Video: Photographer Steve Perry’s ultimate guide to slow shutter speed wildlife panning


posted Tuesday, June 28, 2022 at 12:30 PM EDT


Panning is a tricky technique, but it can produce amazing, unique photos. When panning, you use a slow shutter speed and move your lens to track a moving subject while the shutter is open. If done correctly and with the appropriate panning technique, your subject will remain sharp while the background will be heavily blurred. It showcases an amazing sense of movement that is impossible with faster shutter speeds. You frequently see the technique used in motorsports photography, but it's also a great option for wildlife photography, especially birds in flight. Talented wildlife photographer Steve Perry just published an in-depth video guide covering everything you need to know about wildlife panning, including tips, techniques and camera settings.

Developing a good panning technique lets you shoot in lower light. When his camera's ISO gets too high and the image quality decreases, Perry starts using panning to be able to keep shooting. Because panning requires a slower shutter speed, you can shoot at lower ISO settings, even in very dim light.

It's not as simple as using a slow shutter speed. To get the best results, a "few things" need to fall into place, per Perry. Your subject must be moving in the correct direction, which is primarily to one side or the other. If your subject is getting closer or further away from your camera, like if it's moving toward or away from you, it will be blurry. If the animal moves parallel to your position, panning is a good option. If they're moving at an angle, it's challenging to get a recognizable face or eye. For a good slow shutter speed panning shot with a recognizable subject, you're panning with the subject.

You also need a good background, as always. Typically, you want a plain background that will nicely defocus and help your subject pop. However, with panning, a plain background won't do a good job of showing motion. When you pan, the background will become blurry, so even a busy background will look softer. The differences in colors and tonality will help illustrate your subject's motion, so avoid plain skies and flat water as backgrounds for your wildlife panning images.

As for technical settings, Perry favors manual mode with automatic ISO enabled so that he has full control over his shutter speed and aperture. If the background includes mixed tones, Perry will sometimes use manual ISO to retain control over every exposure setting. To get slow enough shutter speeds for panning, you may need to increase your aperture quite a bit, perhaps even to F16, F22 or beyond.

Shutter speed is the most important setting for panning because how fast or slow your shutter speed will determine your photo's overall look. While there aren't any perfect settings that always work for every subject, Perry has a general guide to help you dial in good starting shutter speeds. Typically, your shutter speeds will range from 1/4s to 1/60s or faster, depending on how close you are to your subject and how fast they're moving. The slower your shutter speed, the more important a good panning technique will be. When an animal is closer to you, you must pan faster to keep them in the same area of the frame.

Credit: Steve Perry

There's much more to consider, including different stabilization modes, autofocus modes, panning on a tripod and general slow shutter speed wildlife panning techniques. Be sure to watch and bookmark the full video above. It's a fantastic resource for any wildlife photographer.

Panning is an easy technique to try but a challenging one to master. It requires practice and experience to achieve a high success rate. And even then, a high success rate for panning is still going to be much lower than you're used to when doing wildlife photography at faster shutter speeds. Don't be discouraged if you struggle at first. The hard work and perseverance will pay off.

Perry has many more amazing resources on his YouTube channel and website. If you're looking for more educational content, visit Perry's online store. You'll find paid video tutorials and books covering wildlife techniques, specific camera settings, and camera guides there.

For more from Steve Perry, check out some of our previous coverage of his work:

(Via Steve Perry