try and sell a soft, out of focus images as a motion blur as it’s quite evident so don’t think of the slow shutter speeds as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Rather look at these images as a new way to play with you photography and try new things and as long as you are intentional about what you’re trying to do I am quite certain that you will end up with some great and truly unique wildlife images.
So that brings me back to the original question.
How slow can you go?
And the answer? It doesn’t matter!
Here are a few example images of river crossings that I photographed with slower shutter speeds during the last few years. You’ll see that the results get more and more dramatic the slower you go and thats exactly why it doesn’t matter and why you should keep on trying different shutter speeds.
Is this everybody’s cup of tea? Most definitely not.
Is it a lot of fun and will you end up with a more divers portfolio from each sighting and safari? Absolutely!
If you’re joining me in the Mara this year I look forward to exploring some of these and other creative approaches to your wildlife photography experience with you. Yes we’re going to bank some shots but we’re also going to see how slow we can go!
Until next time.
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