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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Panning Tips for Capturing Dynamic Images of Wild Birds in Flight

How do you capture that sense of speed of a raptor soaring across the sky? Here, we show you how to pan your camera to express the swiftness of a wild bird’s flight. (Report by: Nobuhiro Mizunaka)

Panning shot of flying bird

EOS-1D X/ EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ Manual exposure (1/15 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

I decided to take a panning shot in order to depict the sense of speed at which the bird was flying. Panning shots have a lower success rate, and fully conscious of that, I lowered my shutter speed to 1/15 of a second. If I just wanted to create a motion blur, around 1/60 of a second would have been fine, but I figured that at 1/15 of a second, the motion blur in the background would be stronger, and thus suggest movement at a higher speed. 

When you carry out your shoot, first of all, make sure that you match the speed at which you pan your camera with the speed of the flying bird. At a shutter speed this slow, it is hard to avoid some blurring at the top and the bottom of the final image, but at least make sure that the eyes of your subject—which are the heart of any photograph of a human or animal—are not blurred. Blurred feathers might add to the sense of movement in the final image, but blurred eyes can spoil the entire image altogether. 

When you pan the camera in a diagonal direction, just as I did for this image, there is an even higher chance that there would be unintentional blurring, so do be extra careful. If you are not experienced with panning, it might be a good idea to start by practising with a faster shutter speed, such as around 1/125 of a second, so that you can get used to the technique.


Pan diagonally to get a more intense, unbridled feel

The standard way of panning involves moving the camera in a horizontal direction, but for this image, I moved the camera in a diagonal direction instead. This gives a more intense sense of speed, as well as a more unrestrained feel, compared to if I had panned horizontally. 

The image below was taken with a horizontal pan. The horizontal lines of motion give a stronger sense of visual stability compared to the diagonal lines in a diagonal pan. This mutes the sense of motion in the image, which looks calmer as a result. 

Horizontal panning shot of wild bird in flight

EOS-1D X/ EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM+1.4x III/ Manual exposure (1/30 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto


For more about panning, check out the following articles:
Camera Settings to Use for Awesome Slow Shutter Shots!
Camera FAQ #21: What Unique Images Can I Achieve With Circular Panning?


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Nobuhiro Mizunaka

Nobuhiro Mizunaka

Mizunaka is a wild bird photographer who resides in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture.