How To Use The Panning Technique

Posted by on Aug 5, 2013 in Techniques | 2 comments

How To Use The Panning Technique

Panning is a great technique to add to your personal repertoire of photography skills.  If you would like to add more dynamics to your action shots, then read on…

 

 

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 85mm, 1/80 Sec, F13, ISO 100

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 85mm, 1/80 Sec, F13, ISO 100

Panning is a technique where you move your camera in syncronization with a moving subject.  The basic idea is to try to freeze the subject but get motion blur in the background.  Panning can add great impact to Action or Sports images, the trick is to get the subject in sharp focus.  For most other types of photos, you would hold the camera very still and use fast shutter speeds to capture fast moving subjects, but with panning, you deliberately move the camera to match the speed and trajectory of the moving object.  It is most effective when you are at 90 degrees to the subject.  Preparation is the key here, so as you would do for most sports shots, find yourself a suitable location.  To increase your chances of success, you need to put some distance between yourself and your subject.  The further away you are from your moving subject, the slower you will need to move your camera in sync.  The closer you are, the faster you will need to move to maintain the sync.  To get the nice blurred backgrounds, the shutter speed needs to be set slower than usual.  I have found over time that around 1/60 to 1/80 sec is a good starting point, and I use the Shutter Priority function to lock-in the shutter speed.  It can take some time to get good panning results, so try to get some practise shots in so you can adjust to the amount of movement needed.

With panning, you need to hold your camera securely and keep the movement smooth, so take note of your breathing and try to let your muscles relax.  If you allow yourself to become too tense, you risk getting unwanted movement.  The technique works like this: Hold your camera in shooting position, keeping your arms tucked into your body for stability.  Locate your subject well in advance (where possible) and start to track the subject by moving your body to match the speed of movement.  Keep following the subject and press the shutter button when the subject is about 90 degrees to yourself or just a split second before depending on the subject’s speed.  The important step here is to keep following the subject through it’s path of movement, even after the shot has been taken. The action is similar to a golf swing, or ten-pin bowling swing.  You maintain the same speed with your body and you follow the subject after you have taken the shot.  “Following through” will help keep your body movement as smooth as possible.  This is important because you will be using slower shutter speeds and not stopping suddenly after you have pressed the shutter button.  This will help to obtain a sharp subject focus even though you are moving the camera.

If you don’t follow these key steps, the image will be out of focus and blurry like this example…which will ruin the shot.

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 85mm, 1/80 Sec, F13, ISO 100

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 85mm, 1/80 Sec, F13, ISO 100

Sometimes, you can get away with motion blur in the image, in some cases it actually adds to the overall impact of the action.  But generally, the idea is to get a sharp subject with a blurry background, as this gives the viewer a great impression of the speed of the movement and helps to give the image more impact.  Panning can also be used in vertical format, it is not restricted to the horizontal.  An example could be a diver heading toward the water.  Panning can be used on all sorts of moving subjects, not just Sports.

Here are some examples…

It is also great for dynamic shots of your kids at the park.  This shot was taken at 1/40 second, and you see how the background is nicely blurred, giving a great impression of movement.  You can try slower shutter speeds of course, but it gets more difficult to keep your subject sharp as you go slower and slower.  It can be done, but it takes lots of practise.

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 44mm, 1/40 Sec, F8, ISO 100

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 44mm, 1/40 Sec, F8, ISO 100

 

Flying birds make great subjects for panning too.  In this example, this seagull was flying quite fast low to the ground, so I set a much faster shutter speed to try to catch the wings open.  Even though the shutter speed is much faster, panning was used to get this shot. Due to the high speed the seagull was travelling at, the background is still blurred slightly, adding to the blur from the shallow depth of field of the f5.6 aperture.

Canon 7D, Canon 100-400L  Lens @ 400mm, 1/800 Sec, F5.6, ISO 400

Canon 7D, Canon 100-400L Lens @ 400mm, 1/800 Sec, F5.6, ISO 400

 

The sport of Cycling makes for great panning subjects too…

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 78mm, 1/80 Sec, F10, ISO 100

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 78mm, 1/80 Sec, F10, ISO 100

 

Motorsport is a favourite of mine, so here are some examples of the V8 Supercars at the recent Willowbank round here in Queensland.  In these shots the cars are moving at approx 250kph, so even at this distance, I had to pan very quickly!  Due to this high speed, I set a slightly faster shutter speed of 1/100 sec.

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 67mm, 1/100 Sec, F13, ISO 100

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 67mm, 1/100 Sec, F13, ISO 100

 

Russell Ingall was at full throttle in this shot of the Supercheap Commodore rejoining the race.

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 32mm, 1/100 Sec, F6.3, ISO 100

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 32mm, 1/100 Sec, F6.3, ISO 100

 

Rally cars are another good moving subject…when they are going in a straight line…

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 18mm, 1/100 Sec, F13, ISO 200

Canon 7D, Canon 15-85 Lens @ 18mm, 1/100 Sec, F13, ISO 200

 

Kite-Surfers also make great subjects when they are flying along the water as they can reach very fast speeds with a good wind!

Canon 7D, Sigma EX HSM 100-300 F4 Lens @ 300mm, 1/80 Sec, F16, ISO 100

Canon 7D, Sigma EX HSM 100-300 F4 Lens @ 300mm, 1/80 Sec, F16, ISO 100

 

Getting a great panning shot can be very rewarding because it takes a lot of practise to get it right, but when you do, it can make a great image with impact.

The OzLight Adventures Team.

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2 Comments

  1. Nice one Lawrence, motorsports are one of my fovorite events to photograph. I had trouble at Philip Island trying to take Casey Stoner at 300k/h. Cheers Wayne

    • Hi Wayne, thanks for your nice comments! Motorsports is one of my favourite photographic topics. Shooting the bikes at Philip Island would be awesome. Just imagine the great shots you could get in the corners and the long straight! Keep trying for those panning shots as it does take some practise but a great panning photo is worth the time.

      Cheers,
      Lawrence

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