Light, camera, action …

By Drew Rush
Taking motion and panning photos of wildlife can be an exciting way to get a different type of photograph and continually push yourself to try different techniques. While there are no guarantees with motion photos, here are a few tips to get better shots of wildlife on the move.
Follow through: Just as in any sport, a good follow-through is key. Continue to swing your camera, panning with your subject after you’ve stopped pressing the shutter button. This will also help ensure you are keeping your subject in your viewfinder as you are moving your camera with your subject.
Use a tripod: Putting your lens on a tripod and panning with your subject may take a little practice, but it will help reduce vertical movement in your shot and help your photo have continuity in movement from left to right or right to left. Some lenses may also have a setting (usually associated with the image stabilization function) for motion shots that help reduce vertical movement when you’re attempting motion shots.
Mix it up: Experiment with different shutter speeds for different animals. You can use slower shutter speeds for larger animals that move more slowly, but you will need faster speeds for smaller animals that move more quickly. For example, you could probably get away with a slower shutter speed with a moose walking along versus a fox running through a field.
Dial it in: Set your shutter speed to your desired setting to get crisp and sharply focused photos, and set your aperture priority at an f-stop that in turn gives you a suitably slow shutter speed for motion shots. Now you can change back and forth between different techniques quickly and efficiently when it matters most. This will cut down on staring at your camera wondering how to change certain functions to get the results you want.
The early bird gets the worm: Get there early. I was up early once in Yellowstone photographing a black bear when a man approached, leaned in and said, “It’s a little dark, isn’t it?” The low light of the predawn is the perfect time to work on different techniques such as motion and panning shots. While the light is low, you have a chance to practice different techniques, and as the sun begins to come up and the light gets brighter, you have a chance to take shots with higher shutter speeds (as well as a higher percentage of keepers!).
Manual focus: Many times with slow shutter speeds and extremely low light, your camera will have a hard time focusing on your subject. Get used to switching your camera to manual focus in extreme low-light situations, and you’ll be taking better motion pictures more quickly. As it gets brighter outside, you can switch back to AF, but when it’s really dark use manual focus. It may take a little practice, but the more you practice with manual focus the more you’ll find that you’re using it in many different situations.
Find and anchor: Give your viewers something to latch on to with your motion shots. When a portion of your photo is sharp and focused it allows your viewers eyes a place to rest in a frame full of motion. Most cameras have a setting for focusing on moving objects (if you’re still using AF and it’s not too dark!). Many times these settings can help “lock on” to a portion of your subject and keep it focused while allowing the rest to blur and blend into your photograph, giving it a wonderful sense of motion.
Anticipate: Take a minute to look and see where your subject is moving, then place yourself in the best possible position to have your subject pass in front of you for the best possible photo. Taking an extra second to study your surroundings and find a place that maximizes your opportunity photographically will often produce better results than if you were to just hop out of the car and start shooting.
Go low: Lower your position so you have a chance to “shoot through” objects such as grass, trees and shrubs. Having a chance to shoot through objects might not work every time, but often it helps add splashes of color to your photos.
Lights: If it’s extremely dark out and you’re trying to get some panning shots, try using a flash (with rear curtain sync) to add a pop
to your photos. Many times a fill flash will add highlights to an animal’s hair or fur, and it’s also great for adding just a bit of catch light to their eyes. Start examining the photos of the great wildlife photographers such as Nick Nichols ( and Frans Lanting ( Soon you’ll start to notice situations where they used flash, and that may help you “turn on the creative lights” someday in the field. ◊
Drew Rush – a new member to OWAA – is a photographer, writer and guide based in Jackson, Wyo. See more of his work at

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