Panning is a relatively easy way to create dramatic effects in a photo and is often used by professionals for motor racing and other fast-paced sports. Panning is where the photographer focuses on a moving object and as it moves past at speed, the shutter is opened at a slower than required shutter speed while following the subject to allow motion trails to be created. This allows the subject to be perfectly sharp with no motion trails, yet creating motion trails and blur in the background as it moves past. The results that can be achieved are shown in the photo to the right off this paragraph.
The basic composition when panning can be difficult and will require practice, you will need to take a few practice shots so you know what speed you need to move to be able to keep up with the moving subject. In this article I am going to cover the technicalities of panning and the camera settings that are required to achieve the effect of panning.
I am basing this article on using DSLR camera, though you can use the SLR-like bridge cameras (point-and-shoot with a big zoom lens) as they will almost always have good manual controls which will be vital for this tutorial, if your camera doesn’t have a manual mode chances are you won’t be able to use this article.
The equipment I recommend for doing the techniques in this article are:
- DSLR camera (Canon EOS 400d or similar)
- Telephoto zoom lens
Setting Up Your Shot
This is the part people have a lot of trouble with, they understand how to actually execute panning but not how to set their camera up! In this section I’m going to take you through the key settings you need to have to achieve the correct effect when panning.
In this article, I will assume that the conditions are just a normal overcast/cloudy day and the subject is a car, going around a track. Exposure is something you have to think about and can usually be automatically setup for you but you must compensate for the conditions to ensure a slow enough shutter speed.
If you want to use an auto exposure mode, I suggest using shutter priority. This will allow you to get the correct exposure, and slow enough shutter to get the motion trails required for panning. Set the shutter speed to 1/30th of a second. This is usually about right, if you find the subject is also blurred then push the shutter up to 1/50. You may need to set the shutter speed even faster. If you experience over-exposure, stop the aperture down slightly. Also ensure the ISO speed is set as low as possible.
If you don’t have a shutter priority mode on your camera (almost all DSLR’s do!) then I suggest you go fully manual. This will require some wasted shots to ensure correct exposure. You can use the internal light meter as a guide, I emphasise the word guide. Don’t use it as a strict guide.
On an overcast day I would recommend ISO 100, shutter speed of 1/50 and an aperture of around f/4. On sunny days you’ll have to stop the aperture right down to compensate for any overexposure. This is the main down side to panning, the only stop you have is aperture.
Executing The Technique
Actually panning is a pretty difficult thing to do, there are a lot of factors you need to think about. Composition being the main one. Also important is to ensure you are focused, this requires you to use something called AI SERVO, this is the name of it on the Canon EOS D’ series DSLR’s. I’m not entirely sure what it’s called on other DSLR cameras.
When using AI servo, the center dot is constantly evaluating the subject and ensures it is in focus as it moves closer or further away. It requires you to hold the shutter down half-way and then follow the subject. The key part is to ensure you are following the subject at the same speed that it is moving. [Edit required]
All that’s left to do now is to try it out, experiment, learn and perfect your panning!
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