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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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”.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.