Many animals move quickly, increasing the difficulty of capturing them on camera. Getting sharp photos of a running animal is a lot more challenging than taking a simple image of your subject sitting still. You have to contend with motion blur, focus tracking, and many more factors.
1. Predict Movements
It’s time to become an “animal psychic,” as the ability to understand and predict the behavior of your subject is probably one of the most valuable techniques you can have in your arsenal when trying to capture quick movements. Look for patterns in an animal’s behaviour: most are creatures of habit! If you are photographing a bird that uses a specific perch multiple times, then it is likely to return there again and again every day. If you know the path an animal will take, then focus your camera on the area you think it will cross and wait. Ensure you’re in manual focus already (so to not refocus the image accidentally), and press the shutter as soon as your subject comes into view. This eliminates the need for you to frantically follow an animal with your camera.
2. Use a Tripod
Tripods eliminate camera shake, and are very useful for keeping the camera steady when panning with an animal. Use a gimbal head to allow free movement of your camera, and you’ll find that you can track animals a lot more easily! Ideally, you want a good horizontal movement (with little, if any, vertical movement) to allow you to freeze motion properly without lens blur occurring from the motion of your camera.
3. Shutter Speeds
Ensure that you are using a sufficient shutter speed for the type of photo you are trying to achieve. Most action-packed scenes require a fast shutter speed. Some animals move more quickly than others and will require a faster speed, so practise and find out what works for you. Photographing birds in flight is popular amongst nature photographers, and also one of the most challenging things to do properly. A fast shutter speed will help to make it easier, as it freezes movement (including camera shake). However, a slower shutter speed of maybe 1/30 second combined with a good panning technique will allow you to take impacting images and show motion in the frame.
4. Don’t Use Live View
Live view (viewing the scene on the camera’s LCD) is restrictive, especially when tracking a subject that’s moving, as moving freely becomes more difficult. Make sure to use the viewfinder at all times. You’ll find that you can maintain better control of your camera and respond to movements of an animal a lot more quickly.
5. Use Continuous Focusing Modes
Make sure you are using continuous focusing modes. AF-S (Nikon) or One Shot (Canon) will not maintain the focus on a moving subject. Ensure to use AF-C or AI Servo respectively. Depending on the situation, you may wish to use a small cluster of focus points (such as 9-point focus for Nikon – there will be Canon equivalents!). This means that you don’t need to keep the single focus point over the animal at all times, which can be very difficult if movements are erratic.
Practice makes perfect. It’s a phrase we hear all the time, but one that applies greatly to this. Photographing fast animals is no easy feat, and can only be mastered through hard work and dedication. Don’t give up at the first hurdle, as no one picks up a camera and is instantly an expert. Even professional wildlife photographers, including myself, get many out of focus or blurred images of animals when trying to photograph them at speed! Good luck!