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Freezing vs Showing Motion

When action kicks off in the wild things can change very quickly and it can be instantly overwhelming on how best to photograph what you’re seeing. Whether this is a chase, playing babies or birds taking flight – most the time we try to freeze the action and show every bit of detail. The results can often be spectacular, but there is another option that is afforded to us – and that is to try and showcase the energy of the scene, rather than distilling it down to one fraction of a second.


A good example of this was during one of our final trips in 2023. We were out in the Mara North private conservancy in the Maasai Mara of Kenya. It was grey, raining and the lions we were sat with were looking rather miserable – luckily for us we had cover from the rain (and gin!) so were happy to sit there and see what happened. We knew every so often they’d shake off any excess water and so had cameras primed and ready to shoot for that eventuality.

Let’s look at one of our guest shots. Rafael Rivera, from the United States, did an amazing job in freezing the action here. Due to Rafael using a fast shutter speed, you can clearly see every water drop as the rain falls and, from the one lion shaking, the water being shaken off. It’s a dramatic photo that tells a compelling story.

Now let’s look at one of the photographs I took. I was using a much slower shutter speed, and instead was focusing more on the individuals as they sat still being soaked in the onslaught of rain. I needed them to be as still as possible otherwise they’d end up blurring, which restricted my photography – but gave me a totally different result in how the rain is portrayed. Longer streaks make the rain feel more oppressive and heavy, again telling a compelling story but in a completely different way to Rafael’s.


There is no right or wrong here. Both photos work in their own distinct ways, and tell similar stories but in two creatively (and technically) different ways. The former is definitely the ‘safer’ way to shoot, but if you’re wanting a challenge – try mixing it up and getting creative. Use different shutter speeds to see how different you can capture and represent the scene in front of you. It might not always work, but when it does – you’ll be glad you tried!


Thanks to Rafael for sharing your beautiful and dramatic photo with us!

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I love both of these images, and would be happy to have either in my portfolio. However, if I had to choose, I do tend to lean towards the slow shutter speed image. Very atmospheric.

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