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Wildlife in Motion through Shutter Speed Control

We often associate wildlife photography with a fast shutter speed, but depending on the scene, a slow shutter speed can give you compelling results too. Wildlife photographer Yukihiro Fukuda shares with us about how he captured this slow shutter shot of penguins at sea. (Reported by: Yukihiro Fukuda)

Penguins against a grand seascape

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM + Extender EF1.4xIII/ FL: 280mm/ f/16/ 1/4 sec/ EV±0/ ISO: 100/ WB: Daylight


Change your shutter speed, change the look of your image

Shutter speed is a very useful tool for making your wildlife images look more compelling. Think about your ideal shot: Is it a tack-sharp shot that “freezes” an animal in action, or one that emphasizes its movement? Both shots would require different shutter speeds. 

For the above shot of penguins by the shore, I decided to use a slow shutter speed to showcase the movement in the large waves lapping against the shore, and in the waddle of penguins heading towards the sea.

I had considered three possible shutter speed settings: 1/4, 1/15, and 1/30 second.
I eventually chose 1/4 second. Anything less than that would have blurred out the penguins too much. At 1/15 and 1/30 second, the movement was not obvious enough.

Tip: Take a test shot to get a better idea of which shutter speed to use

It helps to take a quick test shot to check the effects of your shutter speed setting. From there, you can then decide whether to increase, decrease or maintain the same shutter speed.
Do consider using a tripod to reduce camera shake. For this scene, the background scenery anchors the image, so I used a tripod to ensure that it would be sharp. 


Shooting position (Penguins at sea)


Alternative technique 1: Extreme high shutter speed for dynamism

Penguins splashing at fast shutter speed

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM/ FL: 300mm/ f/8/ 1/4000 sec/ EV±0/ ISO: 800/ WB: Daylight

I focused on stopping each droplet in the splashing waves by using a high shutter speed. I had to increase my ISO speed to achieve 1/4,000 second and capture this shot. My first attempt at 1/1,000 second still had motion blur. 
(For more on this concept, refer to: Camera Basics #3: Exposure)

You might be interested in:
Wave Photography: Which Shutter Speed to Use to Depict Power and Dynamism?
Step-by-step Guide to Capturing Splashing Waves at Fast Shutter Speed Settings


Alternative technique 2: Pan the shot 

Panning shot of penguin

EOS 60D/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM + Extender EF1.4xIII/ FL: 280mm/ f/10/ 1/20 sec/ EV+0.3/ ISO: 100/ WB: Daylight

You can also use a slow shutter speed for a panning shot. This technique draws attention to the penguin in the middle of the picture, which caught my eye because it was carrying something in its beak. It took a few test shots to find the required shutter speed. 

You might also be interested in:

Panning Tips for Capturing Dynamic Images of Wild Birds in Flight
What Unique Images Can I Achieve With Circular Panning?


For variety, shoot at a different focal length

As wildlife photographers, we sometimes get carried away in our attempt to get that tight close-up shot with our telephoto lenses. We achieve the shot that we want, but we might end up leaving out elements that could make our shot truly compelling.

Make it a point to shoot with a slightly wider angle than intended. For example, if you are tempted to shoot at 500mm, try 300mm instead. This introduces new elements into the frame, which helps you to "see" the shot in a different way. The top image of penguins would certainly have looked very different without the ambiance created by the waves, sunrise and background landscape. 


For more slow shutter photography tips and tutorials, check out the following:
Camera Settings to Use for Awesome Slow Shutter Shots!
Slow Shutter Art: Creating Surreal, Spinning Radial Blurs

More wildlife photography tips available at:
Wildlife Photography: 3 Techniques from Professional Photographers
Pro Techniques for Using the EOS 7D Mark II – Wildlife
Super Telephoto Lens Techniques - Wildlife Silhouettes Against the Sun
7 Useful Tips for Taking Photos at the Zoo with a Mirrorless/DSLR Camera

Equipment you might consider:
EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM: An Excellent Lens for Beginners in Bird Photography
EOS-1D X Mark II Live Action Review Part 1: Stunning Focus Accuracy and AF Tracking Performance
In Focus: EOS 7D Mark II


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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

Yukihiro Fukuda

Yukihiro Fukuda

Born in 1965 in Tokyo. Fukuda's visit to Hokkaido in search of the Japanese cranes he loved led him to become an animal photographer. After spending 10 years on wildlife coverage in Hokkaido, Fukuda expanded his scope to other countries and underwater photography. Wildlife, underwater, and landscape photography now form the three pillars of his current activities.