Originality is Key. Every professional photographer strives for originality. Commercially, it’s essential that your images stand out from the competition, but it’s also important from an artistic point of view: photographers want to create something that reflects their personal style rather than imitating others. There are two ways to achieve this: through the content of the image, or through your interpretation
But, in wildlife photography, finding original subject matter is very difficult and will normally require many hours in the field and a large slice of luck. Consequently, you’re often forced to think creatively to produce an unusual image from a common subject, and this is where panning can be effective..
Panning involves shooting a moving subject with a slow shutter speed, tracking it with your camera during the exposure. It takes a lot of practice and you will end up deleting many failed attempts, which fortunately will cost you nothing in the digital age; but, when you get it right, the combination of a sharp subject set against a background streaked from the movement of the camera can be spectacular.
The Technical Stuff
First, select shutter priority mode (S or Tv), and choose a shutter speed of around 1/25 and a low ISO. Next, switch to continuous focus (or AI Servo) as the distance between you and your subject will change constantly as you are shooting. Position your focal point on a precise part of the animal. Ideally this would be the head, but remember that if your focal point drifts off the animal in continuous focus, then the camera will focus on the background instead, so it might be easier to pick a precise spot on the larger body of the animal. You will be shooting with a relatively large depth of field (narrow aperture) anyway, so the head should still be sharp.
Slow and Steady
The key is to move your camera at the same speed as the subject. As the animal starts walking parallel to you, start tracking it with your camera, keeping the focal point on exactly the same point on the animal. When you are tracking it accurately, squeeze the shutter button but continue to follow the subject even after the shutter has closed; this avoids the risk of any jerky movements during the exposure. It may take a while to master this, so practice at home before you get out into the bush – ask a friend to walk in front of you while you experiment with different shutter speeds.
Take Advantage of Low Light
There is another factor to bear in mind: if it is too bright, you may not be able to slow your shutter speed down enough, making panning impossible. However, there is a flip-side: often when the light gets dim, the only way to get a fast enough shutter speed to capture a sharp shot is to increase your ISO to a very high level, which results in lots of noise and pixilation. Since panning requires a slow shutter speed, you no longer need a high ISO; so, instead of putting the camera away as the sun starts to set, select a slow shutter speed and start panning.
How Fast Should You Go?
The choice of shutter speed will depend on how fast the animal is moving. For a walking animal, or person, 1/15-1/25s should be slow enough to capture movement; for a sprinting impala, try 1/50s, and for a flying bird, you can increase the shutter speed to around 1/100s. The slower the animal is moving, the easier it is to track, but this requires a slower shutter speed to create the effect, which means there is a greater chance that the animal might nod its head, for example. Since that is a vertical movement rather than the horizontal direction you are tracking, this will cause the head to come out blurred, ruining the picture.