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Previously we’ve covered the topic of shutter speed and looked at how increasing and decreasing it can have a significant impact upon the images we take – particularly if the subjects in those images are moving.
Today I’d like to take a brief look at a related topic – that of photographing moving subjects by ‘panning’.
Panning is a technique that can produce amazing results (if you perfect it…. or get lucky) but is also one that can take a lot of practice to get right.
The basic idea behind panning as a technique is that you pan your camera along in time with the moving subject and end up getting a relatively sharp subject but a blurred background.
This gives the shot a feeling of movement and speed. It’s particularly useful in capturing any fast moving subject whether it be a racing car, running pet, cyclist etc.
I’ve found that panning seems to work best with moving subjects that are on a relatively straight trajectory which allows you to predict where they’ll be moving to. Objects that are moving side to side are challenging and can result in messy looking shots as the motion blur can be quite erratic.
There are no rules with panning and you might also like to experiment with using your flash while panning. This slow synch flash technique will only work if the subject is close enough or your flash is powerful enough to have an impact – but will help to further freeze your main subject while giving the background the motion blur you’re after.
If you do use a flash you’ll want to test a variety of settings to get it looking right. In some cases you’ll probably need to pull back the strength of your flash by a half or a third.
If you’re going to try panning for the first time you should approach it with an experimental attitude. It can be a lot of fun but can also be quite frustrating. If you’re at a special event where you have fast moving subjects (like a car race etc) you’ll probably want to mix up your style of shooting. Don’t just use this technique all day – instead also shoot some shots at fast shutter speeds. This way you’ll end up with a variety of shots and will probably end up with some useful ones instead of just having a collection of blurry unusable ones.
If you want to practice panning (and it is something that you need to practice – a lot), head out into a busy part of your city and practice on passing traffic. That way you have a never ending supply of subjects.
Also 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.
Once you’ve practiced the panning technique share your results with us in our Forums.
Note: this post is a ‘classic dPS post’ that was previously published but has been updated for today. Also read about the technique of panning in The Art of Panning.