Giving Photographs Motion – Panning

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ISO 200, f/11, 35mm, 1/35 sec

Panning is one of the more difficult photography techniques you’ll master.  As photography gets more and more popular everyone and their brother is learning how to use a DSLR and flooding the internet with great (and crappy) photographs.  If you are looking for another way to set yours apart (long exposure photography is another great way) then act like a sponge and soak up this info.

One of the most important things for you to know is that your subject will hardly (if ever) be perfectly sharp due to the slower shutter speeds you’ll need for pleasantly blurred backgrounds…  you are trying to match the speed of the subject with the movement of the camera and as you already know, when you move the camera you are going to add some blur due to camera shake.

The 2nd most important thing to know is that you should keep your arms outstretched and rotate your body with the subject as opposed to just the camera.  If you just move just the camera it is very difficult to match the movement of your subject.  It probably has something to do with a complex pivot point algorithm that I won’t pretend to know.  Just understand that it makes it easier so if you find you are having difficulty getting the subject sharper then try to extend your arms a bit and rotate with the subject.

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ISO 200, f/8, 35mm, 1/25 sec.

Now for the Instructions:

1.)  Use either manual or continuous auto focus.  If you are going to use manual just dial in the focus to where you believe the subject will be so you aren’t diddling with the focus ring as the subject is moving across the frame.

2.)  Use a slower shutter speed, start somewhere around 1/60 sec or slower.  If it is sunny out and you need to slow your shutter speed down then you’ll want to use a neutral density filter (somewhere around 2 or 3 stops should work).  Unfamiliar with ND filters?  Learn more by reading the Camera Lens Filter Guide.

3.)  Most would say that using a neutral background helps to make your subject stand out but it all depends on your preferences.  There is no right or wrong way, just be careful that your subject does not blend into your background like a chameleon.

4.)  Place yourself so the subject is moving parallel to you for best results.  If you try to capture someone moving diagonal to you it is very difficult to judge their speed and obtain optimal shots.

5.)  Start tracking your subject well before you are going to snap the shot, this will help assure that you’ve got the correct speed.

6.)  Don’t stab your shutter button.  Maybe your heart is racing as you get excited to snap the photograph and you want to really press the crap out of the shutter button “just in time” so you don’t mess up the shot but alas… when you press quick and hard you’ll jerk the camera and blur the subject.  Take a breath and press the shutter softly so you don’t inadvertently add more blur to your image.

7.)  Practice, practice, practice.  Take your camera to the nearest town or city and take a seat on a bench next to a busy intersection.  Photograph car after car and practice so you can figure out yours and your cameras limitations.  Some digital cameras have slow continuous auto-focus and you’ll have to set it to manual focus to capture your subjects quickly.

Tip:  If you want to get an idea of how this works set your camera to the settings I discussed above and grab a pillow in one hand and the camera in the other.  Now spin in circles and snap some shots of the pillow as both it and your camera spin at the same speed, adjust your cameras settings to where you are getting the desired background blur. 


Take the challenge and try mastering panning today.  If you have some success and want to share with our readers then submit your photographs through the menu link above named Submit an Article.  Good luck!

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