Wildlife Photography – Panning Shots

Wildlife photography in low-light conditions

Wildlife photography can be very rewarding, but in low-light conditions also very challenging. There are several ways to deal with this, like the use of a spotlight, flash, tripod, and long exposure or a high camera ISO setting. Today we will deal with panning shots in low-light conditions.

‘Optimal light conditions’

You made it all the way out to the bush, only to find out that ‘optimal light conditions’ are just after sunrise and just before sunset. To make the most of your light, you can cram in as many shots as possible in those short windows of optimal light conditions. Another way is to adopt new photography styles and thus expand your range of optimal light conditions.

Impala ram caught running - Panning shot
The exception to the rule. f5, 180mm, 1/13sec

A challenge in photography

By making use of panning shots, you are able to optimize light just before sunrise and just after sunset. Getting panning shots can be a real challenge and will require some practice. The result is worth the effort!
The greatest challenge with panning shots is getting the eyes, or head, of an animal in focus while the rest of the picture will be blurred. This effect often will result in appealing photos, although there are exceptions to this rule.

Panning shots

To be able to achieve panning shots, the shutter speed of the camera has to be slow and fixed. I normally work with less than 1/60th of a second as shutter speed. A moving subject is a prerequisite to achieving your panning shots. With a static subject, you can alter your photography style and make use of a tripod or alternatively, a solid structure. Lastly, you have to put your camera on continuous shooting as well as your focus.

Spot on

Now your camera is set and you are ready for action. For most animals, you should hand-hold your camera as you need to follow the movement of your subject. Have patience and anticipate their movement. Whilst shooting, try to keep the area you focus on in the same spot in your viewfinder. This way you have a pretty good idea if you follow at the right pace.
Lastly, enjoy the exercise!

Practice makes perfect. What better way to practice than by going on safari!
Jaap

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low-light conditions - Panning shot of male blue wildebeest
Male blue wildebeest running past. Note the good light conditions. f14, 200mm, 1/10sec