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Using Panning to Photograph a Moving Subject

Panning

Panning takes some practice to nail down. But with practice and good timing this effect will convey movement like no other technique. Panning allows us to keep the subject in focus while allowing the background to blur.

©R. Mabry Photography

The basic idea behind panning is a technique where you follow your subject with a smooth motion while matching the speed of the subject.

Here is what I recommend doing.

Let’s start with the camera. The range that I use for panning is somewhere between 1/60th and 1/8th second. The reason there is such a large range of shutter speeds is that the lighting, speed of the subject and environmental conditions can vary dramatically. If you are going to drop below 1/8th second I have found that a mono pod will help with camera shake.

Set up so that the entire path of the subject will not be obstructed by other things in the scene. Also, if possible try to keep the path of the subject parallel to you for optimum sharpness.

©R. Mabry Photography

As the subject approaches, start panning with the camera in a smooth and controlled motion.

Some of the newer cameras have what is called automatic tracking for focusing. Automatic tracking allows the camera to keep in focus a moving object right up to the time of exposure. If your camera has this feature, now is the time to use it. If not, or if the camera cannot track fast enough, you will have to manually set the focus at the point where you are going to press the shutter release.

Press the shutter (releasing as gently as possible to reduce camera shake).  Continue to pan with the subject, even after you’ve heard the shutter release close. This follow through is where most amateurs fall short. If you stop panning during the exposure, you risk the chance of blurring the subject along with the background. A smooth follow through will ensure the motion blur is smooth from start to finish.

Post your own Panning examples on our flickr page under discussions.

About the Author

Ray Mabry has over twenty years experience in photography. He started in film and used black and white to capture images in architecture, landscape and abstract forms. In 2001 Ray, with his extensive computer technology and digital imagery experience, made a natural and seamless migration to digital. Whether shooting film or digital, Ray loves the freedom of creative expression that photography has to offer.

Ray has a professional photography studio, rmabryphotography.com, runs a blog http://www.rmabryphotography.com/blog/ and also co-organizes a Meetup group called the Sonoma County Photography Group,  http://www.meetup.com/Sonoma-County-Photography-Group/.

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