Wildlife Pan Blurs

My First Attempts at Wildlife Pan Blurs

I have made three photo safari trips to the Masai Mara in Kenya. Before going on my last trip, I decided I would try and get some slow pan blur shots to add to my portfolio. 

     Never trying this type of photography, I did some research online to learn the basics of gear, settings, and technique. I found that my 70-200mm lens would be an excellent choice, so I was all set with equipment. Because a slow shutter speed is required for the movement effect in the photo, shutter priority or manual mode is needed. You will also need your camera set to continuous shooting and continuous focus. I set my focusing to a single point usually in the center. The speed of and distance from the subject plays a part in settings, but a good starting shutter speed would be between 1/30th – 1/10th of a second. To slow the shutter speed down this much, you will need to use your lowest possible ISO setting, and the day either needs to be cloudy, or you should try early or late in the day when there isn’t enough light for traditional photography. You will probably need to close down your aperture, but remember the more you close down, the more likely sensor dust spots will show up in the photograph.  Another option would be to add a neutral density filter to cut out some of the light. 

      This panning technique works best with subjects moving parallel to you. I found that starting just behind the animal and swinging through it trying to pan along at the same speed as the animal worked best for me. Take a burst of shots while trying to keep the focus point on the shoulder or head of your intended subject. If you are lucky, you may get one or two frames that have the effect you are looking to achieve. 

     The lion photograph below of Notch 2 was taken relatively early in the morning before there was enough light for a traditional photo, so it was a perfect time for panning. He was at a fast trot chasing off a younger male within his territory.


Lion image created by photo panning technique.

    The Impala photograph came about while following a coalition consisting of five cheetah males. We saw the Impala and thought they might try and hunt it. With that in mind, we moved our vehicle down near the river below the impala thinking we might be in a good position to photograph a hunt if it developed. As it turned out, they passed by the Impala, but it looked nervous, and I thought it might turn and run regardless. I quickly changed my camera settings to a slow shutter speed. I asked our driver to wait a minute to see what the Impala might do. My hunch turned out to be correct, and the Impala ran toward us. I was able to come away with this photograph.

     This style of an image does not appeal to everyone but does seem to be more and more popular. I encourage you to bank the classic shots first and then give this creative technique a try for yourself. The keeper rate is low, but occasionally you come out with a very pleasing image. 

Neil Nourse 


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