Panning is a technique used in action photography to emphasise movement. This week’s blog gives you a very brief introduction to panning and gives you a few examples of how using panning changes the look of a photo. We will compare similar shots – one taken using the panning technique, the other freezing the action. If you want to find out more about this subject, check out next week’s blog for an in-depth look at Panning.
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.
The panning 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.
This technique doesn’t work as well with sports where there the entire body moves (from side to side, up and down or both), such as running, as the end result is often generally blurry.
How to pan a photo – a brief overview
Next week’s blog will cover this in more detail but here’s a brief overview on how to pan.
The two most important elements to this technique are moving with a subject along a plane, horizontal, vertical or diagonal, and dropping your shutter speed to get motion blur. If you do one without the other you will not achieve the desired look.
When you drop your shutter speed, you will need to adjust your aperture or ISO to ensure your photo is still properly exposed. 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.
The higher the shutter speed, the easier it is to get a sharper photo however you sacrifice motion blur.
Here are a few panning example as promised – lets start with some Aviation shots:
While it’s clear this C130 Hercules on the left is in the air, the fast shutter speed has frozen the propellers, giving the illusion that the plane will fall out of the sky. The photo on the right is a pan of the same plane coming into land – the moving propellers and blurred background give the impression of movement.
Is the CA-25 Winjeel on the left taking off or is it standing still? This photo was taken with a fast shutter speed and it’s difficult to tell if it’s moving (although it was actually taking off). It’s clear from the pan on the right of a Lockheed Hudson “Tojo Buster” that the plane is clearly taking off.
Moving away from Aeroplanes, the panning technique can also be applied to skating:
The photo on the left is of a short track speed skating relay change – cool but not terribly exciting. The one on the right captures the same action but using a pan – the photo looks much more dynamic.
Panning can also be applied to cycling:
The photo on the left was taken in a velodrome – it’s kind of hard to tell if the cyclist is moving. The one on the right is the panning version – notice the spokes of the wheel have disappeared enabling us to see straight through.
Here’s Christopher Froome, on the left, participating in the Criterium du Dauphiné time trial. We don’t get any sense of movement from this shot even though he’s moving at a fair clip. The pan on the right shows Maxim Iglinskiy climbing up Chamrousse in the Tour de France – you can definitely tell he’s moving.
Ok lets finish with a few Formula 1 examples:
The photo on the left shows former Red Bull driver, Mark Webber, going around a corner – it’s hard to tell if he’s moving as the shot was taken with a fast shutter speed. Notice everything has been frozen including the wheels… The one on the right, of Marussia’s Max Chilton, was taken from the same spot - notice how the pan has dramatically changed the shot, giving the impression of speed.
The photo on the left shows Kimi Raikkonen on his victory lap after winning the 2013 Australian Grand Prix – it’s not a very exciting photo (except for Kimi fans). The photo on the right was taken in the same part of the track – using the pan makes it look like Sebastian Vettel is really flying!