Photo Tip Friday: Panning and Introducing Motion into your Photography

Welcome back to Photo Tip Friday. Today we are going to cover a subject that involves a little practice to perfect but once you have it down it can add another interesting skill to your repitoire. Panning is a technique that is used to introduce the sense of motion into a photograph.

We achieve this by keeping the subject in focus bit blurring the background. This can come in handy in many instances. Maybe you want to catch that rickshaw diver in India and have him stand out from the busy background. Or maybe you find yourself at a car race or you want to photograph a cheetah running. In essence you follow the subject’s movement and match it’s speed and direction as perfectly as possible.Whatever the circumstance if the shot would benefit from showing some motion then this technique will come in handy.

The Panning Technique

race car red bull

1.Setting up for the Shot

First you are going to want to set your camera to TV or S mode so you can control the shutter speed. Your shutter speed is going to depend on how fast your subject is moving. In other words you will not use the same shutter speed for an F1 car as you would for a rickshaw. Keep in mind that the faster the shutter speed the easier it will be to keep you subject in focus. Most of this comes with experimenting to see at what shutter speed your subject is in focus but I have given some rough examples below for some different situations that I have found really worked.

Shutter Speed Examples:

Cyclists: 1/100 sec
Horses galloping: 1/50 sec
F1 cars: 1/500 sec
Rickshaws: 1/50

2. Setting the focus and Panning

Implementing the Panning technique

Implementing the Panning technique

This is critical. the shot is not really going to be usable if the subject and the background are blurry. What I usually do is start with autofocus and pick a point that is close to where the subject will be passing by. Focus on that then switch to manual focus to lock it into place so the the autofocus doesn’t try and search for the subject when it is passes in front of you.  Be sure to frame widely and make sure your subject remains in the same portion of the frame throughout the entire exposure. This will help to achieve a sharp subject. Then as the subject approaches and enters your frame press and hold the shutter button down while tracking along with it.

3. Move your Body

tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka

This is the key to success. Just moving your arms is not going to cut it here. You need to get your whole body into it. I usually plant my feet wide and sturdy then pan through a 90 degree arc as the subject passes. Make sure you go through the whole arc and don’t stop and start or the image will turn out too blurry.

Panning can be a frustrating skill to pick up in the beginning but with a little practice you will find it is not that difficult. It is also important to keep in mind that it’s unlikely that your main subject will ever be completely sharp and in focus. This technique is about getting a relatively sharp subject in comparison to it’s background. Some blurring of your main subject can actually add to the feeling of motion in the shot.

Insider Tip: Practice on many different subjects before heading out on the road. that way you will not miss the moment.


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