Panning is one of the most creative uses of the slow shutter, and also not the easiest of techniques. But once you get the hang of it, it will give a new dimension to your sports and wildlife images, and also any images of motion – children at play, people running, pets, you get the picture…
The Idea Behind Panning
The basic idea behind the panning technique is to depict motion by introducing the motion blur on the background while maintaining the subject relatively still. This is most easily understood by photographing a moving vehicle from another moving vehicle traveling at the same velocity. With a slow enough shutter speed, you would blur out the background while keeping the subject nice and sharp.
In most practical situations however, you will NOT have a moving vehicle to shoot another from! So, what you need to work on is learning the track a moving subject in your viewfinder. Hold the camera as you normally would, left hand for support and right hand for function operation. The grip becomes even more critical while panning. Focusing can be a challenge, and this is where modern AF tracking technology can really help. Switch your focus setting to tracking, and your camera will continuously re-focus the moving subject. Shutter speed can vary between 1/10 and 1/50 of a second depending on the speed of your subject. The slower the subject, the slower the shutter speed required. So, as you are panning your camera (and your upper body with it while feet firmly on the ground), fire the shutter by gently pressing down on the shutter release, not with a jerk. And once you’re firing the shutter, continue your panning motion for a second, much like how it is important for a batsman to ‘follow through’ after the shot is played; this ensure smooth movement and execution. If all goes well, you will end up with a good panning photograph depicting motion blur on the background alone.
When you are beginning on the panning technique, try and track subjects with a predictable trajectory. For examples, vehicles on a road rather than birds in flight or animals at play! Other subjects you could practice with could be children on a swing; predictable motion again…the image accompanying this article was photographed at 1/15 second, as the man was running up the steps.