Panning Shots

I received a lot of comments on my Scooter In Motion image, thanking me for the tip about focusing on the foot.  I just wanted to clarify that there isn’t necessarily a single point on which you should focus in all panning shots.  I started to write that in the comments section, and ended up writing a general guide about panning shots instead, so here it is!

To make a panning image, you need a subject that is in motion.  You follow that subject with your camera, using a slow shutter speed.  I personally prefer something between 1/15th and 1/30th of a second.  The slower the shutter speed the more blur effect you get, but the harder it is to keep the main subject sharp.

If you keep your camera locked onto your point of focus and follow it smoothly throughout the entire exposure, you end up with a subject that is relatively clear and sharp against a background that is blurred.  The blur shows streaks in the direction you were moving your camera.  The contrast between the sharp subject and the blurred background is what conveys the sense of motion.

In this panning shot the point of focus is the subject's head.

In this panning shot the point of focus is the subject's head.

In many cases, the point of focus is obvious.  Often, the subject’s face and head works just as well as it would in a static shot.  The difficulty I was having with the Scooter in Motion shot is that the girl’s head was not only moving side to side, it was also moving up and down.  The result was that the main subject was blurred vertically, while the background was blurred horizontally.  Without any static, sharp subject, the images just looked like a blurry mess.

You can see an example of that in the image below.  In it, I followed the knight’s head, which was moving in only one direction through the image (horizontally).  If you look at the lance though, you can see that it was moving vertically as well as horizontally.  Had I been using it as my point of focus, there would be nothing clear and sharp in the image.

The knight's helmet makes a fine point of focus here.  The lance would not have worked as well due to it's vertical motion.

The knight's helmet makes a fine point of focus here. The lance would not have worked as well due to it's vertical as well as horizontal motion.

For those of you who haven’t tried panning before, I highly suggest it.  It takes some practice, but the results can be a lot of fun.  Some tips:

  • Follow the motion of the subject with your camera as smoothly as you can.  Jerks and stutters in your motion will impact both the blur lines in the background and the sharpness of your subject.
  • Begin following the subject before you snap the image, and continue following for a bit after the shutter closes.  Smooth follow through is key.

Final tip: sometimes you don’t have to move at all.  If you can find something that will handle the motion for you, all you have to do is hang on.  My favorite examples of that are merry go rounds and carnival rides:

Here the merry go round handles the motion, all you have to do is hang on and hold the camera steady.

Here the merry go round handles the motion, all you have to do is hang on and hold the camera steady.

Motion blur of the girls on the Mad Tea Party ride

Motion blur of the girls on the Mad Tea Party ride

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7 Responses to Panning Shots

  1. I love the last two!! These are simply amazing! Great shots (as always) Jim!! Love it!

  2. These are really cool! I will have to try your tips – I’ve been thinking of attempting something like this.

  3. Great panning shots Jim.

  4. schleefy says:

    Wow, awesome tutorial…..Thank you….will try it on the weekend

  5. Pingback: Day 249 – 07/12/11 – Joy in Motion | Photos To 40

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