The art of panning in photography is one of those techniques that can intimidate many people. This is due to the fact that the technique of panning is not point and click. It takes some trial and error on the part of the photographer. Once the technique is learned though, your photography will be on a new level. In this article, I am going to provide a basic format for you to learn how to introduce panning into your photography.
WHAT IS PANNING?
Panning is a technique where the photographer moves the camera along with a moving subject. A slower than usual shutter speed is used for panning. By moving along with the subject while using the slower shutter speed, the background is blurred. It can be called a “poor photographer's wide aperture” but in reality, it is a lot harder to pull off panning than it is to point and shoot with f/2.8.
WHY USE PANNING
We can probably all agree that by separating the background from the subject, the subject stands out. By using panning, the background can be blurred even more, creating more separation. Panning also allows the photographer to show motion, and in essence, exagerrate that motion. While the race car might be moving through the pits at a mandated maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, panning will make the viewer believe the race car was moving a lot faster.
Another use for panning is in low light situations. A lot of times, we might find ourselves in a rodeo arena or race track where the lighting is horrible and our gear, even 2.8 gear will not allow us to reach shutter speeds that will allow us to freeze the motion. By panning, we can dial in a shutter speed that will get us a good exposure.
Lastly, panning adds an artistic flare to an image. The first time I panned shots was at a race a few years ago. I had a wide angle lens on, and with the motion blur and weird angles due to small focal length, the race car shots I captured had a little flare to them.
THE MECHANICS OF PANNING
The mechanics of panning, or how to pan shots is pretty simple. I have seen better photographers pull off pan shots with one shutter click. I am not that good. I use a technique that allows me to shoot through an area that I have envisioned.
I will start by envisioning a Point A and a Point B. A start and a finish so to speak. Once my subject hits Point A, I will shoot through until they reach Point B. It may be a hundred feet or 20 feet. If it's race cars, then my shoot area will be longer than say rodeo. Once I have my points picked out, I will aim my camera at the halfway point and focus on that point. Then I will dial in my shutter speed. This will differ, but between rodeo and off road racing, I will usually start at 1/90. I will warm up and take a couple shots. Then I will get brave and start dropping the shutter speed until I'm missing shots and then raise up.
I will start shooting once my subject hits Point A and lay on the shutter until they reach Point B. The shot will usually be halfway between the two points, where I initially set my focus.
Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?
In theory yes. You might be frustrated with your initial shots , but once you start hitting, you will fall in love with the technique. It will also help set you apart from the other photographers.
Although I mentioned earlier that I started using the technique with a wide angle lens, you do not need to do that. You can use any lens in your arsenal to pan.
Probably the best part of learning how to pan is you might not have to go far. A city street or highway nearby is the perfect training ground to learn.
FORGET THE FUNDAMENTALS
I mentioned earlier, and then again in the previous paragraph about using a wide angle lens. The look and distortion of the subjects can really add an artistic flare to an image. It gets better though. A rodeo photographer that I follow uses the technique. I have used it for rodeo myself. The one thing you will have to get over is that panning cars will give you a slightly different result than say a horse and rider, or a football player. Even though a car has hundreds of moving parts, most of them are concealed, except for the tires. With humans and animals, we have a lot of moving parts on the outside and they are not on the same plane with the body or head. Therefore, there will be some blur with legs, arms and other things. I am okay with that. Photography is art, art is subjective and humans have different tastes.
So there you have it, a basic run down on how to pan shots.
ABOUT STANLEY HARPER
Hailing from the nether regions of the Oklahoma Panhandle, Stanley is the master of creative chaos and mayhem at Black Mesa Images - Photography by Stanley Harper.
When Stanley is not kicking it with his family at home, he can be found pursuing his photographic goals. Some of those goals include seniors and weddings, thunderstorms, night skies and sports (mainly rodeo and off road racing). Some of the other corners of the web you can find Stanley's work include: