The Art Of Panning

The Art Of Panning


What is Panning?

Panning is the horizontal movement of a camera as it scans a moving subject.

And since someone out there who’s mind is permanently blocked to technical jargon, as mine is, there was bound to be a “huh?” or two.  So let me break it down a bit. 

When you pan you’re moving your camera in synchronicity with your subject as it moves parallel to you.  Still a little wordy huh? It’s not as complicated as it sounds.  Shake your head “no.” Go on and do it.  Now cut that in half and pretend like you’re moving you head along with a cheetah as is it flies by and you’ve got the idea. In order to pan successfully your camera has got to follow the subject’s movement and match it’s speed and direction as perfectly as possible.

What’s it for?

Proper panning implies motion. However, panning creates the feeling of motion and speed without blurring the subject as a slow shutter speed sans panning would tend to do.  Take for example the two images below.  The first is an example of panning.  Notice how the car is clear and crisp but the rest of the image is blurred to show the motion of the vehicle.  This effect was achieved by panning.


Image Credit: Blentley

Now check out the second image.  This is an example of a slow shutter speed (which panning also requires by the way) without the panning of the camera.  Because the camera was held static, the moving object, in this case the train, depicts the motion while the area around it is static.


Image Credit: Papalars

Is one image better than the other?  Maybe, maybe not, it’s certainly a matter of preference. Both static shots employing slow shutter speeds and panning images have their place and time and it’s up to you as the discerning photographer to decide which you’d like to employ in any given situation.

5 Tips for Successful Panning

1.  Panning requires a steady hand and a relatively slow shutter speed.

The actual shutter speed depends on the speed of the subject but generally it will be 1/200th or slower. 1/200th if your subject is really flying along, like a speeding car on a race track, and maybe as slow as 1/40th of a second if your subject is a runner on a track.

2.  Keep in mind that the faster your shutter speed is the easier it will be to keep your subject crisp.

Especially as you’re learning the art of panning, don’t slow your shutter down too much.  Just keep it slow enough to begin to show some motion.  As your confidence increases and you’ve got the hang of things, go ahead and slow your shutter more and more to show even further pronounced motion and thus separation of your speeding subject from the background.

3.  Make sure your subject remains in the same portion of the frame during the entire exposure:  this will ensure a crisp, sharp subject.

4. Remember that the faster your subject is moving the more difficult it will be to pan.

This point goes right along with number 3.  It’s harder to keep your subject in the same portion of the frame if it’s moving faster than you are able to.  So again, start with something a little slower and then progress from there.

5.  Have fun! and if at first you don’t succeed, give up for sure.  Wait, er, try try again.

Trick for beginners:

Natalie Norton

Image Credit: Natalie Norton

When I was trying to learn how to pan I sincerely found it difficult to match my speed to that of my subject.  I’d plant my feet firmly in the ground, pull my elbows in tightly to my sides to avoid camera shake, wait wait wait for my subject and then zoom right along with them.  I was having the most difficult time! I’d normally move faster than my subject ending up with an image that was nothing short of a blurry mess.  Then I had an idea.  I took my son with one hand, held my camera to my eye with the other, and spun him in a circle. 


You don’t actually have to spin a child around one handed to achieve the same affect. . . 🙂  You could use a teddy bear, a milk jug, or jump on a merry-go-round (come on you know you want to).  Anyway, I found that it was a great way to get the hang of it and I haven’t had any problems since!

Happy shooting!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • James Pratt January 25, 2013 11:33 am

    I shoot airshows and air races for an online magazine, and am still trying to master the art of panning. Airshows require adjustment to the shutter speed depending on wether or not you are shooting jets or props. For prop planes you want the propellers to be blurred, not stopped so I use a speed of 325. For jets I use around 800 because of their speed. Still trying for the ultimate crisp shot as the planes pass by the pylons at the Reno Air Races. Check out and Free!

  • AbbyKarin December 11, 2011 11:02 am

    I totally tried the 'twirling--in-a-circle-with-a-teddy-bear' tip and it worked! Super cool! What a great idea. Thanks!

  • Lefteris July 27, 2011 10:22 pm


    No matter if I have a grasp on the subject or not, I find myself loving your articles so much!

    There's this fine sense of "flow" in them. Your images look great too!!!

    Thank you for making us better!

  • Wedding Photography Berkshire July 18, 2011 02:39 am

    very good tutorial and great simple pointers. I tried panning for the first time a few months ago and could have done with you help sooner, not I know where to come for future ideas :-) Have a lovely day1

  • Rose December 8, 2009 06:23 am

    Nice article! But I really feel dizzy now after spinning so many times around.

  • Tanny October 15, 2009 09:22 pm

    My latest night panning done at 1.6s max crest, sharp. Please enjoy.

  • pradeep September 10, 2009 10:45 pm

    I have an interesting question...In the moving train picture (by Papalars), though the entire train is moving at the same speed, why is it that the near end of the train is more blurred than the far end?

  • Tanny June 28, 2009 12:05 pm

    Things as i see them, move in sinewave period. The area on sine peak is what i think the elapsed shutter time. For human i use between 1/15s - 1/3s however, i try over 1s.

  • Lucile June 28, 2009 10:29 am

    iI'm taking a short course on manual photography & having problems with learning what shutter speeds to use to pan.

  • Tanny June 24, 2009 04:24 pm

    Speed has its respective reference point of view, said Albertina Einstein, as far as i can recall.

  • ElDavid June 24, 2009 06:55 am

    Two objects that are connected don't necessarily move at the same speed. Take two different points In a spinning wheel. A point near the center of the wheel moves at a slower speed than a point near the edge of the same wheel.

  • canonEOS May 22, 2009 04:26 pm

    here's my panning experiment

  • Will Koffel May 18, 2009 04:54 am

    I have a panning primer PDF on my photo blog, a similar level of info as contained here:

  • Stephanie McKern March 28, 2009 07:13 pm

    Thank you so much for that beginner tip! I have been trying to pan with mixed success and will definitely try and practice using the technique you suggested! Thanks again!

  • shelly March 28, 2009 01:12 am

    This article makes me want to go PANNING! Loved this article, as I do all of yours. Thank you!

  • Newton March 25, 2009 05:51 am

    Oh, I forgot to mention on my previous comment, but nice article, as many others you wrote Natalie.

  • Newton March 25, 2009 05:42 am

    Another hint that seems obvious after you think about it, but ruined my first attempts:
    -Turn off the IS (Image Stabilization) of your camera.

  • Gord Davis March 25, 2009 01:24 am

    I spent an afternoon panning a drag race. It was tough keeping up with cars going over 200 MPH so I shot these from a distance using my zoom lens.

    These I took where I was travelling through the subway. So essentially I was moving while the rest of the world passed me by.

  • skeepa March 23, 2009 02:07 am

    Hi all, I was trying this funny technique, and after 100+ attempts I think I've something nearly good :)

    Excellent post!

  • Stunner March 18, 2009 10:49 am

    Great tips, will be using these.

  • Angela at mommy bytes March 18, 2009 02:16 am

    My kids are to small to swing around any more! Well, I may still try it with my 5-year-old daughter. Such cool advice! Here's a shot of my son on his dirtbike, while I was practicing panning:

  • Paul March 16, 2009 11:18 pm

    Super article Natalie, with lots of relevant advice. This is one technique, that when learned, gives you a real boost in confidence as you learn the craft.

  • Tanny March 16, 2009 10:12 pm

    Preparation : Enjoy long exposure shots.
    Divergent Panning : Enjoy longest focal length
    Convergent Panning : Enjoy shoot the crowds
    HTH :-)

  • amir March 16, 2009 06:52 pm

    great idea at the end, with you holding your child's hand,

    i acomplished similar results on the carousel at the playground with my photography teacher.

    it was fun taking them and the results are very special, here are two examples of both of my children


  • Flores March 16, 2009 02:15 am

    Thank you for a very helpful tips, however, for me this is still as stressful effort need more patience. Mostly, I failed. It is so hard to move the camera while follow the speed of the object. GBU!

  • Kathleen Milstein March 15, 2009 05:59 am

    I just taught panning to a group of excited 6th graders with point and shoots. Needless to say it was difficult to get the desired effect using night mode on a point and shoot. But they got the idea, learned about capturing motion, shutter speed and had a lot of fun at the same time. Next time I'll add the twirling in a circle with a teddy bear in one hand! Thanks for tip!

  • Jamie March 14, 2009 03:56 pm

    Great article with some nice tips. Panning is actually quite easy with the right gear. It's probably the one raw photographic technique that benefits the most from using expensive equipment. Bigger cameras have faster frame rates which make panning shots much much easier.

  • Rhose March 14, 2009 01:55 pm

    this article is really worth reading .. hope I seen it before I had my first panning shots ..
    nevertheless, since the first time I read an article at DPS, I got hooked and read a lot of articles in here .. very helpful .. thanks DPS team!

    sharing here also is my first panning shots .. hope I can here some comments and advises from you guys ..

  • Rhose March 14, 2009 01:52 pm

    this article is really worth reading .. hope I seen it before I had my first panning shots ..
    nevertheless, since the first time I read an article at DPS, I got hooked and read a lot of articles in here .. very helpful .. thanks DPS team!

    sharing here also is my first panning shots .. hope I can here some comments and advises from you guys ..

  • todd March 14, 2009 05:59 am

    Great info Natalie, I haven't used panning much but with your info i'm ready to give it a try. Thanks, Todd

  • Emil March 14, 2009 04:21 am

    To Lucian:

    No, unfortunately I don't have any other sharing place.
    But, if you e-mail me at "", I will reply and attach the photos.

  • Richard Thomas March 13, 2009 10:35 pm

    My first attempt at panning was at the Spanish F1 Grand Prix last year. Here's the best shot I got, not a hell of a lot of motion in the background, but the car was moving very quickly!

    Lewis Hamilton

  • Georg March 13, 2009 10:09 pm

    @Price Allan:
    To be able to use longer exposures during the day and thus blur slower motion you could use a "neutral density" filter.
    Especially with growing plants I imagine that a montage with photographs taken at different stages could be another way to convey their movement.

    HTH somehow

  • Tanny March 13, 2009 09:28 pm

    Have you ever wondered you could recognize a site, photographed before from other angle, without viewing the site from that angle? Think of it as photographic gift. Given one perspective of a known subject, a photographer can visualize how the subject will look like from another point of view, without literally viewing it.

    The art of panning, so far my i'm experiencing, needs the art of visualization. You can't suppress the perspective shift unless you know where it runs to. :-)

    My pannings,

    Tan MS

  • Mr Din March 13, 2009 07:04 pm

    panning is not obvious... and eventually, impossible to get right at first... here are a few things I use when practicing:
    - make sure your sitting, kneeling, standing on something stable
    - keep your elbows as close to my body as possible (this makes it a bit more stable)
    - try the motion without shouting - this will help you make sure you're moving as smoothly as possible and see how far you can go
    - select brust and and speed priority modes
    - if you're looking for a fancy comp, make it happen during post processing. while shooting, it is easier to center the subject to follow
    - if it is too shaky, reduce the exposure time and try again...

    wonder if this really help... you'll tell me! :D

  • Lucian March 13, 2009 05:52 pm

    Thx Emil !

    Do you have any sample on flickr or alike? I'm in Beijing; anything blog-like is blocked :( ...

  • Emil March 13, 2009 05:43 pm

    I did this also a while ago.

    What I think it helps is to try and find something to lock to with the focus bracket (e.g. the mirror of a car) and then move along and learn the movement. When you think it's best time: Snap !
    I used shutter priority and tried different speeds. Your background is blurred anyway, so you don't have to worry about apperture.
    On the other hand: PERSPECTIVE is a problem !!

    Here are my results:


  • Desi March 13, 2009 03:27 pm

    Thanx again Natalie!

    I'm busy with my course and Panning is one of the next modules, so YAY!!!!!!!

    rock on!

  • Lucian March 13, 2009 02:35 pm

    Good advice, thank you !

    I would have loved more details on the 'howto' part for taking the shot. My experience is (as in the article): initially it is hard to keep up with the subject. Once you press the shutter, especially on a night shot with time set at 1/10s, your head moves 'blindly'. It happens often if the subject is a moving vehicle, for which the speed of changing the angle grows as it approaches you. If you wait 10 seconds to be right next to you, you have just that fraction to catch a sharp photo. So I had a few attempts:
    1. Set the drive on continuous shooting and follow the subject from afar. It is easy to adjust the speed after 2-3 attempts. However, during the night you need better sync of your exposure time and positioning the subject net to you. It mostly doesn't work.
    2. Single shot setting, focus on manual, preset (on previous subject :) ). Works better at night, specially if sync-ed with slow-sync flash.

    any other ideas ?

    My best result: !


  • MeiTeng March 13, 2009 01:46 pm

    I attempted my first panning along a busy street. I shot in continuous mode to get one good shot out of the many unsuccessful attempts and I got one of a yellow taxi! People must be wondering what I was doing with my camera on that busy street...but it was worth all those funny stares I got.

  • MeiTeng March 13, 2009 01:41 pm

    I tried panning and loved the effect it produced!

  • Helmi March 13, 2009 11:45 am

    trying this technique, makes me dizzy..I try a lot with a various object speed, but the result is not satisfied enough .. Its PoI still look shaking

  • Richard March 13, 2009 10:57 am

    Wow. Well said. Thanks for the clear, concise article. Very helpful!

  • mich March 13, 2009 09:17 am

    These shot was my first try on panning.. i took it in a highway and had a very difficult time but i had a great time though.The cars were moving so fast. I took more than 30 shots only 2 came with a crisp subject.

    Having read these tips, i will try my luck again. I will shoot it a much slower speed subject.

  • Bob March 13, 2009 09:12 am

    Couldn't agree with joerg more. Its a similar situation when doing the other type of shooting (that is, hunting). For the camera, I've always found that moving along a continuous arc, pushing the shutter at some point in the middle, but continuing to follow the subject WELL after the shutter has closed makes for the best results.

  • Name March 13, 2009 08:58 am


    Untrue, he was simply still relative to you; if you were spinning him around you, he would have to be moving at a greater velocity to spin around the same angle as you were being that he was on the outside. All that aside, good article. I haven't played around with panning too much. I will this weekend.

  • Joerg March 13, 2009 08:27 am

    It helps a lot when you follow your subject not only to the point where you push the button but a little longer. So your movement is more smooth. I get my best results at vintage racing events using 1/80th in slower corners of the track:

  • Annie March 13, 2009 05:56 am

    I love you Natalie Norton! How do you always make things so simple to understand????
    You're my favorite professor here on DPS. You just keep me coming back and back and back--and I'm never disappointed. Thanks again for another brilliant bit of photo-mojo.
    Maybe we'll see each other in London?

  • Christina March 13, 2009 05:26 am

    hehe....Let's me try it.
    Need use flash or not?
    BTW,chicken run is coooooool.

  • briank March 13, 2009 04:20 am

    So a good question for beginning panners that I haven't been able to find the answer to is this - do you use vibration reduction / image stabilization in your panning shots?

    In theory it will help with your vertical shake, but it could also affect your subject.

    Please advise!

  • John March 13, 2009 02:52 am

    Thank you for the tips!
    I read a bit on panning and it all said I should be using slower shutter speeds.

    What I didn't know was that 'slower' is relative... :)

    I was using shutter speeds of about 1/6 sec to capture bicyclists in central park and was completely frustrated that the photo's were dissapointing to say the least.
    I didn't use 1/40 or 1/60 because those are my 'regular' shutter speeds. If I'm not capturing action I usually have a good photo that's properly exposed.

    Next time I have the opportunity, I'm going to try panning at 1/40 - 1/60

  • Tyler March 13, 2009 02:41 am

    I need to play with panning more. Now that i have my EF 70-200mm 2.8f IS lens which has 2 IS modes, 1 for camera shake/jitter and the other for panning horizontally or vertically.

    So I'll have to go find something I can switch to mode 2 on and try panning to see how they turn out!

  • kim March 13, 2009 02:39 am

    thanks for that technique. Its so fantastic. Anyway, I just curious. Which lens that u used to take that kind of pictures, panning of car for example? I have a 50mm/f1.8 prime lens.Can i get that kind of pic with this lens? How about using lenskit EF-S 18-55mm? will it gave the same result?I'm thinking about buy another lens, but with a low budget just to get a great shot like urs. Any recommendation? thanks.

  • Kevin Halliburton March 13, 2009 02:33 am

    Another tip I use to help freeze the subject while panning is to pop a little rear curtain synch flash on them at the end of the pan. It doesn't take much light to add that little flavor of extra crispiness.

  • LisaNewton March 13, 2009 02:06 am

    Oh, this sounds like fun. Thanks for the great tips. (I wondered how you got the shot with your son.........................:)

  • gene March 13, 2009 01:57 am

    i tried this on myself, too. point the camera at ME, then spin around. i have a nice picture of my kitchen 'in motion'.....

  • Price Allan March 13, 2009 01:53 am

    First, let me say, I am SUCH a newbie. However, i have found all of these articles really helping me climb the learning curve. Thank you so much for lowering my IQ (ignorance quotient)!

    Are the 'art of panning'...much of what i shoot is agricultural in nature. I would liek to experiement with some fo these panning techniques to capture the 'motion of agriculture'. However, much of what moves on a farm, does so at a very leisurley pace. Is there any way, and does anyone have any tips/settings for conveying motion with things like tractors, combines, balers, even farm animals or plants under a light breeze?


  • nuralt March 13, 2009 01:31 am

    O god, I don't have a patience to try this technique.

  • Tom G March 13, 2009 01:31 am

    Thanks, this was helpful. I've tried a few panning shots in the past, but now I'm keyed up to try this again tonight.

    I've used a technique similar to rifle shooting, where you come up from behind your subject (in the viewfinder) then follow it at the same speed, release the shutter and continue moving. The follow-through after the shutter is pressed is key.

    Railroad wheels

  • Mr Din March 13, 2009 12:51 am

    thank you, I just love panning captures... I have plenty in my stream, always looking for new ideas :D

  • Fletch March 13, 2009 12:46 am

    Panning is fun and if you try it on a busy street there is bound to something moving at the same speed as your camera!

  • Will March 13, 2009 12:14 am

    Great post. I have been practicing the art of panning for a while now. Here is my favorite image:

    ...Chicken Run!