Photography is not linear, nor is its possibilities finite. Creativity is the key which opens endless doors to achieving a dynamic array of photographs, images or memories caught in illustration. Discovering and exploring new but basic techniques recaptures the initial passion and fulfils the enjoyment of wildlife photography in particular.

panning, wild dog, SC

1/50 at f/5; ISO 100.

A simple, yet often intimidating, style or technique is the intentional use of a very slow shutter. In most forms of photography the idea is to keep the shutter speed as high as possible to ensure a sharp image and avoid any hand/camera shake in the process. With a moving subject (animals in the wild, people in sport, etc) the bright sunlight allows the photographer to speed up their shutter well beyond normal levels to freeze the subject in time. This works so well… Most of the time.

There becomes a time when light fades, and a sharp image of a moving subject seems impossible. There are ways, sending your ISO levels through the roof to achieve a grainy substitute of a sharp image, one without much natural light or contrast. Therefore most of us accept the limiting conditions and put down the camera. These restrictions force others to start experimenting, and by discarding sharpness one can work with movement instead. By doing so, your ISO level can remain low and a slow shutter can produce mesmerising results.

motion blur, causeway, SC

5,0 sec at f/5; ISO 100.

The two most effective styles of slow shutter photography are motion blur and panning. One can look further into night time photography and astrophotography which is another technique all on its own, and which Don Heyneke explored with last week’s post. Both motion blur and panning are surprisingly simple techniques I believe everybody should try regardless of their confidence with a camera.


This technique attempts to (somewhat) freeze the subject relative to a moving background, as the frame pans across with the moving subject. The effect is more than motion, but speed or progress, as the background gets spread into distortion.

panning, cheetah, SC

2014: My first panning shot I ever took, completely unintentionally! As it was my first time photographing a cheetah I was so desperate to get a sharp image that I pushed my ISO very high to allow for a quick shutter. It was way too dark though and the camera (in aperture priority) could only manage a shutter speed much too slow for handheld shooting. 1/50 at f/4.5; ISO 2000.

Luckily, I was enthusiastically panning across with the cheetah as he trotted off in the direction of some impala, and ended up with this fortuitous result! Although this was two years ago, I have only recently started experimenting with the technique and have had so much fun doing so. Every attempt was a learning curve.

panning, wild dog, SC

By trying to keep the centre of the frame (or any point in your viewfinder) on an area of the subject, the panning result should materialise with the right settings. 1/30 at f/6.3; ISO 100.

It can be done as a substitute once surrounding light fades and so is brilliant weaponry to have for uncontrollable conditions, especially in wildlife photography. But it can also be done in normal or even harsh lighting with a low ISO and tiny aperture.

panning, impala, SC

In bright light a smaller aperture is possible, meaning a huge depth of field and no effort wasted on keeping focus of a moving subject. Once focussed, fire away in continuous mode as the subject passes, again trying to match panning speed to the moving subject. 1/80 at f/16; ISO 100.

panning, impala, SC

With fast moving subjects the shutter speed does not need to be very slow in order to create an amazing effect, as the panning speed is quick. 1/80 at f/11; ISO 100.

panning, lion cub, SC

But slowing the shutter down further can produce something different. Instead of freezing the subject, additional motion is captured as well. Similar to a multiple exposure image, this little lion cub is revealed in several strides with different head positions. Certainly something out of the ordinary… 1/4 at f/3.5; ISO 100.

Motion Blur

This technique lets the movement of the subject or the environment within the still frame create the art, while the camera remains dead still. The idea is to keep a subject or the environment sharp while any movement within the frame becomes distorted. We’ll start this category off with another unintentional result!

motion blur, inyathini and ndzanzeni, SC

With very dark conditions late into the evening, I wanted to capture the Inyathini male lying with his head up, looking regal and powerful. With high ISO and wide open aperture the camera could only manage a slow shutter speed to produce the right exposure. Knowing that it was too slow for handheld shooting I had my camera rested on a bag to avoid shake. As I took the photograph the Ndzanzeni female (who was milling around during the mating bout) hastily walking into the frame and her motion was exaggerated with the slow shutter. Another fortuitous result! 1/80 at f/2.8; ISO 1000.

Although unintentional, the photograph inspired me to experiment with more motion blur and I soon realised the possibilities are almost endless. Leaves rocking in the wind, a swishing tail or the magical motion of water are all opportunities for a unique motion blur photograph. Be aware of your surroundings.

motion blur, crocodile, SC

A crocodile waiting for a fish provided an easy opportunity. At a minimal zoom a dead rest was not necessary, and the Sand River’s bubbling rapids around his face created a beautiful blur. 1/40 at f/5; ISO 100.

motion blur, elephant, SC

One of my favourites. Resting my camera on a bag while watching a herd all standing still, a very slow shutter was possible. This dust bathing elephant created such incredible motion in her trunk, her flapping ears and the falling dust around her. 1/10 at f/9; ISO 100.

motion blur, causeway, SC

Again, a landscape remains still while just its water wisps through like floss. This was also taken long after sunset to allow the very slow shutter to bring out light without over exposing. Any shutter this slow is only manageable on a bag or even tripod. 4,0 sec at f/4.5; ISO 250.

All of this is just practice and play. The more you understand your camera and how its aperture size, shutter speed and ISO level affect exposure, the quicker you’ll be able to get surprisingly pleasing and original results. Manual shooting is great for this, but it is really easy to start experimenting with panning and motion blur by using a shutter priority mode (“S” or “Tv” on Nikon and Canon bodies respectively) and keeping the ISO at 100. The camera will adjust for the correct exposure and all you need to do is induce the creative juices and break the “rules”.

panning and motion blur, lioness and cubs, SC

An interesting result showcasing both a panning and a motion blur effect. While panning with this yawning Sparta lioness, the erratic movement of her cubs becomes blurred as they follow. 1/3 at f/11; ISO 100.

motion blur, twist blur, lioness, SC

An ambitious attempt in trying something new. This “twist blur” technique can be used in landscape photography to good effect. By twisting the camera while keeping its central point of frame in the same direction a really strange kaleidoscope-type image is produced. This can become quite difficult to get right first time around, but is worth a try… 1/5 at f/3.5; ISO 100.

Have you started to experiment with a slow shutter? If so, we’d love to see some results and techniques. Send your favourites through to whether they are of wildlife or not. Sport can provide amazing openings for both panning and motion blur; running athletes, racing cars, erratic movement amongst teammates, or any water splashing for exaggerated effect. A surfer gliding across a breaking wave would produce a fast panning effect with cascading blur of white water in his midst… The opportunities are endless.


Keep exploring, and please share your creativity with us.

About the Author

Sean Cresswell

Safari Guide

Sean is one of the humblest rangers you are likely to meet. Quietly going about his day, enriching the lives of the many guests he takes out into the bush, it is only when he posts a Week in Pictures or writes an ...

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on Photographic Journal: Perspective Through a Slow Shutter

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Amanda Ritchie

Thanks for sharing Sean! I love how your accidental shots led you to push your creative boundaries. I am going to go out and play with some motion blur myself!

Jill Larone

Great shots Sean and thanks for the good tips! I have tried a few of these techniques but I definitely need much more practice.

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