Last week’s blog gave you an overview of the Panning technique. This week we cover Panning in depth and give you some tips on how to use this technique when taking motion / action photos.
What is panning?
Panning is a photographic technique where you move your camera in time with the subject, creating a sharp image of the subject and a blurred background. This technique is most effective when photographing action where the subject has few moving parts and move in a straight line or curve eg.
- Motor sports;
- Speed skating;
- Prop aeroplanes / helicopters;
- Downhill skiing;
- Gliding birds.
What’s your goal?
Your goal when panning is to get the subject as sharp as possible and everything else blurry. The sharper the subject and the blurrier the background the better. To do this you need to set yourself up to take the photo, use as slow a shutter speed as possible and practice….a lot.
How to position yourself?
Set yourself up parallel to your subject, as this will enable you to get more of your subject sharp. I generally pan standing up with my feet shoulder width apart and rotate my torso to follow the subject. I control my breathing to minimise camera shake, inhaling as I start to follow the subject, holding my breath for the few seconds until the photos have been taken and exhaling after the subject leaves the zone.
Start to follow the subject before they enter the zone where you want to take the photo, rotating your torso follow the subject into the zone and then out the other side.
It’s important to continue to follow the subject after the shot to ensure a sharp photo.
What shutter speed should you use?
The shutter speed you use will vary based on the speed at which the subject is moving. For example to photograph a Formula 1 car travelling at speeds in excess of 250km/hr, you can use a faster shutter speed than you would with a cyclist travelling at 50km/hr.
Shutter speeds of less than 1/50th second are often used to maximize motion blur however getting sharp photos at this speed takes lots of practice and luck. If you’re just starting, or if you’re photographing high-speed action, try shooting with a faster shutter speed, then slow the shutter speed as you gain experience.
Here are the camera settings for the two Formula 1 photos above – note the difference in motion blur in the two photos.
Marussia (red and black car):
Shutter speed: 1/60th second
Red Bull (Purple, Blue, Red, Yellow car)
Shutter speed: 1/160th second
The motion blur is more apparent in the Marussia photo than the Red Bull photo due to the use of a slower shutter speed.
It’s important to remember to adjust your aperture or ISO when you drop your shutter speed to ensure your photo is still properly exposed. If you are not comfortable shooting in Manual mode, use the Shutter Priority mode, selecting your desired shutter speed and the camera will automatically adjust your Aperture to ensure your photo is correctly exposed.
Shoot in Burst Mode
Burst mode is almost essential when photographing action photos. I use it when panning as I often find the middle photo (of a 3-4 shot burst) to be the sharpest. My theory about this is that this is the shot where you’re the most stable in the arc in which you are travelling, thus giving you the sharpest photo.
What Autofocus setting to use?
There are a couple of schools of thought regarding which autofocus setting to use when shooting pans. You can either pre-focus on the spot where you want to photograph your subject or you can use AI Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon) to continually track your subject as they move through your photo zone.
I personally prefer to use AI Servo / AF-C as I know the subject will be as sharp as possible at any given moment. It also gives me the flexibility to change my shooting zone at will, which can be useful if the subject changes their trajectory.
As with your positioning, ensure you continue to follow your subject after you’ve taken the photo to ensure the best result.
Try Panning with a Tripod or Monopod
If your subject is moving in a straight line it might be possible to use a tripod with a swivel head to improve your stability at slow shutter speeds. This is not always possible as people don’t always follow the same trajectory and you might find that the tripod needs to be constantly adjusted.
Another alternative is to use a monopod. This will give you more flexibility than a tripod and more stability than if you’re handholding the camera. Make sure you have a monopod head that enables you to smoothly follow your subject’s trajectory.
Practice, practice, practice
This is a really hard technique to master and you will need to practice a lot to get good results.
You will find that you take many, many blurry photos before you get a sharp one – and this will continue to happen after you have learnt this technique. I still throw out a lot of photos when I pan, although I now have a much higher ratio of good shots than previously.
Start off by using a higher shutter speed and, once you start getting good results, gradually drop your shutter speed to increase your motion blur.
Try to also vary your shooting a bit – it’s fairly hard to shoot pans all day as it is fairly demotivating to see blurry shot after blurry shot. It’s also hard to stay concentrated and shake free all day so definitely break up your shooting with other techniques…
Ok that’s it for panning, I hope it has answered your questions – feel free to post a comment on the blog if you’re unsure of something or if you want to leave any feedback.