Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Slow Shutter Speeds in Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 7 Comments

Many wildlife photographers struggle with creativity.

The word itself makes some people very uncomfortable and in an industry where photographers all too often rely purely on the content in the frame to carry an image it is something that very few people play with and explore.

One of the easiest ways to start delving into the creative side of wildlife photography is purely to play with time. To slow your shutter speed down and capture a sense of movement in the frame.  The options are endless so let’s have a quick look at a few techniques you could try the next time you head out into the field.

Panning

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

1/125, f/5.6, ISO 500

By selecting a slow shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/10 you pan along with the subject which will render the background as streaks of colour and the subject, if you were able to stay with them, sharper in the frame.  This technique does take a bit of practise but the nice thing is that since you are distorting reality, in a good way, there really is no right and wrong result.  Sure, the goal is to get a sharp subject but this technique is very forgiving and the results can be very interesting.

Few things to keep in mind:

  • Use slower shutter speeds for more dramatic results.
  • Images with faster moving subjects will blur at higher shutter speeds.
  • Look for colourful backgrounds behind your subject.
  • Try and move in a smooth motion when following the subject.
  • Fire off many images as you pan to improve your strike rate.
  • Play.

Radial Blur

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

1 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200

The principle here is the same as panning.  While the shutter is open you move the lens but in this case you are zooming in or out which will give you a ‘Star Wars’ effect rather than moving it along with the subject.  Ideally for this you need a stationary subject and a tripod.

Few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep your shutter speed lower for more dramatic results.
  • Start zoomed in on your subject and then, while clicking the shutter, zoom out.
  • Tripod is recommended to get smooth lines and results.
  • Low light scenes work best for slow shutter speeds.
  • Play.

Radial Panning

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

1/2, f/16, ISO 800

If radial blur and panning both give interesting result why not go all in and try both together?  The strike rate on these types of images might not be very high but when you nail them it’s great!

Few things to keep in mind:

  • Start zoomed in and place the subject on one side of the frame.
  • As you zoom out pan along with the subject.
  • Again, slower shutter speeds will give more dramatic results.
  • Play.

The idea of storytelling in the frame, of making your viewer feel what you saw is something that we as wildlife photographer should be spending a lot more time.

Panning something and using slow shutter speeds does not mean you are creative off the bat but the more you use these kinds of techniques with intent the more likely you are to stimulate your photographic vision and you might just be surprised at the results.  Yes, by all means always banks your images and nail the sharp frames but then, instead of shooting variations of the same image again and again play around and see what you can do with slower shutter speeds.

Oh, and for those of you who think that this is all arty-farty bullshit here is a sharp image of a leopard.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

1/640, f/5, ISO 640

Until next time,

Gerry

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 www.gerryvanderwalt.com or follow my journey on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Periscope.  I look forward to changing the way you see the world! Have you checked out The Wildlife Photography Podcast?

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