Panning for Gold

Back in February I wrote a post entitled Slow it down for Maximum Impact which discussed using a slow shutter speed to convey motion in a moving subject.  Today, I’ll cover another technique that also conveys motion, namely Panning.  With practice, you can use panning to bring the viewer’s eye right to the subject which will be in focus, while their surroundings will (literally) be blurring by.

panning a sledder down hill, 1/15 second

Panning can be very effective when capturing any moving subject, such as a car, bicycle, animal, jogger, etc. that is moving across your field of vision, in a fairly linear path.  The idea is to frame your subject and move your camera with the subject, as closely matching their speed and direction as possible, while pressing the shutter.  You’ll want to use a slower than normal (for that situation) shutter speed to get that nice blur for the background.  A shutter speed of 1/20 second is a good starting point and then based on your results, adjust from there.  Use Shutter Priority to allow your meter to expose the scene correctly.

Panning a bicyclist in the park

This bicyclist (as well as several others) was moving from my left to my right, so I pre-focused and set my shutter speed for 1/15 in Shutter Priority mode.  As this subject entered the frame, I began to move (pan) my camera with him and pressed the shutter lightly after I began panning, and then continued panning with the subject after the shutter fired.  It’s important to have as fluid a motion through the pan as you possibly can, and following your subject before, during and after the shutter opens and closes helps to accomplish this.

The adage “practice makes perfect” was never more true than with panning, as the more you do it, the better you’ll get.  Don’t let yourself become discouraged when your first umpteen tries fail.  For panning, a sharp subject and a blurred background is the measure of success, however, it is very difficult to achieve a tack sharp subject, and in reality some motion blur in the subject itself can add to the sense of action.  This pan of a roller blader (who I’m pretty sure was not Willy Nelson) is not as sharp as I would have liked, but you still get a good sense of his speed and energy.  I think my 1/10 second (in Shutter priority) was a bit too slow.

Panning a roller blading man in the park

Panning is not just for outdoor shots, (although the better lighting makes it easier).  Here is an inside pan at 1/6 second – not as sharp but full of energy.  Can you guess what time of the year this was taken?

Interior pan of a tavern, 1/6 second

Try panning and see if you can come up with some “gold”.  Thanks for visiting 2 Guys Photo, and do let us know what you think.   Ed

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About Ed Spadoni "Thoughts and opinions, resources and experiences… for emerging photographers everywhere."
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2 Responses to Panning for Gold

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Ed. I’ve only tried panning a couple of times, and the results have not been good. Seeing some of your images — I especially like the last one of the girl in the cafe — makes me want to get out there and try it again soon.

  2. I’ve not really tried panning, and this makes me want to.

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