Your guide to panning photography


Taking you on photographic safaris to some of the Earth’s wildest and most scenic destinations is one of many reasons why ORYX was born. To share our passion and vast knowledge of photography with you, to guide, inspire and give you the tools to take control of your photography and capture your vision… that is another major player.

Previously I covered the topic of using Visual Mass in order to start taking control of your images. By request, I will be taking you to a different creative and technical level of your wildlife photography journey. Today, we are going to master ‘panning photography’.


What is panning?

Panning is a photographic technique where the results are incredibly varied and can produce powerfully evocative images.

Panning images are easily identifiable by the type of ‘look’ it produces. The basic idea behind it is that you pan along in time with your moving subject as you continuously release your camera’s shutter at a slower shutter speed than what you would normally dial in in order to freeze movement. What you will end up with is an image where you will have a relatively sharp subject, but with a nice blurred, streaky-looking background. These shots are used to produce the feeling of movement and speed and this is an excellent technique to use when on a photography tour.




Sounds pretty easy right?

Sounds? Yes. Implementing? Not as much. Panning is one of those techniques where ‘practice makes perfect’ needs to apply. There are a variety of factors one needs to take into account if you are looking at capturing a panning shot that ticks all your boxes.

So, without further ado, here is a general guideline on how to pan in order to create unique and interesting images:

  • Move your dial onto Shutter Speed Priority and start with a shutter speed of around 1/30s. You can also use Aperture Priority mode to control your shutter speed if you prefer.
  • Set up your camera to shoot on ‘continuous mode’. This allows you to continuously shoot while panning, whereby capturing a series of images of your subject as it moves into and then out of your range. Once you are done, you can look through your shots and select your best images out of them.



African Wild Dog running


  • To get your subject in focus and get the background blurred, I find that I achieve this better when I pan with a subject that is moving on a diagonal and pretty straight course to where I am. It just allows you to move more easily along with them, especially if you are still practicing panning.
  • Ensure your focus point is on the part of your subject where you want it to be sharp and in focus. This will more likely be on their face.
  • And… GO!

This technique is all hit and misses. Keep an experimental approach to it if you haven’t practiced before or are still practicing. Although it can yield fantastic results, it can also be very frustrating when you don’t capture what you envisioned.


Here are some panning photography tips

  • In general; the slower your subject, the slower your shutter speed will need to be in order to capture their movement while still getting that lovely blurred background. The same principle applies with faster subjects.




  • Be aware of camera shake if you are using shutter speeds of under 1/30s, especially with your longer and heavier lenses. Use some form of stabilization to combat this, such as a monopod, tripod, or ensure that you stand with your legs apart and your elbows tucked in for additional support.
  • The likely hood of getting your subject completely sharp and in focus is slim, especially in wildlife photography. Think of panning more as getting your subject more sharp and in focus compared to your background.
  • Make sure you capture your key shots in a sighting before you practice panning. Once you have worked the scene and gotten your portfolio images, then go wild with panning and see what you can create!




  • Have fun and explore with different shutter speeds, how you move your camera, the direction the subject is moving…there are no bounds in creativity and the story you are creating!

Panning is such a fun and creative tool to use to create powerful and stirring images. All results are unique as it is about the story you are telling!

I personally love using panning photography to create more bizarre interpretations of my subjects. But don’t get me wrong; I will still look at capturing those perfected panning images for my portfolio! Once you become familiar and confortable with panning, go further. Try look for different ways to use this technique to portray you subject and capture another aspect of their essence.




As always; have fun! We create images because we are passionate about it and our subjects.

As Ansel Adams said, “Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.”


Stay passionate!

Penny Robartes

How to Improve your Photography


As photographers, whether beginner, aspiring professional or professional, we are always looking to capture images, scenes, subjects that inspire us. To create a powerful image that tells the viewer a story of the scene, but also of you as a photographer. To capture that moment that we envision so clearly, to push ourselves in a creative sense and explore the freedom photography provides as we search for the bigger story.

Initially, pressing buttons and getting an image with your newly purchased gear was something that excited us as we were still in our euphoric state of going out and capturing moments around us. As we start looking for that ‘something more’, pressing buttons is not enough.

Composition is as important to an image as the technical side of photography, if not even more so. There are many compositional aspects that you can use to improve your photography and create more powerful and striking images.

It’s time to start creating.


How to improve your photography using Visual Mass

There are certain objects, colours, visual elements and subjects in life that pulls our attention to it before we consider anything else.

Have you ever wondered why? Why your gaze is directed toward a specific colour? Why when you look at a photograph, you look at a specific place first, and usually land back there after your eye has moved around the frame?

What initially grabbed your attention within the frame is said to have visual mass. Visual mass is an aspect of composition where the principle is that certain visual elements attract the eye more than others.

Close your eyes for 3 seconds, and then open them.


Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa) in Lappland, Finland


Where does your eye first land on in this image? Where your gaze was attracted to has more visual mass than other elements in the frame.

Remember, photography is about creating the story you envision. Ideally your subject is what should have the most visual mass within the frame, as you want it to draw your viewer’s gaze first and foremost.

Here is a simplified list of visual elements that you can use as a guideline:


How to improve your photography using Colour

Colour has a lot of visual mass. It easily captures the attention of the viewer’s gaze, whether intentionally or not.

Bright, saturated colours draw your eye to it like a magnet, while dark and dull colours have less of an instant effect.

As I mentioned above, colours have a lot of visual mass, so be aware of how you incorporate bright colours into you frame. If there is unintentional colour in your image, it can easily distract the viewer away from you story and subject. If used correctly, it can be a powerful tool!




How to improve your photography using People and Familiar Shapes

People in your frame will always attract a viewer’s gaze. Including eye contact will intensify the visual mass if even more as we it is how we connect with one.

They are the windows to the soul.

When we look at an image, we subconsciously search for elements we can relate to, or identify with.

If you have a shape of a heart within your frame, it will have a strong visual mass as it is an element that is easily identifiable and its meaning is globally acknowledged.




How to improve your photography using different tones (Light Tones versus Dark Tones)

Light areas within a frame encourage the gaze to be pulled towards it, while dark tones encourage the eye to move away from it. Therefore, if you have bright highlights in the background of your image, it is a distracting element as it moves your gaze away from the subject.

The opposite applies as well; if there are dark tones around your subject, your eye is directed towards the subject and kept within the frame.


Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) foraging for birds eggs on rocky island, Spitsbergen


How to improve your photography using different areas of the focus (Sharp areas versus Out-of-focus areas)

The viewer’s gaze will always be pulled to sharp areas than areas that are not in focus.

This is very important in wildlife photography as your subject should always be sharp and in focus. You are telling your viewer that it is of importance, while the elements that aren’t sharp and in focus are not as important.

This is important to consider in wildlife photography when you are portraying eye-contact with your subject. As we are pulled towards eyes, keeping them sharp and in focus further accentuates their importance and allows the viewer to connect with the subject. If they are out of focus, we will still go to the eyes but move away from them to find what is sharp, and therefore of ‘importance’.




As I mentioned earlier, these are simple guidelines on visual mass for you to think about next time you compose an image. Consider how certain elements either attract or distract the viewer. Your job is to figure out how these elements and others work together in order to make your image’s story easy to understand and simple, while still creating a powerful and thought-out image. Don’t let distracting elements lessen the power of your image or confuse the viewer about what you are trying to show/tell.

Play and explore with your images and see what you create. Look at the different elements of your image and see if your story comes across in a direct manner. If you cannot see what your image is meant to portraying, or it is diluted by distracting elements, then I can guarantee that it will be harder for your viewers to do so.

For more information on how you can start finding your own photographic style, take a look at my previous post Connect with Photography.


Stay Passionate!

Penny Robartes

Connect with Photography


Wildlife and nature photography is not about picking up your camera, aiming, and firing away at the fastest frame-rate that your camera allows.

Make no mistake, you will get a collection of images where some may be quite good, but most of them will probably be lacking that special something; that artistry that catches someone’s attention and makes them pause and really look at your image, connect with it, feel something from it.

I have seen this ‘lack’ specifically in images taken on photography tours where the photographer only focuses on, or where the main focus is on, the technical side of photography. A technically good image is a technically good image. Enough said. Next!

Think further and deeper; we live in a fast-paced world where we actively look to connect with the world around us. Photography is one of the biggest mediums that people can connect with. Not only do photographs present people the opportunity to live vicariously through the photographer’s image(s), they can also be moved powerfully by what the photographer presents, and by how she/he has presented it.





When on a photo safari, Ask yourself: what do you connect with? And importantly, why? I’m not talking about different photographic genres, rather that when you look at collections of images, what makes some of them specifically stand out to you more than the others. Is it the way the photographer captures the speed of a Wild Dog hunt through the use of panning? Is it how a ghost-like photograph of a rhino highlights its all-too realistic extinction through the use of a double-exposure?




Once you have that answer, it will help you identify what you connect with, and therefore the type of images you would ultimately like to create.

Your photography is an extension of yourself. It is a visual representation of your voice, and once you start listening to it, that’s when you start to create images rather than take them.




Everything you do in order to present your final image conveys how you saw the scene during your photography tour and its effect on you. This is where you bring life to your still captures of the moments you witness.




Photography is about creating. You choose what story you want to tell whether it is literal or poetic, what you would like to reveal and show, and so much more. By using the creative and technical aspects of photography together, that is when your images start to take flight and become powerful representations.


Keep passionate,

Penny Robartes