One of the photos I wanted this year was some slower shutter speed blurs of grizzly bears chasing spawning Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) up the river. This kind of image is difficult to do with grizzly bears; well, not difficult to do, but difficult to manage a photo that works. More so, I think, than with most other animals. The result of this is that it seems to take about 5 times as many attempts to get a decent ‘panblur’ of a grizzly bear than it might, for example, of a caribou or wolf. What I’m calling a ‘panblur’, for those of you who aren’t certain, is a technique of slowing down the shutter speed when shooting movement, so that the subject becomes blurred, rather than crisp and sharp. You can see in the image above the spashing water and the legs of the bear are not to sharp at all. By panning the camera along with the bear as it races through the water, the camera records parts of the subject that are not moving as drastically sharper. Generally, the objective is to keep the head and face sharp, while blurring the rest of the subject.
As with all techniques, in all art, the technique isn’t the issue. Techniques serve a purpose; for some, certainly, that purpose is little more than to illustrate the technical. I tend to find art that expresses nought but technique to not hold my attention very long. Musically, for example, I’d rather listen to an artist express an emotion, such as a blues guitar player like Stevie Ray Vaughan, or a piano ballad played by Keith Jarrett, than someone who’s technically adept and does nothing but give voice to that. Now, clearly, I’m not gunna tout my image as on par with anything either of those musicians created (even Stevie Ray totally messing up in the linked video above wins, hands down!). My purpose is here to describe the importance of function – technique serves a purpose, and should, in my opinion, be nothing more than a vehicle to express something deeper. Back to the ‘panblur’ technique.
This technique often helps express motion, which, in this image, I think also expresses power. A crisper, sharper image works, as well, particularly with the splashing water around the bear. The blur adds a little life to the image – if you’ve ever been charged by a bear, you’ll know why – the whole event is nothing more than a blur, trust me. 🙂 The blurring of the subject, and the water, and the background also helps draw the attention to the face of the bear, which in this frame I managed to keep reasonably sharp. I could say it’s a matter of practice and skill and execution of good technique, but if you knew how many times I hit the delete key when I browsed this folder of images upon return home, you’d understand why that comment makes me laugh. So I do enjoy these kinds of shots, even though they’re difficult to make.
So, why are grizzly bears harder to do a ‘panblur’ with than most other animals? I’ll discuss that in a future post. For now, just trust me .. it’s hard. 🙂
I’m curious to hear from readers how they like this kind of image, it’s not one I’ve posted many of before.
PS – I gotta give you some more props to Stevie Ray Vaughan; He’s one of my very few all-time ever most favorite musicians, God rest his beautiful soul. I do love me some Stevie Ray Vaughan. If you have the time, check out youtube for some more clips of him playing a 12 string acoustic guitar, from MTV Unplugged. Absolute gems.
RIP, Mr Vaughan.