Panning in Composition

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Sandhill Crane in Flight
Shooting moving subjects in low light situations can be quite challenging.  The only way to get a sharp image of a moving subject is to have a fast enough shutter speed to "stop" the motion of the moving subject.  Now with the ability we have to shoot at high ISOs, it's common today for people to crank up the ISO to 1600 or faster and have at it.  Hurray for technology, and I think it's fantastic that we can do this now.  But there's another way to handle the problem.

When your subject is moving roughly perpendicular to the direction of your lens, consider panning your camera during the exposure to track with the motion of the subject.  If you do this successfully, you can effectively "stop" the motion of the bird relative to the position of your camera.  The subject will be sharp, and all stationary objects will display motion blur.  It's a very nice effect if you get it right, though it takes some practice.  You need to find the shutter speed that's fast enough to keep your subject sharp when panning with it, but it also needs to be slow enough to show motion blur in the stationary surroundings.

The other day I was at Orlando Wetlands Park, and I was watching four Sandhill Cranes walking toward me.  These cranes do not seem threatened by me at all, frequently they'll just walk right by me.  But on this morning, they took off and flew to my right.  I quickly fired off a few shots of one flying, and was please with one of the images.  My shutter speed was 1/100sec with a 400mm lens, ISO 400.