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How to Photograph Animals in Motion

You have two ways to approach action photography with animals. You can freeze the animal's action or create an artistic depiction of the animal’s motion.

Animals don’t stay in one place very long. They constantly migrate from one place to another during the course of a day. Sometimes they move very slowly, such as when they’re grazing. At other times, they may move swiftly, such as when they’ve been startled by a predator. And if the predator takes up chase, he’ll be moving very fast as well.

To freeze the animal’s motion:

  • Shoot in Shutter Priority mode. Use a shutter speed of at least 1/250 of a second if you’re panning with the subject — faster if you’re not panning and the subject is coming toward you.

  • Switch to Continuous Auto-Focus mode. In this mode, the camera continually updates focus as the animal moves closer to or farther away from you.

  • Switch to Continuous Drive mode. In this mode, the camera continues taking pictures as long as the shutter button is fully pressed. This gives you a sequence of images, which enables you to capture some frames where the animal is at peak motion with legs fully extended.

  • Pan with the animal. If the animal is traveling from your left to your right or vice versa, pan with it. When the animal comes into frame, press the shutter button half-way to achieve focus, pan smoothly by pivoting at the waist, and then press the shutter button.

    image0.jpg
  • Follow through. Keep panning even after you press the shutter button. If you stop panning when you press the shutter button, the image won’t be as sharp as it could be.

  • Leave more room in front of the animal. This gives your viewers a sense that the animal is going somewhere.

    image1.jpg

To create an artistic photo of an animal in motion, use the same technique, with the exception of the shutter speed. Choose a shutter speed that’s 1/15 of a second or slower. If you pan steadily, the animal’s head will be relatively sharp, but the legs will be a blur of motion. If your lens has horizontal image stabilization, enable it. This compensates for any up-and-down motion when panning with the animal.

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