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Panning Tips & Tricks

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When you first start using the panning technique, you’ll probably run into a few problems: (1) You might only get one or two good shots for every 25 or 30 blurry shots you take. But as you practice, you’ll improve this ratio.  (2) Some subjects are more inclined to panning than others.  A panning shot of someone running won’t work too well because the arms and head bob will create blur.  A bike, a car, or a an object moving smoothly will produce cleaner results.

Step 1 – Select a slightly slower shutter speed than you normally would. Start with a 1/30 second shutter speed and then play around with slower ones. Depending upon the light and the speed of your subject you could end up using anything between 1/60 and 1/8 – keep in mind that at the slower end you will most probably end up with camera shake.

Step 2 – Position yourself in a place where your view of the subject will not be obstructed. For best results set yourself up so that you’re parallel to the path of your object (this will help with focussing).

Step 3 – As the subject approaches track it smoothly with your camera. For extra support of your camera (if you’re using a longer lens or are feeling a little jittery), use a monopod or tripod with a swivelling head.

Step 4 – If you have a camera with automatic focus tracking you can let the camera do the focussing for you by half pressing the shutter button (depending upon it’s speed and whether it can keep up with the subject). If your camera doesn’t have fast enough auto focussing you’ll need to pre-focus your camera upon the spot that you’ll end up releasing the shutter.

Step 5 – Release the shutter as gently as possible to reduce camera shake, but continue to pan with the subject even after the shot is complete. This smooth follow through will ensure the motion blur is smooth from start to finish in your shot.

A few things to remember:

  1. If you want to practice panning (it’s something that you need to practice a lot), head out to a busy part of your city/town and practice on passing traffic. That way you have a never ending supply of subjects.
  2. 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.
  3. Shoot when the subject is directly in front of you. If you shoot while the subject is angled toward or away from you, the perspective will change slightly during the exposure, which will produce a less sharp subject.
  4. Remember to twist with your hips. If you simply turn your head and arms rather than twisting at the hips, you will be less steady and the photo will be less sharp.
  5. If you have an older digital camera or a more entry level camera, you could also have to contend with the dreaded ‘shutter lag’ problem. Shutter lag is when there is a slight delay from when you press the shutter to when the picture is actually taken. If you experience shutter lag you’ll need to learn to anticipate the moment to take the shot and will definitely need to continue to pan well after you’ve taken the shot.

We would love to see your panning shots! Share it with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.